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The Politics of Porridge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 9:35pm in

The Politics of PORRIDGE

With inflation now at 5.4% and the cost of living soaring with it, the humble oat has become an avatar of moral virtue in a right-wing culture war, Sian Norris reports

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Is there a foodstuff that holds more political and social metaphors than the humble bowl of porridge? 

From staple peasant food to the gruel demanded by hungry orphans; from a word associated with prison to an aspirational-detox-wellness-glowing-green-eating-clean-eating luxury (posh porridge for dogs now only £50 a bag!), porridge’s most recent incarnation is as a right-wing meme to attack those living in poverty and a way to fix the cost of living crisis. 

The politics of porridge was in the spotlight again after the energy company OVO was forced to apologise for a blogpost that advised consumers to save energy by tucking into a bowl of hot oats. The company said it was “embarrassed” by its “poorly-judged advice”.

The message that poverty can end if the poor eat porridge is one repeatedly voiced by politicians and activists on the right whenever hunger or the cost of living crisis is in the news. 

Take this 2017 tweet from political commentator Isabel Oakeshott, who complained that parents which didn’t provide their children with breakfast were “failing woefully” and should consider buying a “bag of porridge for £1; will last a family all week”. The tweet came a month after reports that up to three million children would go hungry in the school holidays. 

The journalist Marcus Stead also waded into the porridge discourse when he tweeted that we should “stop all this nonsense about people not being able to ‘afford’ to give their children breakfast… A bag of porridge to feed a family for a week costs £1”.

Back in 2014, Baroness Jenkin had to apologise after saying that hunger stemmed, in part, from losing cooking skills, concluding that “poor people don’t know how to cook”. She went on to say that she had “a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p” – the implication being the masses could and should follow her example.

A quick keyword search for “porridge” on Twitter reveals how widespread the belief that poverty can be fixed through oats is.

“Food poverty is a myth, it only exists through choices,” reads one tweet that details a shopping list of porridge, yoghurt and tinned peaches. Another tweeter agrees that “food poverty is a choice… feckless, thick parents”. “What is food poverty?” asks another. “The choice to have a bowl of porridge oats at 7.5p per serving or a bowl of chocolatey sugary cereal at a much higher cost per serving?”

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Let Them Eat Porridge!

In the right-wing, libertarian mind, porridge has become the cure-all for food poverty: it’s cheap, it’s good for you and it is imbued with a nostalgia of sturdy old-fashioned British grub. Never mind that this nostalgia seems rooted in Dickensian poverty.

But the commentary on porridge hides an inconvenient truth about the cost of living crisis and the costs of being poor, at a time when inflation has hit a 30-year high of 5.4%.

Let’s take the price analysis first. Whether your bowl of porridge rings in at Baroness Jenkins’ 4p or Oakeshott’s £1 a packet, the cost of porridge goes beyond the oats. It requires electricity or gas to heat the milk or water, it requires a pan to cook it in, it requires time and it requires a topping such as honey, fruit, jam or syrup (plain porridge is no one’s first breakfast choice).

People living in poverty are more likely to be on prepaid gas and electric meters, meaning their energy costs tend to be higher as they miss out on the best fixed rate tariffs. Five minutes on a gas hob clocks up a few kilowatt hours, unlike pouring “chocolatey sugary cereal” into a bowl. 

Around four million households in England are classed as fuel poor, as are 25% of households in Scotland, 12% in Wales, and 18% in Northern Ireland. Now, with energy costs set to soar, a further two million homes are at risk of falling into fuel poverty. This comes at a time when food costs are already going up, including the cost of porridge, and the removal of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit took up to £1,040 a year out of the poorest families’ budgets.

The rising cost of fuel means that low income households are set to spend 18% of their income on energy bills. Suddenly, 4p a bowl isn’t so realistic.

Then there’s access to a hob or microwave to make the porridge in the first place. Nearly 125,000 children are currently living in temporary accommodation such as hotels or hostels. People living in temporary accommodation often have to share cooking facilities or have no access to cooking equipment at all – a situation worsened by the Coronavirus lockdowns. In a survey by Shelter, a third of respondents said that they struggled to prepare food and eat properly during lockdown because of inadequate cooking facilities. 

Speaking in 2019, a homeless mother shared how she couldn’t even go to the food bank to get porridge or tinned goods to feed her daughter “as there was nothing in our accommodation to cook with. We were living off fast food, or what friends could give us”. She and her daughter were housed in a hotel for nine months.

Women with histories of gender-based violence who are housed in mixed-sex spaces have spoken of their discomfort of sharing facilities with men, meaning that they are less likely to take advantage of communal cooking spaces. How can you cook porridge when the kitchen is a threatening place, or when you have no kitchen at all?


Food or Fuel?Human Cost of the Energy Crisis
Sian Norris

The Joy of Food

In the UK today, around 1.8 million children are now growing up in very deep poverty, meaning that the household’s income is so low that it is completely inadequate to cover the basics. This is an increase of half a million in the last decade.

Food poverty is not an individual failing or a choice – it’s not a question of picking Sugar Puffs over porridge. It’s a combination of poor housing, rising energy costs, the cost of food and the time needed to cook and prepare healthy meals. 

In one ironic way, Baroness Jenkin was correct in that there is a lack of cooking knowledge. Such ignorance spans wealth demographics, not just families living in poverty. Cooking rates are highly gendered – only 46% of men cook for themselves every day compared to 71% of women – and 2014 statistics say one in 10 British people don’t know how to cook. There is a need to provide practical advice on how to cook healthy and nutritional meals across the board. 

But cooking skills are meaningless if you can’t afford the oats, and the honey or jam, and when facing a choice between food and fuel. They are meaningless when there are no facilities to cook with or no accessible space to cook in. 

While porridge with honey or fruit is a nutritious and warming breakfast, it is just one meal. It’s hard to believe those preaching the benefits of oats would think of feeding their (real or hypothetical) children the same dish, day in, day out, creating a misery out of mealtimes.

Even children living in poverty deserve a tasty treat, don’t they? 

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Britain’s Immovable Institutions: The Diversity Deficit in the Upper Ranks of the Army

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 7:30pm in

Britain’s Immovable InstitutionsThe Diversity Deficit in the Upper Ranks of the Army

Sascha Lavin reveals new data about the lack of black representation in top army positions, and considers what this shows about modern Britain

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Only 0.4% of senior officers in the British Army are black, an investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

A Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence found that, in April 2021, Lieutenant Colonel ranks and above were overwhelmingly held by white people (97%). Just four of every 1,000 positions in these upper ranks were held by black army personnel. 

Black soldiers are over-represented in the army, but few are promoted to senior positions. Although black people make up 3.4% of the UK population, 6.7% of army personnel identify as black.

Yet a new investigation found that only 0.4% of black soldiers held top army jobs. Publicly available Ministry of Defence data from 2018 showed that across the armed forces, only 2.5% of officers were black and ethnic minority – an increase of just 0.1% in six years.

In a 2019 interview with the BBC, the first Service Complaints Ombudsman Nicola Williams accused the armed forces of being “institutionally racist” and noted that “incidents of racism are occurring with increasing and depressing frequency”.

Data from the Service Complaints Ombudsman shows that disproportionate numbers of non-white personnel have made complaints of abuse over the past five years. Last year, 15% of complaints were made by people of colour, even though they make up only 8% of the armed forces (including the Navy and the Air Force).

David Nkomo, a former soldier, suffered repeated racial discrimination throughout his four years of service. Speaking to the BBC for the documentary ‘Racism in the Ranks‘, Nkomo described how he was regularly referred to as “Black Dave” and was called a racist and derogatory slur by a senior colleague. 

Two former paratroopers also won a racial discrimination claim against the Ministry of Defence, after a judgment ruled that the army had created a “degrading, humiliating and offensive environment”. The tribunal heard that a colleague had drawn a swastika and a Hitler moustache on photographs of Nkululeko Zulu and Hani Gue. 


The Nationality and Borders Bill is aLegacy of Empire
Dr Maria Norris

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the most senior military officer wrote to members of the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, urging them to “refuse to allow intolerance”.

Head of the British Army General Sir Nick Carter said: “We owe it to our black, Asian and minority ethnic servicemen and women, who will be feeling concerned at the moment, to try and look at this from their perspective, to listen and to continue to make change happen”.

However, there are questions about whether the army is doing enough to both stamp out discrimination – and to encourage the promotion of non-white individuals to its higher ranks.

Given the association of the armed forces with the imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries, it could be said that not enough has been done to signal to people of colour that they are a valued part of Britain’s modern military.

These racial inequalities are similarly witnessed throughout British society, politics and economics. In 2018, it was reported that more people called David and Steve lead FTSE 100 companies than women and ethnic minorities. At the time of the report, nine people called David and four people called Steve led FTSE 100 firms, compared to just five people from non-white backgrounds.

In October 2021, only 52 or 6.6% of members of the House of Lords were from ethnic minority groups, and only 12 of the 220 women elected at the 2019 General Election were black.

Figures also indicate that black Caribbean pupils have in recent years been nearly twice as likely to be excluded from schools than white pupils, as well as being three times more likely to be permanently excluded. Black people also serve prison sentences which are 50% longer than those of white people.

The British Army is perhaps one of the most egregious examples of how black people – and others from non-white backgrounds – are stifled, and discriminated against, within our country’s major institutions.

A Colourblind Ministry of Defence?

Despite committing to racial diversity, the Ministry of Defence seemed unable to provide the Byline Intelligence Team with a clear answer about how many top jobs are held by black personnel. 

In response to a Freedom of Information request regarding the number of black personnel in the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or above in April 2020, the the department counted eight high-ranking soldiers, accounting for 0.32% of all senior soldiers.

Yet, according to publicly available Ministry of Defence data, there were 10 soldiers holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or above who identified as black that year, making up 0.41% of the upper ranks.     

The department was also inconsistent when calculating the number of black personnel with the rank of Major. In response to another Freedom of Information request, the Byline Intelligence Team was initially told that 40 serving soldiers matched the criteria. However, the Ministry of Defence later revised its answer, claiming that there were only 29 black Majors. 

No reason was given for the corrections or disparities. 


THE SEWELL REPORTRace Commission Couldn’t FindSomething It Wasn’t Looking For
Jonathan Portes

The Freedom of Information response explained that the figure given of 29 had “not been rounded as requested”. This suggests that, when calculating the numbers of black high-ranking staff, the department ‘rounds up’ its figures, potentially creating an inflated impression of its diversity. 

The correspondence raises questions around how accurately the Ministry of Defence collects data on race. Without clear information, it is difficult to build up a picture about the lived experiences of people of colour in the armed forces and to create policies that address racial discrimination.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The armed forces continues to work hard to broaden the diversity of our workforce through actively engaging with our employees to drive an inclusive culture at work, attract the best talent and better reflect the society we serve. 

“It can take a number of years for recruits to reach senior leadership positions, which is why we are working hard to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups including, those from ethnic minority backgrounds, women, and LGBT+ individuals.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Revenge Capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 5:03pm in

Is Revenge Capitalism messing up our world?

Ross Ashcroft met up with Author and Teacher, Dr Max Haiven.

The post Revenge Capitalism appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Revenge Capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 5:03pm in

Is Revenge Capitalism messing up our world?

Ross Ashcroft met up with Author and Teacher, Dr Max Haiven.

The post Revenge Capitalism appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Jackpot: How London Became a Concierge for Kleptocrats

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 8:00pm in

The JackpotHow London Became A Concierge for Kleptocrats

Novelist Cory Doctorow tracks Britain’s domestic scandals back to the capital’s reliance on laundered money from overseas, and the feasting of so many professions on the proceeds

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In his 2014 novel, The Peripheral, William Gibson plunges us into a far-future London: radically depopulated, quietly authoritarian and under the iron thumb of “the Klept” – a fusion of the British chumocracy with post-Soviet Eurasian kleptocracy.

The origins of this society – its neo-aristocracy, its captivity to inscrutable AIs called “the Aunties” – are lost to history. They all took place during a time called “The Jackpot” – an interregnum in which huge swathes of records simply vanished amid social breakdown, climate emergencies and cyberwar.

Gibson will be the first to tell you that he is not attempting prophecy with his work, but it cannot be denied that he has an eerie ability to reflect back our latent, inchoate fears about the future through his fiction – something he calls “predicting the present”.

When I emigrated from the UK to America in 2016, I explained my reasons for doing so in a piece called ‘Why I’m Leaving London’. The main driver was the increasing obviousness that the city existed primarily to launder vast, corrupt fortunes, and only incidentally was a place where Londoners could live and thrive.

Since then, the UK – and particularly the City of London, home of the nation’s finances – has doubled-down on its role as an enabler and concierge to the world’s filthiest money, and the psychopaths who come with it. The UK and its overseas territories consistently top the Tax Justice Network’s annual ‘Financial Secrecy Index’.

Not all corrupt money comes from the former Soviet republics of Eurasia, but these countries – and Russia – embody a special kind of corruption: kleptocracy (“a political economy dominated by a small number of people/entities with close links to the state”).

This form of corruption is closely related to the ‘chumocracy’ that dominates British politics as can be clearly seen in the ruling Conservative Party. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the UK, with its Thatcherite and New Labour emphasis on finance, and its political compatibility with kleptocracy, is a linchpin in global kleptocratic money-laundering and corruption.


The March of theOligarchs
Peter Jukes

The Enablers

The connections between Eurasian kleptocrats and the UK political system, its finance sector, its charities, its libel laws, its property market, and its luxury goods sector, is rigorously explored in ‘The UK’s Kleptocracy Problem‘ – a report by the Chatham House think tank.

It shows how the UK is a one-stop-shop for corrupt, wealthy public officials from Eurasian kleptocracies; how the UK’s finance sector launders their money; how the Home Office sells them citizenship via ‘golden visas’; how the country’s estate agents convert their money into multi-million-pound mansions and super-flats; how its charities launder their reputations, recasting them as philanthropists; how its billion-pound mega-law firms and ‘reputation managers’ can destroy their critics and terrorise their publishers, cleansing these people of sin with expert use of Britain’s notoriously bully-friendly libel laws. And it shows how, while this is all going on, the country’s luxury department stores will offer such individuals white glove service as they spend millions on gem-crusted, bespoke trinkets.

But not only do oligarchs buy influence with British governments and regulators, they also use their London-washed money to funnel bribes to politicians around the world. Think here of the Azerbaijani Laundromat, in which $2.9 billion was funnelled through four UK shell companies and converted, in part, into bribes paid to EU politicians.

UK politicians – both Labour and Conservative – have managed to divert interest from this influx of unsavoury plutocrats and instead focus on hard-working, everyday people who come to the UK to do hard, every-day work.

For 40 years, British politics has been dominated by a xenophobic terror of ‘economic migrants’ (a major factor in Brexit), with complaints about foreigners competing for housing and resources. Meanwhile, the issue of ultra-wealthy kleptocrats coming to Britain to buy its football teams, entire swathes of its major cities, its newspapers, and its politicians has largely gone unremarked upon.

Neoliberal economists describe the UK as a post-industrial nation focused on ‘services’ – not the ‘service sector’ (plumbers, waiters, cab drivers), but high-ticket services like wealth management, legal strategy, investment counsel, reputation management, property management, and so on. These ‘service-providers’ should more properly known as ‘enablers’.

The reputation management industry – which draws on all these services – describes its role in helping clients create ‘coherent narratives’ about their identity and wealth, helps them steer clear of ‘out of place’ investments, and identifies foundations and think tanks that they can support to be known as ‘philanthropists’.

Enablers don’t just help craft a public-facing narrative for oligarchs though – they’re just as skilled at creating an opaque bubble of secrecy around the parts of oligarchs’ lives that are less savoury. Britons are fire-hosed with information about kleptocrats’ philanthropic activities and endorsements by members of the British elite, but we almost never hear about the klepts’ private wealth, investment and assets.

Britain’s borders are notoriously hostile to working people, but they are extremely porous when it comes to the klept. The “tier 1 investor visa” is a golden passport by another name – a way to spend a pittance for freedom of motion between the looted, authoritarian states of Eurasia and the UK. Don’t let the “investor” fool you: there is no good evidence that the ‘investments’ required under the scheme have a positive effect on the UK’s real economy.


Profiteering, not PhilanthropyHow Public Schools Abandoned Public Service
Iain Overton

Eroding the Rule of Law

The British political class will tell you the UK has advanced anti-money laundering controls, with scrutiny of politically exposed persons and those holding passports from high-risk countries. These laws are deceptive.

A ‘high-risk’ nation, for example, is one without good money laundering regulations – including countries like Jamaica, which are not particularly prominent in the global corruption industry. Meanwhile, Eurasian countries with strong anti-laundering laws that are never enforced are considered ‘low risk’ – because risk is calculated based on the existence of a law, not its enforcement.

The rules that require estate agents, bankers, and luxury goods dealers to report transactions from ‘politically exposed persons’ (PEPs) are riddled with loopholes and primarily enforced through non-existent self-regulation. A politician’s immediate family, for instance, cease to be PEPs the day the politician leaves office – so a corrupt dictator’s kids can buy a £60 million Knightsbridge property the day their dad steps down, with no reporting requirement.

Even when solicitors, estate agents and other covered professionals are caught ignoring the reporting rules, they face tiny fines and no lasting penalties. Many offer the defence that they didn’t know they were working for PEPs – thus there’s an incentive to simply not ask any questions when someone shows up looking to spend eight or nine figures through your firm.

Perversely, the finance sector goes overboard in the other direction, with an approach that is ‘risk-averse’ and also ‘risk-insensitive’. UK banks flood the financial regulator with “suspicious activity reports” (SARs), filing these whenever a transaction has even a glancing contact with Eurasia. The regulator – grossly under-staffed – ignores nearly all of these SARs and the transactions proceed, with the banks’ asses now covered by dint of having filed the SAR.

Another failing of UK anti-corruption law is its emphasis on identifying and blocking the proceeds of ‘crime’ rather than ‘corruption’. When an oligarch loots, it’s only a crime if the state decides that it is. The Kazakh oligarch Nurali Aliyev loaned himself $65 million from the bank he chaired and used it to buy a Highgate mansion (“there is no evidence to suggest the loan was repaid”). Kazakh authorities did not classify this as a theft, so UK anti-corruption law has little to say about it.

The flip side of this is that when oligarchs fall out of favour and go into self-exile in London, their adversaries back home can use the UK authorities to exact revenge at a distance, by selectively classifying their wealth as criminal assets and ratting them out to the British authorities.

(Of course, oligarch-on-oligarch warfare isn’t limited to pitting rivals against UK tax authorities – there’s also spectacular acts of violence, including assassination by nerve agent and radioactive poison).


Another CountryNot the One I Represented for 30 Years
Alexandra Hall Hall

The Poison Spreads

A key enabler of the klept in the UK is the nation’s great law firms, with waves of mergers producing chambers that generate more than £1 billion in annual billings.

These firms offer full service – papering over the purchases of giant mansions; and suing the newspapers, publishers and reporters who write about them. Britain’s libel laws – much-admired by Donald Trump – are a great help here.

I’ve been on the receiving end of these threats, personally, and was forced to delete a truthful account of a billionaire’s financial stake in a firm that is implicated in human rights abuses around the world. The report cites a British journalist who estimates that “upwards of 50% of critical material about oligarchs ends up on the cutting-room floor” as newspaper lawyers force redactions of materials known to be true.

The British charitable sector is also a favourite source of reputation laundering for kleptocrats, particularly charities associated with the Royal Family, but also great universities and prominent think tanks. Charities and universities have come to depend on private money more and more over the past 20 years as austerity has starved them of public money. That makes them especially vulnerable to co-option by kleptocrats.

As interested as oligarchs are in being associated with the charitable sector, they’re even more interested in funding the UK Conservative Party itself.

The Conservative co-chairman, Ben Elliot, has formalised a ‘cash for access’ arrangement whereby major donors are invited to private events and dinners with ministers and the Prime Minister. Elliot is a natural to court oligarchs for the Conservatives – his day job is running a “luxury concierge service” called Quintessentially, which provides “services” to the ultra-wealthy. Elliot’s spokesperson says that this work is “entirely separate” from his work as co-chair of the Conservative Party.

The Made-in-Britain enablers of the klept will tell you that the fortunes they facilitate are not criminal fortunes, and the Home Office will tell you that its focus is on Eurasian criminal gangs. But, as the Pandora Papers – and other vast finance leaks – show us, the criminal wealth of the former Soviet Union is minute when compared to the oligarchs’ fortunes.

The klept isn’t criminal, because the klept writes the laws.

This is how The Jackpot starts.

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A New Era of Austerity Beckons

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 7:30pm in

A New Era of Austerity Beckons

For the past 12 years, the Conservative Party’s response to high public spending has always been the same: impose the burden on lower income families, says Maheen Behrana

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Few people could have failed to be amused by the news that Michael Gove got stuck in a lift at BBC Broadcasting House prior to an appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme last week. Less amusing, however, was Gove’s quip that the security team had “levelled him up” after more than half an hour of being trapped in the glass box.

‘Levelling up’ is no longer a winning slogan for the Conservatives. As warnings of higher energy bills become more urgent and the Mirror launches a new ‘Levelling Up Watch’ series to chronicle the Government’s broken promises, it is clear that squeezed family finances will imminently violate the party’s promises to the electorate in 2019.

Attitudes towards public spending across society are often polarised, with almost the same number of people believing that the Government taxes and spends too much as the number who believe that it taxes and spends too little. But recent polling also shows that the percentage of people who believe that the Government is getting the balance of taxation and spending right has fallen. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With the Government planning a National Insurance hike in April, while people are already feeling the effects of inflation and commodity shortages, it is understandable that many feel let down. Britons are now suffering from a combination of overwhelmed public services, rising taxes and rapidly diminishing reserves of disposable income.


A Portrait of Broken Britain
Sam Bright

All this is causing disquiet in the Conservative ranks, with Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, reportedly having privately urged the Government to scrap its proposed National Insurance hike.

Like many of the more vocal Conservative backbenchers, he has recognised that economics decides elections – and may ultimately be this Government’s downfall, superseding questions of morality that surround Downing Street’s approach to its own lockdown rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, people notice when their personal finances are worsening, whereas the erosion of democracy and morality doesn’t affect individuals in such a direct manner.

Moreover, Rees-Mogg is evidently concerned that the Government is breaking the Conservative Party’s historical commitment – or so it claims – to financial moderation. The party has boasted throughout the years that it seeks to reduce taxes, while lambasting Labour for allegedly seeking to increase the boundaries of the state.

But, despite these claims, the Conservative Party has never really been a party of low taxation.

Different Policies; Same Outcomes

Margaret Thatcher famously slashed high tax rates upon coming into power, but the cut in tax on higher-rate taxpayers was far greater than the tax cuts granted to lower earners.

Additionally, these tax cuts were somewhat mitigated by a rise in VAT from 8% to 15% – imposing a greater burden on less wealthy individuals, who pay exactly the same tax rate on purchases as their wealthier counterparts. We also must not forget Thatcher’s doomed poll tax, an attempt to impose a blanket per capita tax on adults across the country.

Fast-forward to today and we can see that many of the taxation choices made by the current Government are in a similarly Thatcherite vein. Increasing National Insurance targets income rather than wealth, impacting all working taxpayers at the same rate – there will be no progressive decreases in the rate as income falls.

The Conservatives refuse to impose a wealth tax, or to levy a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers, who have seen their profits rocket this year as gas prices have increased. Instead, the burden of the Government’s spending during the Coronavirus pandemic – much of which has benefitted private firms – will be suffered by ordinary people.

As inflation mounts and taxes rise, many people will see their real incomes fall – and the Government is so far stubbornly refusing to do anything to compensate.


How the Red Wall Has BeenLevelled Down Since 2010
Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin

Ultimately, the Conservative Party believes in alleviating the tax burden for the richest: it is a low-tax party, but primarily for the elite. It doesn’t believe in a redistributive system of taxation, that would reallocate resources from the richest to poorest, because that offends the party’s rigid economic ideologies.

Conservative thought isn’t about low taxation, just as left-wing thought isn’t necessarily about high taxation. The two standpoints differ on the targets of taxation. Conservatives place the tax burden, and the burden of under-funded public services, on the poorest individuals. They believe that, by reducing taxes on the richest, wealth will miraculously ‘trickle down’ throughout society, rather than being siphoned-off through offshore havens and shareholder dividends.

A decade ago, then Prime Minister David Cameron proposed paying for comparatively high public spending by slashing state services. Now, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak propose paying for the pandemic through higher taxes. The policies are different but the outcome is the same: a new era of austerity for low-income families.

Labour failed to make headway during Cameron’s time in office – it will be interesting to see whether this changes as families begin to feel the pinch under Johnson and Sunak.

Maheen Behrana is a senior campaigns and policy officer for the campaign group ‘Best for Britain’. This article is written in a personal capacity 

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Book Review: The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past by Mike Savage

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 10:53pm in

In The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past, Mike Savage explores how inequality has surfaced as a pressing cause for concern over the past decade, offering an ambitious interdisciplinary re-theorisation of inequality and bringing a historical understanding to the table. Its deeply contextual approach, theoretical breadth and historical consciousness make this hugely generative book a major contribution to understanding inequality today, writes Jo Littler

The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past. Mike Savage. Harvard University Press. 2021.  

Book cover of The Return of InequalityFind this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

Mike Savage’s new book is long and weighty, as befits its subject: the return of inequality as an issue to be understood in all its contemporary grotesque complexities. Savage is probably best known for his work on class and social stratification, including the BBC collaboration The Great British Class Survey and the Pelican book Social Class in the 21st Century, as well as for his work on the sociology of culture and the history of social methods. His new book starts from the premise that inequality is now once again a major topic of public and academic concern. Unlike the start of this century, it argues, when public discourse was saturated with ideas that we were, by and large, advancing into a progressive future via social liberalism, technological globalisation and knowledge-based economic growth, today the stark, unavoidable realities of economic and social inequalities, democratic breakdown and climate crisis have set a new tenor, a new normal. No longer can social science take refuge in the comforting delusion that we exist in an era of reflexive modernisation at the end of history.

The introduction discusses how inequality has surfaced as a cause for concern over the past decade. There has been a ‘turning of the telescope’: an increasing sense that the rich, rather than the poor, might need to be the subject of scrutiny, and indeed might be the main social problem, as evinced by both the Occupy movement and the rise of ‘elite studies’ in sociology. Today, it argues, inequality now even bothers the wealthy much more: elites cannot use wealth to guarantee their own security in a world they can ‘no longer predict and control’. It points to the mainstream success of books on inequality, and in particular Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (with which it is fascinated). The book discusses the problems of the social sciences: its siloed nature, rigid disciplinary boundaries, the fetishisation of big data devoid of social and historical context. Inequality ‘has come to prominence precisely as the anomaly that troubles conventional social science models’.

The Return of Inequality therefore sets out to provide an ambitious interdisciplinary re-theorisation of inequality and, in particular, to bring a historical understanding to the table. It argues that the accumulated ‘weight of the past’ has surfaced in a myriad of contexts, from Black Lives Matter to right-wing nationalism to #MeToo. Savage’s undergraduate degree was in history, and the book is at pains to emphasise both that sociology is ‘not fundamentally different from history or geography’ in its scope and that the imbrication of the humanities and social sciences is crucial and necessary. Appropriately, each chapter takes as its point of departure a particular graph, image or table – from the Gini coefficient, to Pierre Bourdieu’s spatial map of distinction, to a photograph of Rhodes Must Fall – and uses it to launch its exploration into a different facet of inequality. There is an ongoing engagement with the power of the visual.

Two ladders, one taller, one shorter

Photo by Biao Xie on Unsplash

The Return of Inequality is split into three parts. The first considers established theories of inequality; the second analyses its various different dimensions; the third weighs up what is to be done. Part One is where Savage is by far on surest ground. Its three chapters pivot around the work of Piketty, Bourdieu and Karl Marx respectively, but range well beyond. They feel like instant seminar room classics, providing magnificently lucid analytical overviews of the different historical techniques and traditions used to measure economic inequality, cultural and social capital and wealth accumulation.

The latter section places wealth rather than just income inequality fully into the picture of today’s rentier-driven, asset-based economy. Savage writes of how, in most ‘developed’ nations, ‘50% of wealth is now inherited’. Because we are now returning to a world with higher capital stocks, ‘the weight of the past is returning, and along with this comes resurgent elitism, patronage, discrimination, and the entrenchment of inherited privilege’.

Part Two of the book is the longest and is more experimental than the first. Its six chapters range across different dimensions of inequality (imperialism and the nation state; the body, ‘race’, class and gender; cities and space; changing dynamics of data and knowledge). The key argument is that inequality trends are associated with elite formation amongst competing global powers, which it traces back through the formation of nation states as well as to past and present imperial projects.

Along the way, this section argues against identity politics, and instead for an approach examining how ‘visceral inequalities’ of the body become more profound as relative social inequalities decline yet historical inequalities remain unaddressed. It is critical of the post-war liberal vision of social mobility, of its expectations of evaporating inequality ‘in the hot sun of affluence driven by economic growth’. It analyses the changing inequalities of cities, arguing that they are now less modernistic and dynamic than receptacles for sedimented capital. And it discusses how the widespread practice of ‘de-reading’ and rise of shorter digital attention spans has been harnessed by elite corporate wealth.

Part Three suggests what should be done. Policy alone can’t cut it, Savage argues, at a time when politics is returning to the parameters of the nineteenth century: characterised not so much by left and right divisions as by ‘intra-elite axes, often organised around religious or geographical divides’. In such a context – within the fraying fabric of nation states and resurgent nationalism – appeals to ‘effective skilled management’ are themselves part of the political problem. Instead Savage gives us a five-point plan: reviving radicalism; de-centring economic growth; holding capital to account; redistributing wealth; and cultivating ‘sustainable nationalism’.

The Return of Inequality is a hugely generative book. Its deeply contextual approach, theoretical breadth and historical consciousness make a major contribution to understanding inequality today. It is excellent to think with. Inevitably there are issues in need of much further discussion. For instance, gender is well considered as part of the ‘visceral inequalities’ section, but overall plays a relatively minor role. The book would benefit from including the work of more female sociologists who have written about this topic (like Sylvia Walby’s Globalization and Inequalities) and more on global gendered inequalities. Similarly, environmental crisis and sustainability are rightly emphasised at the beginning and end of the book, but this could do with much greater development and emphasis throughout.

I also have some issues with the prescriptions of the final chapter (whilst finding them good overall). The book advocates ‘sustainable nationalism’ whilst dismissing both nationalisation (on the ground that it’s authoritarian) and cosmopolitanism. This is problematic, both because cosmopolitanism has a more multifaceted history than Savage acknowledges, and because any consideration of a sustainable nation state surely needs to be accompanied by overt commitments to cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, to avoid all the obviously exclusionary dangers the nation state brings. Plus, explicitly throwing out any form of nationalisation as political strategy is an ideological relic from the very era of neoliberal third way politics that Savage is critiquing (at a time when the NHS urgently needs recommitting to nationalisation, and when collectivising ownership of broadband and energy would address many problems the book identifies). More engagement with pre-existing suggested solutions, both academic (such as Andrew Sayer’s book Why We Can’t Afford the Rich) and from the work of think tanks and NGOs, would also be useful at the end of the book.

Such quibbling is in part the product of different perspectives, positions, generations; our entry points into the issue of inequalities are not the same. For instance, I was part of a generation of social theorists participating in the European Social Forums in the 2000s where inequality was already very much on the agenda (despite the best efforts of much social theory). We all have different geographical and generational perspectives because of where and how we were thrown into the conjuncture. What makes this book so good is how it situates the inequalities of the present by rigorously extending existing theories, by imaginatively joining so many historical dots together and by capaciously expanding this difficult and necessary conversation. At the same time, there is clearly plenty of work still to do.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

A parable for both fairness and the climate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 10:48pm in

Oxfam in recent article have released news that the Covid pandemic has made inequality even worse: New billionaire minted every 26 hours, as inequality contributes to the death of one person every four seconds  In a new briefing “Inequality Kills,” published today ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, Oxfam says that inequality is... Read more

The Highs and Lows of 2021: A Disabled Person’s Perspective

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/01/2022 - 8:00pm in

The Highs and Lows of 2021A Disabled Person’s Perspective

Penny Pepper shares some of the enduring inequalities and the memorable breakthroughs which characterised the past year for disabled people

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When attempting a review of 2021 from a disability perspective, it’s hard to avoid the Coronavirus pandemic.

Discussing this with my networks, friends and colleagues, I asked: was there anything beyond COVID-19?

We already know the horrific statistics that disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the virus for reasons that are not entirely clear. According to the Health Foundation, “there has been a surprising absence of analysis of the reasons for this particular inequality”. 

But some of the impacts on disabled people that have not received as much exposure include chronic loneliness, a multiplying of barriers and exacerbated isolation. If you are already restricted by barriers to your freedom – along with limited support – it’s no wonder that COVID-19 has increased them.

It is difficult for anyone not to sink into the psychological effects of this ‘new normal’ – a mindset likely to deteriorate with the Government appearing to give up on those citizens that it has corralled into the paddock of the ‘most vulnerable’. Indeed, Long COVID may bring new members to the disability club – and no doubt the shock at how much discrimination and even abuse disabled people face will leave many reeling.

Add to this the impact on the NHS. Many chronic secondary health conditions disabled people already face cannot now be treated regularly or in time, resulting in complications that are more serious – more expensive – in the future. 


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The Government’s much-delayed non-event of its health and disability green paper – ‘Shaping Future Support‘ – was a repeat exercise in old policies boiling down to the idea of ‘can we make this cheaper and get you back to work?’. It disregarded the ‘social model’ of disability – which examines how society is organised in a way that is non-responsive to disabled people – opting squarely to ‘improving’ the lives of individual disabled people.  

The Health and Care Bill likewise was met with mixed responses. Disabled people hardly merited a mention in it and the proposed legislation remains a confusing, contradictory effort. As reported by the King’s Fund think tank, “the bill falls far short of a meaningful commitment on social care”.

Disabled activists roll their weary eyes. Social care is already in tatters; the battlefield and the casualties mount up even now. From being denied support to use the toilet at night, to endless heartless ‘assessments’, the current approach is obscene and counter-intuitive to the original purpose of a welfare state. Unsurprisingly, not one person supported the Government’s approach when I issued a call-out for views across my networks. May the Gods help us all if this bill is implemented. 

2021 also saw the independent peer Baroness Jane Campbell and others speak out to support the continuation of ‘hybrid’ online working, although a number of disabled people reported that it was not always an easy option. Like most people, we are missing the interaction with other human beings – the right to do this, to be within a community in the outside world, is something for which disabled people have campaigned fiercely, whether it’s through the independent living movement or the closure of vast mental asylums.

It is not for the first time I feel that disabled people are more acutely aware of what it means to lose basic freedoms than their non-disabled counterparts.

Some Memorable Highlights

Determined to find some highlights in 2021, I was reminded of some breakthrough moments within society and the media.

Channel 4 reported an overall viewing figure of 20 million for the Paralympic Games. Some people with Down’s Syndrome secured the right for their campaign to challenge what they believe is a discriminatory abortion law at the High Court, hailed as a ground-breaking action for people with learning difficulties. 

We saw the deaf Eastenders actress, Rose Ayling-Ellis, win BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, irresistibly lifting the mood of many and leading to a huge interest in learning BSL. Veteran disabled actor Liz Carr was on TV a lot – including in a recent episode of The Witcher, wearing a fetching ginger wig, and in the much-delayed release of the Hollywood film InfiniteThe Bookseller – the industry magazine of publishing – even had a ‘disability special edition’. Responses may have been mixed, but it’s a great start. 

One of my favourite highlights was screenwriter Jack Thorne’s MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival last August. As an old-timer still determined to tell the widest disability story, Thorne’s words encourage my cautious optimism. His lecture was important because we remain ignored, side-lined, overlooked, patronised, second-class, and sometimes hated without much condemnation. We need to be heard.


Recognise Disabled People’s RightsInstead of Turning them into Charity Cases
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Our visibility on TV, in particular, is increasing and stories are moving away from the tired clichés of ‘pity porn’ and its flip-side twin ‘triumph over tragedy’. What happens behind the camera counts for just as much in terms of equality – from who is writing material to who the make-up artist is. As Thorne observed, “TV has failed disabled people”, and there is a lot to do. The statistics on this make a mockery of inclusion initiatives – and committees and forums and think tanks – that I have been privy to for more than 25 years. 

A story helps us become human, but as the biggest marginalised group comprising 20% of the population, we scarcely make up 2% anywhere within diversity streams. Our chronic absence from the mainstream narrative links directly to institutional discrimination, including disabled people have been treated during the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing scandals with the Department for Work and Pensions (always a low point). 

Among my personal highlights in 2021 was writing for Byline Times and the engagement with readers.

Surviving my working-class background, 1970s power cuts as a kid and Thatcher in the 80s, it’s good to look back on what we’ve all survived – and I remain optimistic with the grassroots disability activism that continues. Together, let’s look out of the window – watch less mainstream news and wait for the sun.

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The Growing Regional Wealth Gap and Why it Matters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/01/2022 - 2:00am in

The Growing Regional Wealth Gap& Why it Matters

Sam Bright evaluates new data showing a growing divide between richer and poorer parts of the country

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New data has been released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in recent days about the wealth gap between people living in different areas of the country.

The statistics haven’t generated much attention – even though they show burgeoning wealth inequalities between the richest and poorest regions.

The data reveals that average (median) wealth among individuals in the south-east of England (£236,000) was £157,000 higher than in the north-east (£79,000), between April 2018 and March 2020. Or, to put it another way, individual wealth in the north-east was just a third of individual wealth in the south-east.

What’s more, the ONS data shows that these wealth inequalities have been growing markedly in recent years. Indeed, the wealth divide between the south-east and north-east was £80,000 in nominal terms – or £92,000 after adjusting for inflation – in July 2010 to June 2012, meaning that the gap has roughly doubled over the past decade.

And the numbers are even starker in relation to household rather than individual wealth. Household wealth has increased in the south-east by 43% since 2006, now standing at £503,400 – compared to just £168,500 in the north-east.

These wealth inequalities are largely a product of the housing market, and the rapid inflation of property prices in the capital – and the wider south-east – in relation to the rest of the country. In 2020, the average house price in London stood at £497,000 – almost double the England-wide average of £262,000. In Yorkshire, the figure was £175,000, in the north-west £177,000, and £275,000 in the south-west.

This hyper-inflation has been persistent for decades, entrenching obscene wealth disparities between homeowners (and non-homeowners) in different regions.

In London, property inflation stood at 200% in the 1980s, more than 100% in the 2000s and more than 60% in the 2010s. Consequently, if one household bought a property in London for £50,000 in the early 1980s and another bought a house in Yorkshire for the same amount at the same time, the former would now be worth some £400,000 more than the latter (£770,000 in London versus £380,000 in Yorkshire).

This has, in turn, pumped up the London rental market. As of May 2021, the average rent in London was £1,583 a month, compared to a UK average of £997. Renters in north-west England were paying roughly half the amount required in the capital – at just £790 a month.


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Why Does this Matter?

Place-based inequalities have grown under the radar in recent decades. Commentators on the left have continued to place emphasis on class divisions – the inequalities between rich and poor, regardless of geography – rather than inspecting how these disparities manifest within and between regions.

However, as recent elections (and referendums) have demonstrated, place-based grievances are increasingly important in understanding the political and social fabric of the UK.

The Conservative Party’s victory at the 2019 General Election, and Vote Leave’s success in 2016, were super-charged by a feeling of political and economic marginalisation among ‘left behind’ towns in the north of England, the Midlands and Wales. Similar resentments in Scotland nearly propelled it to independence in 2014, and have underwritten the SNP’s success in the country for the past decade.

The nation’s wealth continues to accumulate among a narrow cohort of the population living and/or trading in the south-east. However, the way in which this is occurring – through property inflation – is arbitrary and unfair. People working in the same professions, earning roughly the same wages and paying the same taxes, may be on the opposite ends of the wealth barometer – merely due to the location of their property.

Many people argue that these regional wealth gaps are insignificant, because the wealth of homeowners is relatively immobile. In other words: a person owning a home in London is likely to see little benefit from their property wealth, because they’re likely to stay in the London property market for years – buying another house that has inflated roughly at the same rate as theirs. They’re not able to improve their living conditions through the growth of their property wealth, because all properties in London are similarly over-priced.

However, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed this arithmetic. The normalisation of home-working has lowered the compulsion to live in the same place that you work – allowing property owners in the capital to liquidate their assets and venture beyond the confines of London. Indeed, Londoners bought homes outside the capital worth £27.6 billion in 2020, the largest amount spent since 2007.

This has a potentially corrupting effect on housing markets outside London – pushing up demand in areas with comparatively lower house prices and making it harder for local people to step onto the property ladder.

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The imbalanced inflation of property prices in the south-east also creates acute inter-generational inequalities. London property owners will eventually be able to pass down their assets to the next generation, dividing the wealth of the nation based on property inheritance. This is particularly significant given the concentration of income and opportunities in the capital; London represents a disproportionate 23% of national output, and its GDP per capita exceeds the England-wide average by some 40%.

Ergo, if your parents owned a property in London or the wider south-east, you are infinitely more likely to be able to afford a property in this part of the country – allowing you to take advantage of the riches afforded by our all-consuming capital.

Moreover, if London rental prices continue to outstrip the rest of the country, and if opportunities continue to be enclosed in the capital, vast inter-generational inequalities will widen between people in different regions. Moving down to London on a graduate salary is already prohibitively expensive; costs that are not suffered by Londoners who are able to live at home during the early years of their career.

If salaries further stagnate, as they have for the past 15 years, and London property prices continue to rise exponentially, young people outside the capital’s commuter belt will be locked out of the city that currently acts as the engine of the British economy. This process – which shows no signs of abating – violates the principles of fairness and equality of opportunity on which our economy and education system is ostensibly premised.

Regional inequality may not be the most popular injustice in modern Britain, but it is certainly one of the most profound.

Sam Bright’s book, ‘Fortress London: Why We Need to Save the Country From its Capital’, will be published this year

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