The other half

Mark Chillingworth, IWR Editor, blogs about today’s headline-grabbing report Child Poverty in Perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries.

One of the difficult to live with, but great attributes of this country is that everything is aired in the open and we don’t live a myth pretending problems don’t exist. But as experts point out, the report uses a wide range of information that is out of date in some areas, which damages the credibility of the report and diminishes the value of information. The report should be welcomed though and action should be taken.

Where [this] and many international reports add to the problem is that they add to the perceived image of the UK being rich. Yes we are rich, when compared to Bangladesh. But to pretend that there isn’t poverty, severe poverty, in this country is a major failing. In my living memory there has been rampant unemployment, severe social issues between races and a clear north/south divide that is only just beginning to be erased. Yet these issues are ignored and instead we waste information and talk up a few acceptable train and road delays because of ice and snow as if it’s a catastrophe.

Sadly the news agenda that follows reports like this are quick to blame the government of the day, despite one of the authors pointing towards child poverty from 1979. The report makes some very good points about families not eating their meals together and a number of basic problems in our social outlook. These are not problems caused by a government alone, we are all personally responsible for our daily lives and cannot blame everything on Whitehall.

We, the privileged, look around and compare ourselves to the other privileged – and we often find ourselves wanting. But we are seeing only half of the population. According to National Statistics, the other half of the population of the UK owned just 5 per cent of the wealth in 2001. This compares with 8 per cent in 1976. Though we have made progress in the last century: it is estimated that the richest 1 per cent held around 70 per cent of the UK’s wealth in 1911, compared with 23 per cent in 2001.

In the world as a whole, the richest 2 per cent own more than half the wealth, according to a study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER). The study also reports that the richest 1 per cent own 40 per cent of global assets, and that the richest 10 per cent 85 per cent. In contrast, the bottom half own barely 1 per cent.

In a world (and a country) where so much is owned by so few, is it any wonder that much of the “other half” don’t aspire to further education or skilled jobs or eat with their parents?