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The Great Divide

By Anita Franklin

The "Cool Britannia" of the noughties has now become Cruel Britannia – a country ruled by a coalition of parties, one as bad as the other for dividing its population into "skivers" and "strivers."

We are not all mooning over a new royal due to be born in the summer.

We are at each others’ throats. Behind the scenes of Kate and Wills’ nursery preparations refugees use state vouchers in order to eat. Town libraries close and plays tour elsewhere.

We are going on about how increasing someone’s pitiful dole allowance by 25 pence a week is woefully unfair since wages are going down. We are talking that tired crap of blaming single mothers and immigrants and the European Union for the lack of jobs, decent housing, a living wage, why Johnny can’t read and write.

Ignorant and hell–bound youth hurl abuse at Chinese students, who bring millions of dollars into the UK economy every year. No one stops them. Hoods rule public transport in many places.

Indian students, that other group traditionally counted on to prop up the higher education industry, are beginning to be less enamoured of the UK’s prestigious caps and gowns. Their applications are down by more than 10,000. They know they are not wanted no matter what Cameron said in India last week. Unlike him foreigners have to travel the busses and trains and walk the streets of racist and resentful English neighborhoods. In a globalized world, word spreads.

The official unemployment rate is high at 7.9% and forecast to get even higher. But we are told that there more people are employed than ever before but beneath the headlines its clear that the jobs are part time and temporary. In a population of 63.2 million, 13 million live below the poverty line and there is a growing number of hungry families. There are now 250 food banks in the UK and more coming. There is an unprecedented rise in heating costs, too. Some families are having to choose between heating and eating.

Caroline Flint, from Labour says, “People have to ask themselves what kind of Government can afford a £3 billion pound tax giveaway for the highest earners but chooses to cut support for people in fuel poverty and leave over a million children in the cold."

Much of the growing poverty is due to the cuts in job seekers allowance. In many ways though, it’s even worse if you are working. And if you are working full time – good for you – but your living standards are worse today than they were a decade ago. Just as in the American economy there is an enormous gap between the upper one-third of the country and everyone else. The more we toil, the more we produce, the greater the inequalities. And the ticket to social mobility – a university education – is now an eye-watering £9000 a year at the best universities. So what? In the US, we pay a lot more for college, no? That’s true and it has always been that way in the U.S.

But not long ago, just a decade or so, British students did not pay any tuition at all. But then you didn’t need a degree to get a job either.

Britain’s public sector is not only being drastically reduced but, more importantly, it’s being re–structured. Since so much of the population north of London and the home counties was dependent on public sector jobs and services, the private sector has collapsed as well. But the Right does not want recovery; it wants something different, and the economic crisis is an opportunity to create that something different at a profit.

Councils, local government, are at the mercy of tightwad ideologues. Cuts are to the bone. Thousands of poor people on state benefitS are being uprooted from pricey London boroughs and dumped in some of the poorest, most under–resourced and historically troubled cities in the North, like Liverpool and Bradford. I smell a riot. Up north there are now food–banks where community centres used to be. Whole town centres are boarded up – towns that used to boast of being too political and principled to allow a McDonalds are now too poor to support a McDonalds. Community work, family support, counseling centres, rehabilitation units, youth work, and the crown jewel of the welfare system the National Health Service have all been cut.

We’ve been told that we are in all this together. And we have been told that the cuts have not gone far enough.

Arts funding too has been cut dramatically in most places and as much as 100% in the cities of Newcastle and Somerset. But councils there have money for other things. "Everyone is making difficult decisions" government spokesmen intone. Except of course those who are having these decisions made for them. But do not get the idea that there is no money in Britain. There is plenty of money. The public sector gave £9.3 billion to the Olympics. Private groups put up a little over 2 billion. Lloyd’s bank says the UK taxpayer may benefit from this extraordinary outlay – but not until 2017. So you see there is money for the monied in the UK. Expensive philanthropic projects have glam openings. Millionaires have pavilions named after them. Billionaires buy football teams.

While the rest of us remain unorganised, still at one another’s throats.

From February, 2013

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