Well, I’ve bought my jumper Number 10
Increasingly, it his harder and harder to close one’s eyes to the damage that this so-called coalition are wreaking on our country – even if one wanted to.
Most noticeable, to me anyway, is the rampant economic inequality and as winter approaches fuel poverty is a huge contributor to this. Take British Gas’s latest rise in dual fuel prices of 9.2%. That’s a rise that’s eye-watering. To keep my home just on the right side of not-freezing it costs in excess of a thousand pounds a year. If I were with British Gas, I’d be looking at finding in the area of another £100 a year right there. Cancelled Christmas anyone? Now, contrast that with the salary and bonus package of the Chief Executive of British Gas’s parent company, Centrica. What do you reckon he’s worth, selling fuel into a captive market…
1 million quid? 2 million perhaps? Well, you’d be wrong.
According to latest figures widely published in the media, in 2012 the Centrica CEO, Sam Laidlaw, pocketed around £5 million in salary and bonus payments. Across the board of the company – five directors in total and including Laidlaw – the total for director pay totalled just shy of £16 and half million. I don’t want to get into Sam Laidlaw personally, but even if one argued he had earned every one of his five hundred million pennies for Centrica, it begs the question how he managed to squeeze in £125K of work as a non-executive director for HSBC…
I use this as an example of the deep inequalities in our society. And be under no illusions, the UK is, along with the USA, one of the worst for fostering a society where a tiny minority hold most of the wealth. So what? some may say that’s how it works – ‘t’was ever thus. Except, now we know better. Now we have study after study that links a country’s economic inequalities to all kinds of other social ills including: health inequalities which translates as poorer people dying younger, higher rates of mental illness, lower educational achievement, higher rates of teenage pregnancy, more drug abuse, more people sent to prison… Even rates of obesity are higher in unequal societies than in those where the available wealth is distributed more evenly.
In fact, the research shows that most of the social ills that cost most money in terms of interventions in Western societies are heavily linked to how much equality of economic opportunity exists. As the saying now goes, ‘If you want to live the American Dream, move to Finland.’ Social mobility, that which David Cameron likes to wave like a glowing carrot on the end of a big stick at ‘the workers not shirkers’ is almost an impossibility in an structurally unequal society like the UK where vested interests rule the roost. Take London, house prices are booming again, and according to some opinions it will soon be a city where just the very rich and the very poor live. London, meant to be the greatest city of the world, will be a place for only expensively-tailored masked highwaymen and their ragged, snaggle-toothed victims, along with the unsuspecting tourists passing through.
Since the #selfservatives wriggled into government, they have widened the economic inequality gap appreciably, by doing nothing to start to close it. Hence the advice from Downing Street in the face of utility company hikes. Put on a jumper (since withdrawn) and switch to another energy provider. Right, ok. I’ve switched and switched over the last few years and when I work from home I wear clothes and a dressing gown with sheepskin boots (not the branded variety because I can’t afford them) with a woollen blanket over my knees. I do that rather than turn the heating on because I am scared of the bill – despite my repeated switching and using less and less energy I have never managed to reduce the bills. That’s because as much as I try to conserve energy, the monetary savings are more than offset by the relentless tariff increases.
And, I am not, in the scheme of things, poor. But I still can’t afford to heat the house. Spare a thought for those who can’t afford to eat or heat the house. Those people that selfservatives have labelled shirkers. Those people that the government are prepared to sacrifice on the bonfire of austerity. The people the JobCentre sanction at the drop of a hat. I do wonder when the rest of us are going to wake up and realise that there for the grace of *insert supernatural being of choice* go the rest of us. One day, you too could be told that after a year on ESA for disability, and even as you spend three days a week on kidney dialysis you should be seeking work and are no longer entitled to a benefit because your partner earns over £7500 a year.
Not entitled to a benefit if your partner earns £7500 a year and the gas company pay five directors a combined total of £16 million in 2012. Is this the kind of government people are going to vote for again?
Please not. Let’s not pretend it’s not happening.
Here are some links to sites that have the evidence base to back up the gist of this post – that economic inequality is not just a matter of choosing McVities digestives over the value brand – it is in fact deadly.
New Scientist and The Equality Trust which has a good animation on the landing page that shows exactly how much Centrica directors’ eye-watering pay relates to the piddling amount of ‘wealth’ that the rest of us (the 99%) are trying to hold on to, to pay the next gas bill…
Oh, and as a postscript, I bought a man’s jumper in the British Heart Foundation charity shop. It’s a nice blue, and it’s pretty itchy, but it cost £3.50 and it keeps me warm. I am back in the 1970s… As Charles Dickens said, it is the winter of despair indeed.
Edited to add: If you feel strongly, there’s a petition to re-nationalise utilities here. I can’t see it ever happening, but perhaps it might concentrate a few minds.