Martin Camroux assesses the damage that increasing inequality is doing to society
As a minister, you are used to people knocking on the door asking for money or food. Often they have alcohol or drug problems, or have suffered a breakdown. It is still a shock, however, to discover that we are now a country where half a million people have visited foodbanks since last Easter, and where 5,500 people were admitted to hospital for malnutrition between 2012 and 2013. It would be naïve to imagine that the increased use of foodbanks had nothing to do with the fact that their number has almost doubled in the last year; it would be equally naïve not to see the link with the rising cost of food, the persistence of low pay and the effect of benefits cutbacks. Twice as many people are facing benefit sanctions as in 2009.
Foodbanks are excellent but only an initial response. As Desmond Tutu said: “Christians shouldn’t just be pulling people out of the river. We should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in.” Upstream we find an increasingly unequal world. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where inequality has increased over the past three decades. Some of the numbers are stunning; according to Oxfam, the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. In the US, inequality is back to where it was before the Great Depression, and the richest 1% captured 95% of all income gains since 2009, while the bottom 90% got poorer.
In this country it is nearly as bad. In 30 years, income inequality in the UK has grown until the top 0.1% have an average income of over £1m while the bottom 90% have an income of under £13,000. In 1999, a FTSE100 manager earned 47 times the average income in the UK; this has risen to 88 times. Increasingly, the rich and poor live separate lives and there is a widening gap in life expectancy. William Sloane Coffin put our situation memorably: “Globalisation of the economy, it is claimed, will ‘lift all boats’. Today it’s becoming clear that it will ‘lift all yachts’. It’s not doing much for those on their leaking…
This is an extract from the May 2014 edition of Reform.