The Institute for Fiscal Studies has just published a report which concludes that the days when each generation could expect to be better off than their predecessors is ending, as living standards decline for those born after 1960. This will come as no surprise to those struggling with real-term pay cuts, benefit reductions and above-inflation increases in food, rent, travel costs and utility bills. But the publication of the report comes at a difficult time for the Government given the palpable growth of inequality in today’s Britain.
The significant decline in the proportion of national income going to wages since the 1970s as capital rakes-in an ever larger slice of GDP; the explosion in house prices since the 1980s, following the deregulation of the banking sector and the easy availability of credit, leading to speculation and a growing disconnect between house prices and average wages; and the steady erosion of pensions as employers shift the risk from themselves to workers and the government refuses to support a decent state pension all indicate the depth of the problem.
In his magisterial history ‘The Age of Revolution’, Eric Hobsbawm referred to the French liberal economist Henri Baudrillart, who described the formal recognition of inequality as one of the three pillars of human society – the others were property and inheritance. The Conservative-led Government clearly shares this perspective and would dearly love to return us to Victorian levels of inequality. As the next election approaches, there’s an increasingly shrill note to its efforts to destroy the welfare state, undermine trade unions and demonise the poor. But we still have 17 months to go till we reach the election. They can do a lot of damage in that time as they pursue a ‘slash and burn’ approach to the many political and social gains made by the working class since 1945.
Socialists understand the true nature of the Tory project and the dangers inherent in the current crisis of political representation, where Labour are content to offer little more than an ‘austerity-lite’ version of Con-Dem policies. But there’s hard work to be done to raise awareness of the issues across broader society. Let’s be in no doubt: Britain needs a genuine socialist alternative to this venal, parasitic ruling class!