Below is an opinion piece by WEA volunteer Paul Tarpey, who discusses inequality in the run up to our event in Toxteth.
“Men are born equal but some are more equal than others.”
This quote from Orwell’s Animal Farm was more recognisable while I was growing up than the declaration of human rights it satirises. It does at least indicate how much debate was taking place about inequality in society. In recent years you are more likely to be berated for your naivety for even challenging this inequality.
Of course you would struggle to find anyone claiming that they craved a society with a widening gap between rich and poor. ‘It’s just Inevitable’ is the mantra of those who fuel it. I have never understood how this argument is given credence. Do we stop medical research because some level of illness will always exist?
Of course, there are people who don’t see it as inevitable at all but as desirable. And they seem to be pushing their agenda through with fewer and fewer of us questioning their motives.
The raw statistics about the rise in the gap between the richest 1% and the poorest in society are sickening. It has spiralled dramatically in the last 15 years and now seems to be held in place by a deliberate policy of penalising the increasing number of people below the poverty line.
There has always been a theory that market forces would maintain inequality but that living standards for all of us would rise to a level we could never otherwise achieve. However, there are many indications that it is not even an increase in wealth that creates a happy society. Economies with ‘relative equality’ have been shown in many surveys to display a much greater contentment with life than those with higher GDPs. This could indicate that we are happier even when poorer as long as we have fewer people to be envious of. Or maybe the much loved trickle down economy is a complete myth. Maybe financial security, job satisfaction, proper health care and mental well-being can only be provided by a society that places equality as its main objective.
Another argument you would constantly hear from those who championed inequality was that anyone could aspire to wealth and therefore it drove ambition and innovation. This notion surely has least credibility of all. The area you reside in it seems not only to reflect your current status but statistics show that it massively affects your chances of ever escaping a cycle of poverty and the health issues that follow. This is handed down from generation to generation with opportunities in life as related to the postcode you place on a form as it is on your skills and willingness to work. Maybe this can’t be challenged by the kind of equality that our liberal democracy claims it is achieving.
The idea that we are all moving forward despite the gap in equality has some superficial credibility. Technology has provided many people with access to a world that we would have associated with unimagined wealth when we were young. But this world exists alongside foodbanks. It exists alongside a level of poverty that few of us envisaged when the need to curb Trade Union powers was the major national topic.
Maybe technology has provided us with the ultimate ‘opium of the people’? Or is it just an indication of a generation unwilling to discuss how politics can shape their lives? Most online debates give the impression that not only are massive issues being trivialised but our methods of having impersonal, constructive discussions are disappearing. It certainly feels like there is a massive need for forums that are real, pro-active and based on genuine needs. Where will these platforms emerge though in a society that is losing many of its natural social and workplace talking shops?
So is it naïve to believe that the levels of inequality we are witnessing in the UK can be turned around? Whatever else you believe it is surely unhealthy for us all if the debate stops happening.
With this objective in mind WEA and Talkshop at Toxteth TV are holding an event on 14th October to discuss inequality in the UK and how to lobby for change with the 2015 election looming. It will be held at the John Archer Hall, 37-45 Windsor Street, Toxteth, L8 1XE from 6pm. Everyone is welcome, visit here to book.