Monday, April 30, 2007

A tale of two Britains

Two stories that have hit the headlines inside 24 hours just about sum a decade of New Labour. The fortunes of the richest 1,000 soared by £59 billion in the past year, according to the Sunday Times "rich list". Meanwhile, four in 10 black and Asian people in Britain live in poverty, twice the rate among white people, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has revealed. They also continue to face prejudice in job interviews and are paid lower wages than their white counterparts. The Blair government has made Britain the best place to be rich. You can park your money in tax-free zones abroad, no questions asked and don’t worry about immigration issues. For example, if you are a Russian or Indian billionaire just turn up at Heathrow and there’ll be a welcoming party. But if you’re, say, a worker from Mexico, don’t bother because those less-than-delightful people from immigration will put you on the next plane back. So in the globalised, casino economy it’s no surprise that wealth of the country’s richest rose faster than anywhere else in Europe, with the top 1,000 "earning" a phenomenal £360 billion. There has also been a three-fold rise in the number of billionaires in Britain - now standing at 68 - over the last four years, with 14 new billionaires in the past year. Top of the pile is that friend of New Labour, Lakshmi Mittal, who controls one of the world’s largest steel firms. He has a fortune of £19.25 billion, up by more than £4 billion from last year. Second is Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club. He is thought to be worth nearly £11 billion. What did he do to accumulate this wealth? He simply took part in the ripping off of Russia’s assets under Boris Yeltsin. Over 220 of the richest 1,000 made their millions from property, according to the researchers. The Duke of Westminster is third place, with a £7 billion fortune calculated from his property ownership in London's Mayfair and Belgravia, as well as estates in Cheshire, Lancashire and Scotland.

The other Britain is the one of communities in dire poverty, especially among black and Asian people. A series of reports by the JRF discloses that 65% of Bangladeshis, 55% of Pakistanis, 45% of Black Africans and 30% of Indians and Black Caribbeans are in poverty. The overall poverty rate for ethnic minorities is 40%, compared with 20% for white Britons. Almost half of all black and Asian children are growing up poor, including a staggering 70% of Bangladeshi youngsters. The JRF reports show that only 20% of Bangladeshis, 30% of Pakistanis and 40% of Black Africans of working age are in full-time employment, compared with more than 50% of white British people of working age. Disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority workers are in low-paid jobs. Half of Bangladeshi workers, one-third of Pakistanis and one-quarter of black Africans are earning less than £6.50 an hour, the JRF discovered. As a result, 60% of Bangladeshi and 40% of Pakistani families in which at least one adult is working face poverty, compared with only 10 to 15% of white Britons. Its research concludes that people from ethnic-minority groups do not receive the same rewards as white British people with equivalent academic qualifications such as degrees. Fewer and fewer working people are prepared to vote for the capitalist New Labour party, as Thursday’s elections will undoubtedly show. Why should they?

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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