Why We Need To Fight Apathetic Capitalism
John Major (Conservative British Prime Minister 1990–1997) said: “In the next ten years we will have to continue to make changes which will make the whole of this country a genuinely classless society”. Perhaps he believed his own rhetoric, but he could not have been more wrong. His changes and those begun by his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, proved the opposite. But perhaps that was what they had intended? After all, the latter half of the twentieth century saw great rises in social mobility, equality and living conditions — traditional enemies of capitalism.
The Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major made dramatic changes to society, the effects of which are still being felt today. Theirs was the first government to really attempt to counter the socialist principles that had underpinned British life since the second world war. Thatcher famously said: “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”. The problem with capitalism is that you run out of stuff to sell off.
How have we allowed this to happen? What lies have we swallowed to accept this? Under privatisation my parents’ generation could buy shares in British Telecom, British Gas, water, trains... Some were allowed to buy their social housing. In 2015 the Conservatives once again won votes by promising to sell off more social housing so social tenants who had thought home ownership beyond them could see a way of owning their own home. They were encouraged to become capitalists. Content and unquestioning capitalists. We have become apathetic capitalist wannabes and that’s the way the ruling class like us. They’ve conned us into thinking we are all the same.
You only have to look at the voting statistics for the EU referendum to see apathy. The winning 52% vote was actually only 37% of those entitled to vote (and only 26% of the population). The most important vote for generations and the vote turnout was 72.2%. (It may have been higher if it hadn’t been held over Glastonbury week.) Voting turnouts for local elections are much lower, often around forty percent.
People are told that one vote cannot make a difference. Every vote makes a difference, that’s why some parties don’t want you to do so because they might lose. In High Barnet, at the recent local elections, one prospective councillor lost by one single vote. So yes, every vote does matter. You matter.
As a society we would much rather watch reality TV than deal with the reality of our lives. 3.6 million people watched the Love Island final (five million when you add in catch-up viewers). 70% of those people voted for the winning couple. Percentage wise, more people wanted Dani and Jack to win than for us to leave the EU. We are so invested in the lives of others we rarely stop to question our own lives and our place in society. People would rather vote for a reality show winner than the people running their council or country.
The twentieth century saw great equalities fought and won. The twenty first has seen great inequalities restored.
Social housing, education, healthcare and a welfare system were all put into place by the 1945 Labour government headed by Clement Atlee. They were gifts to a people who had suffered through the second world war, a way for the country to rebuild, hand in hand — together.
My parents are post-war babies. My mother, being two years younger than my father, was one of the first NHS babies in 1948.
They didn’t grow up in social housing; one side of the family bought, the other were life-long private tenants in the same two-bedroom bungalow (with four children each). House prices and private rents were more keenly matched to income so they never needed a safety net of social housing.
The percentage of income that now goes to private landlords is vastly higher than in previous generations. In London, more than fifty percent of income is spent on private rent. Many private properties are poorly maintained, our own flat has had mould and damp and has done since the first winter we moved in when it popped through the recently painted walls. In 2016, 309 Conservative MPs voted down a bill calling for privately rented homes to be ‘made fit for human habitation’. 39% of those MPs are private landlords, including my own MP who voted against the bill. (She was also one of the MPs who were embroiled in the expenses scandal, claiming for a second home in London when she lives at the end of the Northern line.) Compare this figure to the general population where only 2% are private landlords. Boris Johnson, whist Foreign Secretary, lived in a London mansion for free — renting out his own home for profit. It took three weeks for him to move out, despite no longer being entitled to the free home. By resigning, he made himself ‘voluntarily homeless’ which is what phrase non-MPs would be told and thus given no state help to find a new home. They certainly wouldn’t be allowed to hang on to a state-owned mansion until it suited them.
Most social housing stock has been sold off (a policy started by Thatcher and continued by later governments) although we hang on to certain properties like Downing Street and Chequers. The properties were sold below market value, many of them have later been sold on at grossly inflated values. People who bought and sold them on have made profits — but these profits are at the expense of the next generation. These properties were never replaced, meaning their safety net has gone and people have to find privately rented homes. Barnet, my London borough, have very little social housing left. Graham Park in Colindale was built in 1971 with 1777 homes at affordable rents. Today that is 692 and facing being reduced to just over 400 with new development plans. Stonegrove Estate has been undergoing redevelopment with 603 properties being replaced by 937 new ones… of which only one third are affordable housing. If you need social housing Barnet used to relocate you to Peterborough, now they ask you to move to Scotland.
My uncle and aunt could have gone to university, but they were half a generation too soon and couldn’t afford it. My uncle went to night school for years and my aunt went to work as a cashier in a bank. I was lucky, I was one of the last to have my university fees paid by the state under a principle of investing in the next generation. I had a small maintainance grant (which more or less met my rent) and I was able to take out the very latest innovation —a student loan. This I supplemented by working part-time as a waitress.
Because of this support, I was later able to do a PGCE (a first degree is a prerequisite) and become a teacher. In many ways this has been my way of repaying the state, not just in my taxes, but in performing an important role educating the next generation. However, this generation of children I am teaching cannot go to university despite their abilities and ambitions. The weight of debt is too great. I still have unpaid student loans from twenty years ago and I didn’t have to take one out for my fees which would have been a minimum of £27 000. This doesn’t include living costs such as rent. University is once again unaffordable for the vast percentage of the population — those born without wealth.
Raising children is particularly expensive in the first few years before childcare funding kicks in at three years old. There are sad stories in the papers about women undergoing abortions for children they would have loved, but could not afford to raise. A decision too many are facing, after all, no contraception is 100% effective. I was reading many of these stories when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced they were expecting their third child, Louis. I do not begrudge them completing their family, but it shows how unbalanced society is when other women are aborting their third child for financial reasons. Others are having to share the fact they were raped and then prove it to get any support for their third child. I know mothers who go hungry so their children can eat.
Families with three or more children born before 6th April 2017 have so far been exempt from these limits on support, but when the government’s universal credit scheme is rolled out everywhere, they too will begin to lose any support for the third child. Families will be going hungry. Is it the fault of the child that he or she is the third? Can we actually justify them starving because of their birth?
Many people try to demonise those on benefits and relying on the welfare system; our newspapers (owned by foreign domiciled millionaires) enjoy telling us how much is spent on welfare and how reckless and unworthy these people are. Channel Five dedicates programs to showing the lives of people living on very little. The truth is most welfare support is paid to people in work. Tax credits were created to be a negative income tax, but what they are doing is supplementing wages, allowing companies to make large profits to pass on to their share-holders. Zero hours contracts may have reduced the government’s unemployment statistics, but that doesn’t mean workers are receiving a liveable income. Even those on full time contracts are suffering. Nurses are using food banks to feed their families. Nurses. In a wealthy, developed country.
The newspapers like to tell us benefit fraud is bleeding the country dry — in fact the amount is very low (0.7% in 2013), especially when you compare it to tax avoidance (one sixth lost in 2013 which is around £30 billion for the year). Interestingly, the EU’s tax avoidance laws are due to begin implementation in member states from 2019. Something else is happening in March 2019 in this country which means we won’t have to enforce this law. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what that is.
There has been one remaining problem for the ruling classes, how do you make a profit from the NHS? (Remember, eventually there isn’t going to be anything left to sell off, the NHS is pretty much all we have left in public ownership.) What you do is privatise it by stealth. For years, appointments have been outsourced and departments sold off. The very man responsible for running it until recently, Jeremy Hunt, wrote: “our ambition should be…denationalising the provision of healthcare in Britain”. The NHS has been the envy of the world. It has allowed us, as a population, to access healthcare no matter our wealth. You only have to look at the USA to see what the alternative is. I have two children born under the NHS. This would have cost me nine thousand dollars for each of them in the USA without even looking at the costs of my second child being premature and in the neo natal unit for two weeks. My healthcare debt would be added to my student debt.
There is no classless society. John Major was wrong. What we have now is a society more divided along class lines than we have for decades. We need to spread the word, to get people to question what they read in the papers. We need people to vote instead of being apathetic which ensures the government sit tight for another term. We need people to question Brexit and why we are leaving and what benefit it truly brings us and what benefit it brings the rich. We need to question the lie of Austerity which has increased poverty whilst increasing profits for those already wealthy. We need to demand our schools and hospitals are funded, that local councils are not starved of money. We need to shout from the rooftops that it is outrageous that food banks are used in one of the richest countries in the world.
There are more of us than there are of them and that is why they are scared of us, why they lie to us and use the newspapers to lie to us. We need to be angry. Anger beats apathy every time. And we need to know we are not all the same, that we are a society with class divisions drawn along lines of wealth and poverty and that this is not right.
Go and talk to people, question their beliefs and make them angry where they were apathetic.
People who are angry will fight for equality. They will fight for what is right. Then we can build a society where mobility is based on your ability and ambition again. We can fight the lies of apathetic capitalism.