Simon Kuper, best known for his writings on sport, has an excellent column in the FT magazine today. It is never easy to reduce a rich column to a sentence or two, but his main point is that in our celebrity-obsessed media (new and old), the poor are largely forgotten. ‘The 2.5 billion people with less than two dollars a day get ignored, due to being poor, non-white and non-Anglophone,’ says the strapline at the top.
Flick through any newspaper, or watch a news channel for 20 minutes – any longer is likely to invoke a rather sickly feeling – and you are likely to see his point.
Now to another part of today’s FT, the news section, and a small single column on page 3 headlined ‘spending highlights difference in class‘. It is alongside a far bigger piece showing how the trappings of the wealthy – fine wines, polo club membership, art, yachts, property in Chelsea and Kensington – are all becoming more expensive. Poppets.
The smaller piece records ‘while the top 20 per cent of earners in the UK faced overall inflation of 2.5 per cent between 2008 and 2010, the poorest fifth experienced inflation of 4.3 per cent, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal studies.’ The reasons are fairly clear – food and fuel take up a far larger share of spending by the poor.
Elsewhere in the FT, not least in the ghastly (I hate them, Fiona loves them) ‘how to spend it‘ magazines (today’s is about yachts!) evidence abounds that there is plenty of superwealth around, largely unaffected by the crash.
All this adds up to something of a problem for the government, who seem perplexed by the reaction of the unions and others to their planned pensions reforms and cuts in public spending.
Ministers, many of whom are pretty well off and live somewhat gilded lives, appear genuinely to believe their line that ‘we’re all in this together.’ But the people feeling the tightest squeeze believe that they are taking a bigger rap for the financial crisis than those who caused it, who continue to have the ear of ministers, the wealth of Croesus, and an obliviousness to the inequalities they have helped to create, defend and now cement.
So finally to the FT leader (my God they’re getting their share of plugs today) … ‘The coalition’s slogan that we are all in this together may seem a bit hackneyed. But it expresses an important idea. And the public sector unions must understand that includes them too.’
They would get that message more easily if they felt it applied equally at all levels of society. Whether in politics, economics or, as Simon Kuper points out, media, it doesn’t apply equally at all, and helps explain why unions and many of their members feel as they do.
Quite so. Look, for example, at Marina Hyde’s piece in today’s Guardian about MPs’ pensions in general and Francis Maude in particular (claimed £35,000 in two years for mortgage payments on his flat when he owned a house a minute’s walk away as well as one in the country and one overseas).
Many politicians – and many metropolitan opinion-formers in the media – think that salaries of £100,000+ are the norm, despite the fact that only 10% of the working population are in the 40% tax bracket or higher.
I’m sick of the overblown rhetoric from ministers and their mates in the media about gold-plated public sector pensions, though I also recognise that Hutton’s proposals were pretty fair – as do most of the union leaders.
This ‘public bad, private good’ war helps no-one – how can we possibly expect public services to improve if we make them so unattractive to work in? Not so much in terms of salary and pension (though there are some very low salaries in parts of the public sector, even though the professional grades dominate now there is so much outsourcing). Much more in terms of the anti-public sector rhetoric, to the extent that people must be starting to feel apologetic about being a local government planning officer or health service administrator.
But Zac, surely the point is that they do not want public services to improve?
It is hard to be seen to “fix” something that is not broken. Unless you can bloody well smash it to bits first.
I will never apologise for being part of the NHS management.
You are quite correct about the anti-public sector rhetoric, not just from the Tories but it’s pretty much all over the media. It has been that way for years though and it will never change. To be honest though, I don’t care what either of those sectors say, I’m not in it for their faint praise and meaningless platitudes. I do it because I make a positive difference to real people’s lives.
The message is coming through at all levels, isn’t it – this Government’s economic plan is NOT in the least bit fair. But then we never expected anything less of the Tories – it’s those LibDems that should be hanging their heads in utter shame and, I suspect, the rank and file are doing so in private circles. The leaders are just planning what next to buy.
But, there is some comfort in being frugal through no choice. Today we’re spending our Nectar points on something we really want and feel utterly pleased we can get it for no cash outlay. If money were no object, we’d doubtless miss out on such small pleasures.
But it isn’t the point, is it? Many cannot even spend enough to earn the Nectar points.
It is obvious that the public sector would gain far more public sympathy should any forthcoming strikes be due to the nature of the cuts in services, rather than changes to their pensions. However, I eagerly await the Unions bringing the subject of MP’s pension arrangements into the debate. I’ll start to believe we are all in this together when MPs move to a Career Average arrangement like the proposals for most of the public sector. Hopefully Marina Hyde’s article in yesterday’s Guardian is the start of some serious public exposure and debate.
Insulated, cushioned and protected, many live free and protected from the front line of decline. Analysis of the impact of inflation across society would, I’m sure, reveal stark differences.
The middle may be squeezed but the bottom is crushed.
I detest these pejorative terms and the superiority/inferiority they entail. Top, middle, bottom.
Heating, electricity and food are hitting many of us very hard indeed.
As we approach the longest day of the year, the long winter nights to come may be very cold and dark indeed.
We are all in this together – some of us are just more in this than others.
A perfect storm of rising prices
Meg Hillier MP
was busy cleaning – sorry. Can never avoid compulsion. All the best.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with having a multimillionaire Prime Minister and Chancellor.
I don’t think it necessarily wrong to have a multimillionaire Prime Minister and Chancellor institute policies that adversely affect the poor (If such policies are necessarily or morally justified – for the record their neither…)
What I really really can’t stand is a multimillionaire Prime Minister and Chancellor instituting policies that adversely affect the poor (quite disproportionately) and then claiming we’re all in this together…
In is unconscionable, iniquitous and appalling.
We’ve become more ethical about the third world; we used to exploit it by investing gaily in industries that exploited their workers.
Along with banking I’m sure that pension funds have had to become more ethical (more, we know not completely).
Pension funds simply can’t grow by the amounts they used or pay out for as long as they used to. All that said I think a lot of the bad feeling this weekend is more to do with Danny Alexander’s exhibitionism than anything else.
His exposure of every aspect of ConDem targets on Today and in the Telegraph yesterday was exploitative bad manners.
He’ll be among the first ex-LDs to convert to another joint party name for the next GE. His about-turn last May, his readiness last summer to be used (as if anyone could believe his ‘accidental’ exposure of handily-highlighted unemployment figures was anything other than softening-up publicity for slightly lower numbers to be released just a few days later) have deleted any honourable impression he used to convey.
It’s not just the seriously rich but many of the well-off middle classes who sincerely believe that there is no real poverty in Britain today. This is because (a) they don’t know any poor people and (b) because they are told by the media that you can live the life of Riley on benefits.
There was a telling exchange at PMQs when an MP asked Cameron about the BBC documentary Poor Kids. Cameron immediately began talking about the overseas aid budget, not realising that the documentary was about kids in Britain.
At this week’s PMQs, asked about rising energy prices, Cameron said “we have kept the Winter Fuel Payment”. I was longing for someone to point out that Osborne cut £100 from the Winter Fuel Payment for the over 80s, though he did it quietly and never announced it in his budget speech. My Tory MP told me that Labour were also planning to do this if re-elected. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s right since Labour have said so little about this particular attack on the oldest and most vulnerable. I emailed Ed Balls about it but received no reply. Anyway, watch the deaths from hypothermia rise if we have another severe winter. (Younger recipients only face a cut of £50 so maybe the thinking is that the over 80s are dispensable and will be dead soon anyway).
The great gulf of ignorance and incomprehension in our divided society was well put by Paul Merton recently, speaking of Boris Johnson:
“Boris is just not from the world where you think: ‘I’ve got 36p in my pocket and the giro doesn’t arrive for another two days…..'”
Merton has lived in that world and so have I. It’s a world that’s about to get even more intolerable as £18 billion of welfare cuts start to bite.
The attack on public sector workers and public sector pensions is an example of the squeezed middle being squeezed until the pips burst. What could be more worrying than being told you’re going to be worse off in your old age and the pension contributions you have been making are going to give you less back for your money. The retort from the right is “Why should those in the private sector pay for huge public sector pensions”. Well here’s one reason – public sector workers get no share bonuses. The only ‘share ‘ option they have is in a job well done be it serving school meals, emptying dustbins or working as classroom assistants. Their careers line our communities with something called social capital. That money isn’t spent on Yachts or villas in Umbria – it’s spent on making sure older people get their home help support, that kids get after school clubs and that rubbish is collected. Working in the private sector as I do, I have to say that giving those same workers a decent pension is a bargain when you look at what society gets back.
The Tories and the Liberals should be ashamed of themselves.
There’s something very wrong in prices for utilities (the basics of a
home life) being the same for everyone, especially when
infrastructure/standing charges comprise such a high proportion of lower
usage by those in smaller/more careful or modest households.
We’re all in it together, yes. But the point is about our relative heights as we stand ‘in it’. The relative difference in income between poorest and richest means that some are in it but ‘it’ barely messes their shiny shoes. Others are up to their necks and some, worse.
The policies of the government mean that the level rises and the first people to choke are the ‘shortest’ people.
Shine your shoes, sir?
And the anger of those of us in the wealth-creating private sector, with jobs on the line and ever-increasing tax burden is fuelled by the fact that, even after all the proposed changes, these public sector workers will still enjoy a retirement plan that rest of us can only dream of. Their negative salary differential with the private sector was largely removed under the last government, and WE still have to pay for their retirement, alongside paying for our own.
I don’t know which of us is believing the wrong hype.
Isn’t the average public sector pension top up ‘only’ about £4k/£6k?
For those of ages that mean a higher proportion of input will be post-2008, perhaps pensions will indeed be lower than for those with the majority of their fund before the crash.
Anyone with an ounce of arithmetical ability knew that final salary pensions were always unrealistic and unaffordable for the future generations that would actually be paying them. In some cases they even inhibited a person’s promotabiity for the last decade of their career.
The old Victorian help the poor Roundtree spirit is a bit thin these days, when people like Lord Leverhulme and others built healthy housing for their local people.
There is too much concerntrated shove under the matress wealth about in the UK these days, and for, say, the last three decades, say no more, started in fashion by a certain lady and her friends ideals. These companies pissing off to the Swiss Banking system really bugs me.
Society and community is still alive, if it is given a chance. Link to Lord Leverhulme, Gladstone’s industrial mate. persil washing powder and sunlight soap and all that. But there was a big question mark on Belgian palm oil from then though…
I hope you England living people, wherever you originally come from, are going to climb a hill to welcome winter on the night of 21/22 June. For you London Beau Brummers, Solsbury Hill will do, in a London Taxi travel ride, on recomendation from the great Peter Gabriel,
Oh how my heart bleeds for the private sector, not!
You lot “never had it so good” back in the 1980’s when “greed was good”
It is no good you now expecting the public sector, who have always been paid a very basic wage by most people’s standards, to pick-up the tab for the bankers huge, almost catastrophic mistakes.
It suits the Government of the day (any government) to stir-up ill feeling between the private and public sectors. Ultimately, the people need their public sector services i.e. Police, Teachers, Fire Brigades, Ambulance and so on to enable them to have a reasonable education, relatively safe lives and proffesional help in an emergency situation.
The current difficulties in the private sector is not the fault or doing of the public sector. The (justifyable) anger felt by people working in the private sector should be directed at those responsible i.e. the bankers and the Government. Not the public sector, especially the emergency services who carry on doing their jobs during good times and bad times and it has to be said, more important in the scheme of things to most people.
Very well said ZintW4. I couldn’t agree more. Especially the bit about the bonus payments that the private sector “enjoy” and which I forgot to mention in my post.
Good post ambrosian. I also picked-up on the two points you mentioned during this weeks PMQ’s. The point about Winter Fuel Payments is a very telling point indeed. The fact that Labour are not speaking out on this issue or any other issues where our most vulnerable members of society are having the rug pulled out from under them is cause for concern. One could be forgiven for thinking “they are all in it together”
Deaths from hypothermia are bound to rise if we have another cold winter.
Or, if the elderly and very poor are forced to choose between heating and eating, maybe we will even see deaths caused by starvation!
But surely that couldn’t be the plan, or could it?
I suppose “call me Dave” will be expecting the “big society” plan to kick-in then, with lovely do-gooders serving up warm soup to the old and vulnerable as they sit huddled around braziers in the street!
We are all, apart from the wealthy elite, going backward not forward.
Shirley, whilst I’m pleased that you have been able to get something you really want with your Nectar points, which you of course have earned through your purchases and I also accept what you say about many people not even being able to spend enough to earn Nectar points. The fact remains that Nectar points and other such schemes are merely crumbs used to appease and placate the masses.
In a fairer more equal society these crumbs wouldn’t be necessary.
A short while ago EDF Energy were offering Nectar points to customers who were willing to read their own meters! I personally found that very offensive. A small reduction on our bills would have been much more appropriate, I think. But all the while a brainwashed public are prepared to go along with these daft ideas such as Nectar points and the like, nothing will ever change. I’m afraid I don’t accept crumbs and as far as I’m concerned they can shove their Nectar points where the sun doesn’t shine.
Latest front page pic of my daughter on her facebook front page. Looking totally gormless and totally beautiful with it, as usual,
Ambrosian, in the light of the Phillip Davies stream of consciousness political philosophy, the whole point of knocking £100 off the winter fuel payment for the over 80’s is that at that great age in the big society there will be others helping out in the homes of the very elderly who will also be being kept warm at the taxpayer’s expense, with that very same extra £100.
And in a Tory/LD governed Britain we cannot tolerate the elderly’s cleaners and carers’ warmth subsidised by the taxpayer, can we?
There’s no actual evidence that Labour would have cut the Winter Fuel Payment. The Tories say Labour hadn’t budgeted for it to continue at the present rate. But Brown and Darling always announced the level of such payments on an annual basis rather than fixing them for five years.
Cameron, of course, during the election swore blind that the Tories wouldn’t touch the Winter Fuel Payment. Yet another big lie.
There’s a certain irony that the highest proportion of Tory voters is amongst the elderly. Many of them took these hugely increased benefits and free TV licences whilst complaining loudly that Labour had nothing for them. They’ll get a nasty shock this winter when they get their Winter Fuel Payment because this cut has had so little publicity. Not that I’d be mean enough to say they deserve it!
The mantra message is that ” the “average” pension in public sector is only £3,500, so that is not a lot is it?” It is about 25% of average salary.
The pension is that low because the average employee in the public sector serves only 15 years, and the pension represents 15/40 of final salary.
Let us also pay tribute to the person who stuffed private sector final salary schemes. A victimless crime he said when ACT was abolished. Explain that one, Mr Balls, to the public service employees who are now being squeezed pednsion wise as their pensions are no longer affordable.
Anyone hear M/s Bousted on Any Questions getting in a complete horlicks on the subject?
I am working on the dowry levels. Might put it up for auction. Love? What the fuck is that?
kate and wills i like, i think they may have something healthy, appart from love. praise them. Kate? I would too Wills, oh yes.
Do you like Jonathan Meades, Alastair? I love him to death,.I think I know where he is coming from.
The previous Tory administration started the process of reducing ACT. GB simply finished what the Tories started doing and what they would have done had they won the 1997 election.
All in this together? I know where I am and it is not
“together” with the current government…
I am pleased that the CamerOsbornEgg three-headed monster has at least stopped
using the phrase lately – out of shame, I am sure. The last time I remember
hearing it was when Boy George used it during his budget speech, allowing all
those of us with a sense of
humour to fall about laughing.
It is a sad inevitability that those of us not blessed with great wealth will
be most adversely affected by current inflationary issues and price hikes – the amount I spend
on food and fuel as a proportion of my income would be pretty eye-watering if I
dared calculate it definitively. The same cannot be said of the better off.
Francis Maude (not exactly hard up) is getting on my wick as well in his new
role as “anti-public service pensions” tsar, and as for that
Alexander chap, well, words fail me..!
I need to unscramble the figures a bit. When you say 25% of average salary, do you mean average UK salary, public and private, or just UK public sector? If £3,500 is 25% of whichever you mean, that means the average is £14,000. I thought the average UK salary was around £25,000. I don’t have a figure for average UK public sector alone. Averages of course disguise the real picture. In the public sector a few people on £100,000 raise the average for a lot of people on, say, £17,000. There are also regional and occupational differentials to consider. Also I’d be interested to know where that average of 15 years comes from. Outsourcing and the proliferaton of short-term contracts have played havoc with such figures in recent years.
On this occasion I’m not being critical – I’m just asking for clarification.
I’m not sure how so many in the Cabinet can even pretend to be sharing the pain that people on benefit (not bloddy ‘welfare’ …… wannabe-trendy usage and as for ‘senates’ in the NHS or for the reformed HoL I could ……).
Anyway, I don’t know what the daily interest might be, even on the present low bank rates, on something like £35m in the bank or in shares. …… I’ve probably got it wrong but only 1% would grow by £350k p.a. !
Whether living publicly-funded or not, I doubt the owners of such amounts spend much time being curious about what the cuts feels like for many.
Curiosity can’t be pretended, it can only be inspired by first hand exposure. As for empathy …..
There was an interesting ‘experiment’ on radio quit e along while ago, long before M Portillo tried living on a council estate. Bruiser Brian Hayes had Olga Maitland living in a bedsit on giro cash for a couple of weeks and her surprise at the decisions/choices someone doing so have to take – such as coins in the meter or have some food – seemed to change some of her opinions. I doubt she had much time left in HoC to apprise colleagues.
Matthew Paris tried living on unemployment benefit for a short spell in the 1980s when he was an MP under Thatcher, and he found he couldn’t manage it. However the experience seems to have had no effect whatsoever on his backwoods Tory views, as expressed regularly and ad nauseam in ‘The Times’. ‘There but for fortune’ seem to be his conclusion from his experience, and fortunately he’s not there.
In view of your opening paragraph you will presumably be endorsing the Coalition’s policy to increase overseas aid to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP.
‘Why should those in the private sector pay for huge public sector pensions”. Well here’s one reason – public sector workers get no share bonuses’
That’s a ridiculous argument. Most private sector workers do not receive any bonuses either and the idea that all public workers are only doing their job becasue they have a social conscience as oppossed to those in the private sector is equally absurd. The fact is someone has to pay for these pensions and why should those in the private sector, the majority on similar pay, be expected to do so when many can barely afford to fund their own retirement plans. Even with the recommended changes to public sector pensions, they will still be significantly better than those inthe private sector in most cases !
Most posters on here need to be able to differentiate between a few in the banking industry on vastly inflated salaries and the majority in the private sector.
‘Oh how my heart bleeds for the private sector, not!You lot “never had it so good” back in the 1980’s when “greed was good”. (Gilliebc)
Who exactly is you lot ?, most in the private sector earn the same or less than public sector employees and do not receive any type of bonus, yet some on here expect them to fund the pensions of public sector workers when they cannot even afford to fund their own. Get real !!
Don’t think anybody can blame the present pension crisis on the latest crash, it’s been coming since the late 90s. Life expectancy, better health after 50+yrs of NHS plus pensions having indefinite terms to run ….. hard to plan for!
Way back then, only 12/15yrs or so after the mid-80s introduction of double tax-break pension plans developed under the last Tory lot, the myth of their being possible had already been busted.
There were so many other busts exposed around the same time; endowmment mortgages and all the rest of the ‘money from thin air’ schemes that were never ever realistic, so pensions kept being swept under the carpet.
I daresay a lot has only even come out now because of all the public bodies invested in Icelandic funds and their tax breaks that crashed and all coinciding with the approaching retirements of so many baby boomers having been employed all their lives in the massively-expanded post-WWII public sector .
Perhaps we should also be looking to the public services that dodged tax!
SG, on this issue, to put it in a nutshell, you are right and I was wrong!
For me to lump the private sector workers together with the (not all) greedy overpaid, bonus enriched bankers was not accurate.
I shall attempt to edit the post where I wrote something that is incorrect.
However, owing to the somewhat chaotic system that is “Disqus” this usually means the post disappears altogether. Although in this instance, it wouldn’t really matter.
Thanks for putting me right SG.
If we really all are in this together as shiny faced CamSham and his bubbly quaffing pals spout so often, then how come us, the low paid “deserving poor” are facing the battle of our lives!There are millions of people in this country with no pension at all, in fact, we live day to day, hand to mouth just trying to survive(I have mastered a weekly shop for a family of four for £45- perhaps I should offer Georgie Porgie and CamSham some budgeting advice!) If we really are “All in this together” then perhaps CamSham could wipe the Clegg off his face and advise me – do I spend my last £10 on shoes for my five-year-old – or a birthday cake for my very understanding teenager?….These are the kind of decisions myself, and many, many of my friends in similar positions are having to make thanks to these razor sharp cuts- how can CamSham and his true blue pals the yellow bellys EVER understand what the “ordinary man” feels? They can’t is the answer and those that do, and turn a blind eye should hang their heads in shame and remember – what goes around comes around – hopefully, theirs is on its way!!
I’m sure nothing’s so simple SG. After all, who are the customers to most of the private sector?
Some supermarket groups have long had very generous final salary pension packages and when those pots prove to be inadequate for the early lucky recipients I daresay the top-ups will have to come from customers of the future.
I think the most repugnant demonstration of how we are definitely not in anything together is the spoiled brat’s retort today to RAF officers wondering where the Libyan endeavour is going.
‘You do the fighting and I’ll do the talking’ …. I almost threw up.
New Statesman has suddenly become courtesan, a hitting pitch, where the yank money is suddenly interested, due to me feeding them,
The Sherriff if NS us certainly a niggar. Well, you know what I mean. I am welsh by the way,m from wales, with small parts, apart fom Tom Jones,
Never mind about cabbages and Pete Gabriel the marvellous! How about west country mrtvellos apples that canbne turned into cider, knocks the socks of any beer anything alcoholic around. I well recomend it, seriously.
Might as well post my favorite track of John Foxx, when he was in that Ultravox in 1977, which made them,