It is truly shocking. The just published report of UK’s National Equality Panel, called An anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, could not be more devastating as an indictment of the inequalities bred by the capitalist system. The report shows what Marxists already know: that the capitalist system of production enables a very small minority to live in luxury, privilege and enjoyment, while the majority’s chances of a good quality of life are stunted, restricted and destroyed.
But the report is also an indictment of the failure of the New Labour government that has been in office since 1997 to change this in any significant way. According to the report, inequalities of income, wealth and opportunity rose sharply during the ‘Thatcher years’ of 1979-90. But as of now, these inequalities are as bad as they were when Labour came to office in 1997.
Moreover, inequalities between rich and poor and the middling in Britain are greater than in most other leading capitalist economies and are even worse than they were at the end of second world war in 1945. As the report explains, these inequalities under capitalism make sure that it is impossible for those down the pyramid of income and wealth to better themselves and take advantage of so-called ‘equality of opportunity’.
Read this long and detailed 476 pp report yourself at
Or read the summary here
The UK report confirms what we knew already but in startling detail. I referred to the huge inequalities under global capitalism in my blog on 20 January – see Inequality: rich and poor, 20 January, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/20/.
In my book, The Great Recession (from Lulu.com http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-great-recession/6079458), especially in Chapter 21, I took up the bogus arguments of the current Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, who argued that you did not need equality of income or wealth to make a better society for all. You just needed ‘equality of opportunity’ through good education etc.
The UK’s Equality Panel Report annihilates that argument with the facts and the figures. Without decent wages and enough wealth, hardly anybody will fulfil their potential, because they won’t get a good education, have good health, or obtain better jobs. And without good education and a good job, you won’t earn a good income or accumulate wealth – it’s a vicious circle. Indeed, as the Labour minister responsible for ‘equality’ had to admit: class was much more important than gender or ethnic origin in affecting life chances.
Let me just list some of the conclusions of the report (and there are many more).
The top 10% of earners have four times as much income than the bottom 10%.
The top 10% of wealth holders (property, investments and cash) have 100 times the wealth of the bottom 10%.
Of the top seven capitalist economies, only the US has a higher measure of inequality of income
These inequalities ensure that children from poorer backgrounds do not achieve as much as educational success, get poorer paid and more difficult jobs, live in worse housing and grow up to be poor again.
This cycle of luxury living on the one hand and deprivation on the other, with many in the middle struggling to make things work, has been unchanged for generations (or centuries) under capitalism. And New Labour after 13 years in office has done nothing to change that.