The ConDems claim that pay for most rose faster than prices in the year to April 2013 is a con trick that cannot disguise a rapid growth in inequality of household incomes since 2008. And with another credit-fuelled frenzy under way, a second crash is much more likely than a “sustainable recovery”.
First, while the figures rolled out by the government take account of tax cuts for those in work, they omit the benefit reductions suffered by millions of people as a result of austerity attacks on welfare. Secondly, since April last year, energy and transport costs have soared while incomes have remained static.
All in all, most people are much worse off than they were before the recession kicked in after the banks went belly up.
More potent and revealing figures are those relating to crime, which were published yesterday. Police records show a 4% rise in shoplifting and a 7% rise in “theft from the person”, such as snatching expensive mobile phones from passers-by. Nick Gargan, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, told the Financial Times that police leaders were starting to talk about an “austerity bulge” in crime figures.
“We are seeing a ramping-up effect as the cuts take hold,” Gargan said. The rise in shoplifting came in more than two-thirds of the UK’s 43 police force areas, with the biggest increases in the West Midlands, Merseyside, and West Yorkshire. The British Retail Consortium said thefts from shops were 26% higher than the annual average.
The numbers arrested are overwhelming local forces. Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, which last year handed out more than 700,000 food parcels from its network of foodbanks across the country, said that in Islington police had given vouchers to some shoplifters who were obviously not criminals, just in desperate need.
In the last three months police in Byker, east Newcastle, stopped 26 first-time offenders, compared with five the previous year. Twenty of the first-time shoplifters were female and 11 of the 26 incidents were low-value, food-related thefts. Another indication of growing desperation was shown by scuffles this week between shoppers and police at a 99p store in North Wales when it scrapped its half-price sale
Lancashire chief constable, Steve Finnigan, said there was a rise in the theft of basic food items, such as bread, milk and cheese. "The offenders are first-time offenders and, when you talk to them, they are not stealing food to sell on; they say they are stealing to feed themselves" he says. "In my own force we have seen an increase in shoplifters who are first-time offenders and say they are doing it to put some food on the table."
“People are struggling for all sorts of reasons,” Mould said. “Hunger in Britain is a really serious problem and it’s affecting large numbers of people. Thirteen million people at least are in poverty, according to the government’s own statistics, which is defined as people on 60 per cent or less of the average income. And that average income is getting lower, so it’s 60 per cent of something that’s getting worse, while the cost of basics such as food, power and, increasingly, housing is rising.”
All sorts of people are warning about a coming social explosion. The police themselves are getting tooled up. This week they asked home secretary Theresa May to authorise the use of water cannon arising from “ongoing and potential future austerity measures”. The sinister Association of Chief Police Officers, as guardians of state power, are pressing their case. May has yet to respond.
Even in Davos, at the annual meeting of the transnational capitalist class, there was talk of the “wealth divide” as the elites acknowledged the fact that any “recovery” in output is founded on the vast quantities of money printed by the central banks since 2008.
As the Observer’s Will Hutton, notes, the “inequality that drove the last crash is even greater now and, ominously, the same forces are abroad again”. While it’s not apparent to Hutton, creating a more equal Britain now patently requires a more equal, democratic society beyond capitalism, where resources are held socially and used for the common good.