Earlier this year, Oxfam reported that the wealth of 85 of the world’s billionaires was equivalent to that held collectively by half the world’s population – around 3.5 billion people against just 85. Now Oxfam have produced a further report concentrating on the UK. What it has to say will shock and anger people but will come as no surprise.
Over the last period, Socialist Appeal has published article after article drawing attention to the growing divide between rich and poor both worldwide and in Britain. Earlier this year, Oxfam reported that the wealth of 85 of the world’s billionaires was equivalent to that held collectively by half the world’s population – around 3.5 billion people against just 85. Now Oxfam have produced a further report concentrating on the UK. What it has to say will shock and anger people but will come as no surprise.
According to the new report, Britain’s five richest families now have more combined wealth than that held in total by the poorest 20% of the UK population. That is 12.6 million people against just five families. Oxfam have calculated that the combined wealth, if such a word can be used in this case, of the poorest 20% adds up to £28.1bn, or an average of just £2,230 each. Meanwhile the Duke of Westminster and his family are sitting on a mere £7.9bn, based on owning large chunks of London, Scotland and even a bit of Spain. The Reuben Brothers have £6.9bn in the kitty, the Hinduja brothers a tidy £6bn, the Cadogan family have £4bn, and Mike Ashley, despite his inept ownership of Sports Direct and Newcastle United still can count on £3.3bn in his pocket. The report also notes that the Duke of Westminster, Major General Gerald Grosvenor (the rich like fancy titles), alone has more than the combined holdings of the poorest 10% of UK citizens.
With the government set to pander even more to the rich, whose money the Tories will need in an election year, the prospects for the poor within society do not look good. Another £12bn is set to be cut from the benefits bill by George Osborne. Oxfam, in drawing attention to such factors as the fall in real wages, rising costs etc., note that, for the first time, working households outnumber non-working ones in the poverty group. They warn that the number of children in poverty could rise by 800,000 by the end of this decade.
Oxfam go on to outline how the rich-poor divide is getting wider: “Since 2003 the majority of the British public (95%) have seen a 12% real terms drop in their disposable income after housing costs whereas the richest 5% of the population have seen their disposable incomes rise.” According to the Guardian newspaper (17 March) over the last 15 years, the incomes of the top 0.1% have risen by £461 a week yet the incomes of the bottom 90% in the UK have only gone up by an average of £2.82 over the same period.
These figures and many, many others reveal the real face of the austerity regime and of capitalism itself. Back in the 1980s the Thatcherites and their international equivalents claimed that increased wealth for the rich would result in increased wealth for the poor as money ‘trickled down’ from one class to another, rather like crumbs falling off a table. In fact the reverse has happened.
Marxists have always explained that the wealth of society is produced by one class, the working class, and stolen by another, the capitalist class. This is why when workers go on strike everything stops whereas when bosses go on strike (or their equivalent which is a day on the golf course) no-one notices.
During boom times the capitalists can afford to give concessions, albeit very reluctantly, to stave off trouble. However during periods of crisis, the norm for modern-day capitalism, then the reverse happens. The bosses move with a vengeance to grab as much money off the workers as possible – paycuts, redundancies, cuts in conditions are all on the table as we have seen recently. To this must be added the cuts in the social wage in the form of cuts to benefits and services. In effect we have been invited to pay for their crisis.
Oxfam hope that the Tories and big business will see the light, do the decent thing and take action against this growing divide between rich and poor by introducing a real living wage etc. This will not happen. The Tories and their system need to be booted out and replaced by one that will act in our interests – a socialist one.