30 January 2006

We could beat poverty, if only we tried.

Greater political will and greater public understanding could banish poverty within a single parliament. The cycle of resurgent poverty and its lingering effects could be banished in a generation. It is not the poverty that is the barrier to this achievement, it is the lack of political will and the lack of public understanding.

Let me take two examples;

1. Taxation's complexity is there largely to reduce its transparency. This lack of transparency is there to disguise the fact that the burden of taxation falls more heavily on lower earners than the very wealthy.

Politicians are either constrained by or in the pay of the wealthy and powerful who push to reduce their burden of taxation and also reduce the level of taxation (first-past-the-post countries and countries with the highest concentration of media ownership have the lowest levels of tax and the most inequality. The UK has some of the lowest taxes and the highest inequality in the EU).

It is not the general public that wants this. Opinion poll after opinion poll demonstrates that they think the burden of taxation should fall more heavily on the rich. The electoral system plays its part in disenfranchising some of these people and the media plays its part in confusing some more as to the level of the trick being played on them. Taxation's lack of transparency is the final tool in this delusion by the political classes in hock to the rich and powerful.

2. Public service spending (including welfare spending) is complex for similar reasons. It is to disguise where the money is being spent. Too often it is the well off, self interested groups and bureaucracy that benefit the most, rather than those in real need. (This does not mean that the poorest do not benefit from this public spending, just that spending is being siphoned away from them). There is of course a simple solution.

Our education system is one example. It would be very simple to change the school apartheid that allows the middle classes to 'buy' into the catchment areas of the best schools and thus entrench this state funded continuance of the class divide.

A simple rule that guaranteed each secondary school (approx 4300) one place at Oxbridge (approx yearly intake 7000) would be enough to ensure that resources and pupil ability was more evenly spread. We all know that pupils learn just as much (if not more) from their peers as from their teachers. With no way for the brightest pupils from the wealthiest and most secure learning environments to congregate in a few state schools to cheat the system, then the middle classes would be forced to turn their attention to improving ALL schools. It is not fair that wealth determines the quality of your children's state education that we all pay for. Everyone should get equal treatment.

Even the Tories Oliver Letwin, has now acknowledged that inequality matters. It is not just absolute poverty that leads to higher crime and wider health and education disparities, it is inequality itself, better described as relative poverty.

The sooner we are honest about the issuing of political power and transparency in the tax and benefits system the better it will be for us all. It is not just the poorest who benefit from living in a more equal society at ease with itself, it is also the rich.

Like the epicureans discovered, the rich are deluding themselves if they think the vastness of their material possessions will give them satisfaction. There is far more satisfaction to be gained from helping your fellow man and possibly helping the environment at the same time.

There IS a link between the earnings of those at the top and those at the bottom, even the Tories now accept this. The Tories solutions are the same ones they have always advocated. Their policies are just a smokescreen that has hindered progress in the past and will again in the future if we let them.

Only the Left can push forward the progressive agenda and only a change in the electoral system and a truly free press can free the Labour Party to get back to its first principles of tackling poverty and being able to freely argue for this without the case being unjustly distorted.

1 comment:

  1. The Stoics would provide a better example than the Epicureans for your point.

    There is a parable of Diogenes sunbathing outside his barrel one day and being offered anything he wanted from Alexander the Great, all he wanted was for Alexander to stop blocking the light as he already had all he needed to be happy.

    Unfortuantly most people think they need a lot more than just a barrel and some sunshine to be happy.