Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Equality, responsibility and dreams of a better world

There was an interesting exchange on the World at One phone-in with Gordon Brown yesterday. A woman city worker was asking why he was against aspiration, the evidence for which was seen in the fact that she was now paying income tax at 50%. This means that she earn in excess of £150,000 a year, £3,000 a week, £75 an hour.

It came on the same day that Birmingham City Council lost an equal pay case brought by women workers who were being paid around £12,000 a year and weren't receiving the bonuses their male colleagues on the same pay scale were getting - sometimes to the value of 150% of their annual salaries.

It's the contrast that strikes me. In their book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is better for Everyone, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue, pretty cogently with a wealth of statistical data, that inequality is bad for people's health and well-being. The more unequal a society, the more likely it is to be affected by higher incidence of mental illness, more violence, more relationship breakdown.

Sadly, the book is not at the centre of the election campaign despite party leaders welcoming it when it was published last year.

And this morning we wake up to news that Greece's credit rating has been down-graded to junk status, that it risks bankruptcy and massive default on its debts. The effect of this apocalyptic scenario - brought about by international capital markets (that's people who buy and sell bonds in the markets of London, New York and the Far East, like Gordon Brown's interrogator) - will be lower wages for the poor, massive rises in unemployment among lower paid people and large numbers of people losing their homes - in short, even more inequality.

The city worker challenging Gordon Brown said how fed up she was of being blamed for the world's financial crisis. This on the day that Goldman Sachs executives were trying to defend the indefensible before a Senate enquiry.

It's all left me with a feeling that we haven't begun to have the conversation we need to have about how we value people, what kind of society we want to live in and what it means to take responsibility for our actions. If the election is about anything, surely it should be about this.

No comments: