Saturday, 3 August 2013

Time to redistribute wealth: Ethiopia is more equal than the UK

Most of us know Ethiopia only as that place from the telly where there always seems to be a massive famine and from the charity adverts asking us to donate £2 a month to help save a child's life.

But, despite that, Ethiopia is actually better off than the UK in one aspect at least according to a new UN report.

You see, Ethiopia has a smaller gap between rich and poor than us.

I'll repeat that for emphasis: the poor in the UK have a lower share of the nation's wealth than Jamaica, Ghana or the Ivory Coast. The gap between rich and poor in the UK is twice as large as that in Ethiopia or Sri Lanka. We have the largest gap of any western nation.

You know the US? That place where until very recently the poorest had no medical care, where people are forced to survive on foodstamps which won't pay for a balanced diet? Well they're still more equal than we are.

Here are the figures: the poorest 40% of the country share 14.6% of the wealth between them - a lower share than any other industrial country apart from Russia.

Now, obviously a poor person in the UK is still better off in cash terms than a poor person in Ethiopia. We can't forget that. But when the poor in this country are forced to share a smaller slice of the pie than in full blown economic basket cases and countries recovering from civil war and ethnic cleansing then something is clearly bloody wrong with this country.

The support for the unemployed in the UK is less as a proportion of the average wage than in any other country. Disabled people in the UK have suffered an unprecedented erosion of rights in recent years compared to any other developed country. Black, Asian and other non-white ethnic groups continue to suffer higher unemployment rates than white people. Women in particular have a much higher unemployment rate and continue to suffer being paid less, on average, than an equally qualified man doing the exact same job.

This country is seriously unequal and seriously unfair, and something needs to be done about it.

So I'm going to say it. This isn't good enough. We need the active redistribution of wealth from those with plenty of it to those with barely any.

There are lots of ways it could be done and it doesn't really matter that much how it is done as long as it is done. We can't carry on like this. And it should no longer be considered heresy in mainstream politics to say so.

Also, while we're at it, it would be nice if the majority of the media and politicians decided to stop vilifying the very poorest in our society and blaming them for all the country's ills.

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