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Inequality is the real scourge of Britain

While the media revels in bashing the poor for society's ills, JEREMY CORBYN argues that it's the super-rich who should be taking the blame

The world's super-wealthy, political leaders and others heading for the luxurious InterContinental Hotel for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, think they're controlling the world. The sad truth is that many of them are.

An Oxfam report released last week in the run-up to the conference claimed that a bus-load of the world's richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people put together.

So the richest 85 people in the world are as wealthy as the poorest half of the global population.

The figures, compiled by F Alvaredo, AB Atkinson, T Piketty and E Saez in their publication The World Top Incomes Database, show that the fastest growth in inequality in the world is, unsurprisingly, the United States, followed by a number of other Western countries.

Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima, who's made the bizarre decision to actually attend Davos, said: "It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world's population - that's three and a half billion people - own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus."

Inequality is inextricably linked to the economic strategies being pursued in a number of countries, and this inequality has grown considerably since the 1980s - a trend that shows no signs of change.

These policies are being blindly pursued even in the face of mass public opposition. In a recent opinion poll of the British public, for example, 67 per cent agreed that the rich had too much political influence in this country.

But the anger and outrage over wealth inequality is only part of the story.

Channel 4 stirred up fury with its Birmingham-based programme Benefits Street, which a local pastor quite correctly likened to an "old Victorian freak show."

The Reverend Steve Chalke was speaking after Channel 4 claimed that its latest piece of reality television was a fair and balanced observational documentary.

With the way in which the media portrays the benefits debate, one would assume that vast sums of money are going on people who, first, don't work, second, have no intention of working and, third, are very happy to be living that kind of lifestyle. It is nonsense.

The people I meet who are trying to eke out an existence on benefits tell me how depressed they are and how they want to be able to work and achieve things for themselves and their children.

Despite what the Tories might say, there are precious few families where nobody has ever worked and even fewer where there are second or third-generation members in that situation.

Total spending on all benefits is £188 billion per year, of which 42 per cent is made up of pension payments. Housing benefit (11 per cent), child benefit (6 per cent) and disability benefit (8 per cent) form substantial proportions of the total, while the total spent on employment support allowance and jobseekers' allowance amounts to only 7 per cent of the budget altogether, and income support accounts for just 4 per cent.

Thus unemployment is far from the biggest area of expenditure. Much more gets spent elsewhere, but this fact is something you won't find the Evening Standard or the Daily Mail ever admitting.

On top of this we have the routine attacks on migrants to Britain.

We had the new year fantasia of the "invasion" of Romanians, yet it now transpires that only a tiny handful of Romanian people have exercised their entirely legitimate EU right to come to Britain.

Only 3 per cent of migrants have been claiming benefits, according to a YouGov survey.

The survey sadly also showed that, despite being given facts to the contrary, 54 per cent of the public thought migration was having a negative effect on the economy.

The attack on migration and migrants ignores the fact that five million British people live outside Britain.

One should also remember migrants' enormous economic contribution to Britain in helping to build our health, transport, education and engineering sectors.

The ongoing barrage of right-wing smears is yet another abuse of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, who rely on a social security system to keep them out of destitution, and a blatant appeal to racist prejudices against migrant workers.

No doubt Cameron's political strategist Lynton Crosby is dreaming up yet more headlines and attacks to take us into the next election.

This government will not be defeated by conceding ground on either the value of migration or indeed on all those who claim wholly legitimate benefits within the law.

It is sad the Labour leadership's views, according to shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves's speech on Monday, seem to favour taking benefits away from claimants who lack sufficient skills if they don't successfully undergo training schemes.

There are many reasons for people lacking skills and the answers can be found in improving people's social conditions and creating an education system that values all even if they are not so-called "high achievers."

There are those in the past who had a vision of a society where the community as a whole protected everyone against destitution, and there were those who had the vision to make health care a right, not a privilege.

They didn't do this by conceding to reactionary Tory arguments and now is not the time to start doing so.

The real scroungers in society are those corporate tax-evaders and super-rich who have become wealthy on the backs of the poorest, not just in this country but all around the world.

 

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North

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