Editorial: Obscene levels of poverty and wealth
Proletarian issue 49 (August 2012)
As union flags drape over public buildings and smirking politicians and celebrities alike promote Olympic fervour, a number of recent events have highlighted the stark inequalities that exist in Britain today.
In June, a 48-year-old man tied himself to the railings of a Jobcentre, doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself ablaze. (See Guardian, 29 June 2012)
This desperate act reveals, in the most brutal of terms, that poverty in Britain is not only material deprivation, in which sky scrapers are erected and social housing bulldozed, but a multi-dimensional assault – physical and psychological – on working-class people.
Indeed, research published last month by the Centre for the Modern Family showed that one in five British families are 'living on the edge'. (See Independent, 26 June 2012)
As retail food prices have increased by 25 percent since 2008, and the price of child care and average household bills have sky-rocketed, so too have levels of stress and mental ill health. (See Economist, 23 June 2012)
This reality is worse still in the north of England, Wales and Scotland. And, throughout the country, young people are bearing the brunt of British austerity.
Since last year's youth uprisings, dubbed criminal rioting by bourgeois commentators, no serious attempt to tackle youth poverty has occurred. In fact, changes to benefit entitlement have pushed thousands more into deprivation; implanting feelings of failure, shame and psychological distress upon an entire generation of young people. (See BBC News Online, 11 October 2011)
It is only logical, therefore, that – with a diminutive job market, an education system that is being progressively commodified, and a vanishing NHS – class antagonisms will intensify and uprisings may become as much a part of the British summertime as corporate-sponsored sporting events.
From the student activist to the unemployed youth, in the classroom and in the street, young people are awakening to discover that our political and economic system is not designed to help realise their potential but only to exploit the labour of some and utterly discard the rest.
They are also discovering that our system is designed to enrich a tiny handful of financiers. It was revealed this month that the super-rich have between $21tr and $32tr stashed away in tax havens. (See cnn.com, 25 July 2012)
This is not a charge from radical opponents of capitalism, but the findings of bourgeois investigation. Nor are these the dealings of shadowy businesses but the recognised and admitted practice of the world's largest financial institutions. It is an astonishing figure, greater than the GDP of any imperialist nation, and it is the kind of wealth that could eradicate poverty for vast swathes of humanity.
There could not be a clearer example of how income disparity and material and psychological deprivation is becoming more acute in modern Britain. As welfare safety nets disappear, and government oppression increases, we should not only expect greater incidence of civil unrest but prepare to inject it with ideological direction.
Communists must seek to build and lead popular mass movements for real change; for a mere change of government will not suffice. Only an entirely new system can offer our youth a positive future.