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.