In the modern, civilised UK, we still have a great deal of material and social inequality.
One of our most valuable resources in publicising and analysing these injustices is the writer Owen Jones. For example, he recently reminded us, referring to The Sunday Times Rich List, that “in the last five years …the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has more than doubled. That surge in wealth – of about £261bn – is worth about two and a half times Britain’s annual deficit. Tot up their fortunes and you come up with the sum of £519bn, or about a third of Britain’s annual GDP. And yet in the sixth biggest economy on earth nearly 1 million people have been driven to food banks to feed themselves”.
Such inequality has come about because of flaws in how the capitalist system works nowadays. Hundreds of thousands of people earning below the minimum wage, millions needing benefits to support their living and housing costs, but many others retaining huge wealth, often aided by the unchecked inflation in property prices.
In the same article, Owen Jones was critical of the UK’s elected representatives who have failed to alleviate the inequality. They appear to see their job as “a sport, a professional ladder to climb like any investment bank”, he commented wryly, and “even if the top salary only puts you in the top 3% of earners rather than the top 0.01%…you can always use a future ministerial position as a launchpad for a lucrative job at a private healthcare firm or defence giant anyway.”
How commercial companies create inequality around the world is the theme of a report by Catholic charity SCIAF. Taking Care of Business argues that, although commercial business certainly can play an important part in making the world a more equal place, by generating economic growth, by providing people with paid employment and by paying taxes, there is unfortunately plenty of evidence that, in practice, the system is not working well.
Around the world economies do continue to grow, but rather less effort is applied in ensuring that the increased wealth generated by this economic growth is fairly distributed. Large firms frequently crowd out smaller firms, leading to a loss of livelihoods. Multinational companies deliberately avoid paying taxes denying vast sums to developing countries. Abuses of human rights and the environment take place needlessly.
Regrettably, this bleak pattern is more becoming visible in the countries which we used to characterise as developing. “According to recent research 80 percent of the world’s population who live on less than $2 a day (two billion people) now live in middle-income countries”. Although it is good that countries formerly thought of as poor have become wealthier, “this graduation… is not eradicating poverty”.
2015 is the deadline for the eight UN Millennium Development Goals and one of Taking Care of Business’ recommendations is that any further international agreements “should encourage a fair balance between equity and growth, with a specific emphasis on tackling inequality”. Among other recommendations are that the UK government should ensure that all large companies be required to report on any social, environmental and human rights impacts throughout their supply chains and the steps they are taking to mitigate these, and that the Scottish government should require companies who are tendering for public sector procurement contracts to adhere to rules on tax transparency and on ethical conduct.
One of the most persistent and appalling examples of inequality anywhere in the world during my lifetime has been the plight of the Palestinian people. The injustice began when Britain gave up occupation of Palestine in 1948 and the state of Israel was founded: as a consequence thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes and their farming land and given nowhere else to go. After the Six-Day War between Israel and various Arab countries in 1967, Israeli military occupation began, and has continued, with very little change, ever since.
In recent years, the most visible demonstration of the mistreatment of the Palestinians has been the increase in the Israeli building both of settlements in the West Bank and of the separation wall, with the resulting demolition of Palestinian houses, separation of families and communities and restriction of movement . The separate Palestinian territory of Gaza has been under Israeli blockade for seven years. Millions of Palestinian refugees live in poor conditions within the West Bank, Gaza and the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
In addition, the Palestinians are continual victims of discrimination and harassment from the Israeli authorities and many have been imprisoned without trial. Any progress in peace has been regularly restricted by the spread of false arguments that all Palestinians want to kill the Jewish people or to destroy the state of Israel. It seems especially cruel that the leaders of the Jewish people, who themselves remember well the pain of past persecution, have been so willing to apply similar treatment to neighbours who are mostly so much less well off than themselves.