Thursday, August 17, 2006

A tale of two Britains

Two contrasting sets of figures graphically illustrate growing inequalities in Britain. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday published figures that showed a rise of 92,000 in the number of people registered as unemployed in the three months to June, to give a 5.5% jobless rate, the highest since spring 2000. The claimant count measure rose by 2,000 to 957,000, a four-year high and the 16th rise in the past 17 months, the ONS said. These statistics exclude hundreds of thousands who do not register because they are not eligible for benefits.

At the same time, the ONS released its estimate of the scale of bonuses paid to City financiers and dealers. They showed a jump of 16% this year to a record £19 billion, or about ten times the government’s annual housing budget. These bonuses go to handful of people who are involved in mergers and acquisitions – often leading to job losses - or large-scale speculation. Either way, their activities drain funds away from what could be socially-useful investment. Meanwhile, the high street banks, made a record £33 billion in profits in 2005 – despite soaring levels of bad debts and personal bankruptcies.

The wealth of the super-rich has more than doubled since New Labour came to power. Nearly 600,000 individuals in the top 1% of the UK wealth league owned assets worth £355 billion in 1996, the last full year of Conservative rule. By 2002 that had increased to £797 billion. The top 1% also increased their share of national wealth from 20% to 23% in the first six years of the Blair government. Soaring City bonuses have no doubt increased these inequalities and are another reason for getting shot of the Blair government.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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