Britain – a country divided economically, and culturally

Ben Jennings' cartoon in today's i on Saturday

Ben Jennings’ cartoon in today’s i on Saturday

It has been happening for a long time, but the recent political arguments of the past few days have highlighted how much of an “us and them” society Britain, and the world, is becoming.

Yesterday, Ed Miliband flew into the face of the Conservatives by announcing a £3000 cut in university tuition fees south of the border, reducing costs to students from £9000 to £6000. It is an important move for Labour, who are seeing the Grey Vote being increasingly wooed by the Conservative Party.

Miliband’s claim that he will reduce the tax break allowance for pension pots from £40,000 to £30,000, and capping the lifetime pension limit at £1 million, down £250,000, has been criticised as inciting a “inter-generational war” between the pensioners, and the university graduates.

It is interesting that the press has hit at Labour’s policy (which was opposed by Ed Balls until just recently), when the Conservatives have been announcing similar policies in the past few weeks. David Cameron said he would not be means-testing the benefits elderly people currently enjoy: free bus passes, free TV licenses, and winter fuel allowances.

At the same time, he has said that young people would have to do community work if they had no education or employment history, else they would have their JSA or housing benefit taken away. With the way things are going, the living standards of the elderly and the graduation-age demographic have switched places.

Heat-map-wages-002

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation issued a report in 2010, which showed the economic circumstances of the low income working-age population had worsened over the past ten years, whereas the low-income pensioner’s had actually got better. Furthermore, in 2012-13, 13% of pensioners were living in low-income households, compared with 21% of working-age adults.

Not only is it the gap between the young and the old that is worrying, but the general wealth gap across the globe is extremely worrying. Just last month, Oxfam warned that by as early as next year the richest 1% will have more wealth combined than the remaining 99%. A staggering statistic. When we look at average wages in the UK, we see that they are around £26,000, and yet banks like RBS can still announce they have given out £421 million – in bonuses.

You can also observe the “us and them” scenario geographically. The United Kingdom is still recovering after 45% of Scottish voters opted to go for independence, losing out to the “No” vote by just 10%. In England, the old North-South divide still persists, with much of the country’s wealth being held in London.

Average wages in London (as of April 2014) are sat at around £877 a week, whereas in Newcastle upon Tyne it’s just £391. Add that up, and you have a yearly gap of around £25,300. George Osborne’s idea of a “northern powerhouse” comes about as North as Derby, with average wages at £536 a week. The only anomaly in the poorer northern regions is Copeland, at £684 a week – sat right next door to them is Allerdale, whose wages sit £333 a week less than their neighbours.

Britain is becoming ever more divided, both economically and culturally, as hostility towards immigration and Islam appears to continue. The main parties are playing dangerous games trying to appeal to their traditional voters. The Conservatives, particularly, appear like blinkered horses; moving forward, and hoping the rest will be dragged up behind them.

The “inter-generational war” is a dangerous one, and it will be a long time before anyone can claim to be victorious.

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