Wednesday, July 18, 2007

 

Polarising of British Society cause for Concern

In 1995 The Sunday Times published a controversial article by US sociologist Charles Murray, entitled 'New Victorians, New Rabble', in which he predicted a large section of the middle classes:

“will edge back towards traditional morality while a large portion of what used to be the British working class goes the way of the American underclass”.

This prediction conjured up the vision of secure, 'gated' communities for the rich with the rest of us taking our chances within the feral remainder. I can recall at the time sympathising with those who condemned Murray for sharing right-wing values but I wonder if the recent report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on Economic Segregation is not suggesting we have slid closer to such a dystopian outcome in recent years?

It records that the gap between richest and poorest is wider than at any time for 40 years and that: "Poor, rich and average households became less and less likely to live next door to one another between 1970 and 2000," It seems the greatest polarity is occurring in the South-east where the richest and poorest are increasingly living in separate parts of the capital with the former on the outskirts ; 'average' families on middle incomes are being priced out of the region by spiralling house prices and are either moving elsewhere or becoming poor.

Professor Danny Dorling, from Sheffield University, leader of the study which analysed census data since the 1970s, commented that increased wealth had not really made the newly rich any happier:

"Rich people in London don't think that they are rich because they don't mix with poor people. That is one of the main differences with the 1970s. In the 1970s and the 1980s there were a few wealthy people almost everywhere. Now, apart from a small number in Cheshire and North Yorkshire, almost all the very rich are in the South East.

Sadly neither Blair nor Brown can claim the last decade, apart from the alleviating the incomes of the very poor has produced much progress towards equality. In February this year a Sunday Telegraph, poll revealed 73 per cent of voters thought City bonuses had become "excessive and something should be done about them"; meanwhile 69 per cent believed the gap between the highest earners and average earners is now excessive. Even more depressing, perhaps, was the finding that:

Asked whether the British people have become more or less selfish since Labour came to power in May 1997, some 43 per cent said the country had become more selfish, while 47 per cent said things were the same. Only four per cent believe Britain has become a less selfish place.

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