Politics ought to be about class, power and income. It ought to
address itself, among other concerns, to issues that arise from the
fair and just redistribution of resources; to create a society in
which every individual has the opportunity to flourish.
But in the presidential elections in the US, politics were
redefined. In the US, at least, government is now also about the
spiritual. It embraces highly subjective concepts of “good” and
“bad”. And that is depressing news for the vulnerable.
George Bush – with God allegedly on his side – has already made the
rich richer. More cuts in welfare to gorge the fat cats even
further are now envisaged. In the US, once you reach your seventh
month out of work, the benefits stop. Faith, hope and charity is
all that’s left.
Could it happen here? A new book, Inequality and the State, written
by John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social
Exclusion at the London School of Economics,(1) examines how the
state affects distribution through its spending programmes and
taxation – and what the public thinks of these issues.
A staggering 40 per cent of the increase in the UK’s net income in
the 24 years to 2003 went to the top 10 per cent of tax payers. In
contrast, the poorest tenth of the population received about 4 per
cent of disposable income in the 1970s – 3 per cent now.
Since Labour came to power, we know that some children have been
shifted out of poverty. It’s what lies ahead that is worrying.
Hill, drawing on the British Social Attitudes Survey, says that the
current degree of inequality is unpopular and the public are in
favour of redistribution – but how much?
Paradoxically, more of a tax hike might make better political sense
than a small increase, which helps those on the lowest incomes but
not the middle England voter. Higher taxes allow increased
investment in the public sector as a whole (as is now happening in
the NHS) so the benefit is spread.
Average earners have something to show for the extra cash going out
of their wage packets. For example, improved education and better
transport as well as contributing to a better standard of living
for the impoverished.
Labour, however, is averse to raising taxes substantially so,
alarmingly, if it really intends to halve child poverty by 2010, it
must be relying on the kind of miracles in which George Bush
(1) John Hills, Inequality and the State, Oxford University Press,