Has Capitalism Gone Too Far?

ImageWhen the poorest in our society can no longer afford to heat their homes, while energy companies make large profits…

When big businesses seize all opportunities and charge high prices to consumers, in order to make money for shareholders…

When even politicians are so worried about upsetting multinational companies that they fail to take the action needed to protect the lives of their constituents…

Has capitalism gone too far?

Economy out of balance

House prices are beginning to boom again – at least in the south – which means more southerners are likely to look further north for ‘bargains’ and the wave will begin to sweep across the country again, putting properties even further out of the income-reach of many northerners.

Since privatisation energy prices have soared, and continue to rise each year as soon as the cold weather begins, leaving more and more of the poorest people shivering and frightened to turn on their heating – risking hypothermia.

High energy costs, together with other overheads mean food prices have continued to rise dramatically throughout the economic crisis of the last few years.

The cost of petrol/ diesel, which goes up fast but never drops back to the same level, affects everything that needs to be delivered to shops, and businesses that need to travel to their customers.

At the same time, government policies limit income and there are far more people either unemployed or underemployed. Household incomes have plummeted for many families over the same period as prices have rapidly increased.

The politicians of the Labour Party like to take about the ‘squeezed middle,’ but what about those at the bottom? Who represents the working class, and those who cannot even find work, these days? And for how many people was the bedroom tax the last straw?

Take this all together and add in tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor and it is clear that there is something going drastically wrong with the economic balance in our society.

The economic indicators all show the gap between rich and poor is wider that it has been for well over a hundred years, and the north-south divide is also widening. We are supposed to be an advanced, civilised society, so why is this being allowed to happen?

Wages

Minimum wage was supposed to stop employers from paying slave wages and give employees a decent income, with which to pay their household bills, etc. But it doesn’t seem to have kept up with the cost of living, and as usual, big business felt they had to find a way around the increase in their wage bill, this time they found it by adopting zero-hours contracts.

When working tax credit was introduced to top up low wages, big business simply paid the majority of their wages minimum wage, knowing it would be topped up by the state where necessary.

The introduction of flexible working was supposed to allow employees to work around family commitments, transport problems, etc. Instead, employers use it to try and keep their employees at their beck and call, to phone them at short notice and expect them to abandon all other responsibilities and jump to their ‘master’s’ voice.

Whenever a move is made to protect/ improve the lives of workers and give them a better work/ life balance, many employers seem hell-bent on twisting the legislation and turning it back on the employees in ways that actually make their lives worse.

Big business is so keen to profit, but many of them are also keen to avoid paying tax.

Energy

There are ways of cutting energy costs to homes, but at present only those with spare money, or access to borrow, can afford to take advantage of these ways, whether it be soar panels, a small wind generator in the garden, heat-exchangers, passive homes.

What kind of society are we that those with money have access to cheaper energy – and can even be paid for producing it – while the poorest pay the higher prices on ever-decreasing incomes?

When wind-power was first developed, I remember reading about a man in Scotland who had produced a small wind-power generator which could be fixed to a rooftop, similar to a TV aerial. He envisaged that we could all have one of these on our houses and generate at least part of our own electricity, to bring down costs. He couldn’t find anyone to back him to go into full production. Why? Because big business was already seeing pound signs in the development of the technology. They began to push to build swathes of the biggest possible ‘windmills’ to make profits for their shareholders and the still become angry and upset when campaign groups fight them over these plans. Surely, a small windmill on every rooftop would be less obtrusive? But of course, big business cannot allow the little man and woman to deny them profit.

Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System

Food

What kind of society are we, when even working people are having to resort to using food banks to enable them to eat? How many more are going hungry rather than be seen to be so desperate? (And how many more are simply getting deeper and deeper into debt rather than use this last resort?) It’s obvious, if people can’t eat properly, they can’t work properly. They can’t function to solve the problems that are daily being thrust upon them. They become run down, exhausted, malnourished, ill. What kind of workforce will they be then?

Health

The more pressure that is put onto the already overstretched poor to pay higher prices/ find non-existent jobs, etc., the more their health is likely to suffer – especially in the long-term. Hypothermia, malnutrition, stress-related illnesses or even worse. This is turn, puts more pressure on the already over-burdened NHS – another national institution threatened with creeping privatisation. It could even be argued that big business, with its determination for power, and greed for more and more profits for shareholders, is gradually killing our citizens!

Even those who work for these businesses are not exempt, as employees are driven by ever-increasing targets – pressure again.

Time for debate

What’s the alternative? I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, but perhaps it’s time we all began to think about what kind of society we want to live in, in the future and come up with a new theory.

The runaway train of big business seems to be travelling faster and faster – is it out of control? How do we stop it, or at least slow it down? Is it going to take a big disaster?

Before the gap between rich and poor, south and north widens any further, it’s time we began to debate how to stop the trend and make society fairer to those at the bottom. They are running, like hamsters on a wheel, faster and faster, but still slipping further and further behind, in and effort to simply survive. Otherwise we may be returning to a time when the poor are forced to live on the streets – or in self-built shanty towns, and beg for handouts from passers-by.

A home, heat, food, health, are all basic human rights. European legislation is in place to protect us from extremes at the moment, but the Conservatives want to opt out of it. Those considering voting for UKIP should also be aware of this. I’m no great fan of the European Union, but without support from them a ruthless right-wing government coupled with big business could quite easily push us back into something like a feudal society. All in the name of profit.

What do you think?

Link

Jobcentre - Berwick

Politicians, economists and economic reporters in the media are always talking about the peaks and troughs in our economy and the cycles of boom and bust. Each time the economic plans falter and unemployment rises, there is great worry about youth unemployment and a ‘lost generation’ who are never able to take the first steps on a career path because of the lack of jobs. But then politics move on and when the recovery begins, all the media comments are angled to promote optimism and confidence in the economy at last.

The politicians are keen to take the credit for sorting out the problems and setting the country on its feet again. But what happens to all those young people who couldn’t step onto the career ladder? No one mentions them again.

Many people will generally assume that when more jobs become available, this lost tribe will find something they can do to earn a living, even if it is not what they expected. This is what we’re supposed to think. Successive governments have also come up with their own ‘schemes’ to ‘help’ these people into work, and maybe a few are helped this way. But for many who have had experience of some of these initiatives, they are nothing but a farce, a way of manipulating the employment figures to make them look better than they really are and providing the participating businesses with a few months of free labour.

Every decade seems to bring some sort of recession and employment problems, for whatever reason, and it isn’t just school-leavers who are affected. Those who worked hard at school and gained the qualifications to go to University can also be caught up in a lost generation if they happen to be leaving education at the wrong time. Politicians and those who work in education often speak as though a qualification or degree is a passport to prosperity, but in the real world, even a degree is not enough any more. Vocational qualifications and experience are also needed to land a well-paid job. In many areas you also need your own car.

Unless a graduate has parents wealthy enough to provide them with a car and support them through two or three unpaid internships, they can still have little chance of landing a decent job. A graduate forced to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance at the end of their degree will probably have little chance of progressing. If they take an unpaid internship to gain relevant experience, their benefits are likely to be stopped as they are deemed to have made themselves ‘unavailable for work’ (i.e. unavailable for low-level work).  Then what are they supposed to live on? Jobcentres are not set up to deal with graduates and their staff often don’t know what to do with claimants with higher qualifications.

Other groups caught up in these ‘lost generations’ scenarios are women returners and mature students. Taking a career break for any reason may be seen as risky these days, but more commonplace in the past when child care facilities and jobs tailored around working mothers were like gold. Mature students clearly have some initiative to work hard and better themselves, after perhaps being unable or prevented from gaining their qualifications earlier in their life. These groups are equally as much at a career crossroad as the school-leavers and graduates, but much less acknowledged.

All of these groups of people have the potential to be left behind when the economy moves on again and if they still haven’t found their niche by the time the economy dips again, their voices will be swamped by the new wave of unemployed, making it even harder for them to compete for the remaining jobs. Outside the major cities and the south-east this is likely to be even worse.

Both of the most recent governments have brought up, and complained about, the parts of the country where there are families of sometimes three generations where no one works. These seem to be mostly in the old industrial areas where the jobs wiped out by Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s have never been adequately replaced. Even where some new jobs have been created, there are in restricted numbers. There may also be public transport issues in these areas, so that it would be impossible to travel to where the new work has been set up. Predominantly though, it is the same ‘lost generation’ problem, where there are wholesale local redundancies from the area’s main source of employment shutting down. The principle is the same, though the workers may be of widely differing ages, they are still effectively a ‘lost generation’ who may, in this case, never find work again.

Taking all these strands into consideration, and the number of ‘downturns’ we have had in this country since the 1960s, (How many have there been? I’ve lost count.) perhaps it is more amazing that the successive governments are still surprised at the existence of clusters of long-term unemployed. Especially the Conservatives, who seem to have deliberate policies of wiping out the jobs of the less-well-off, whenever they are in power.

These are the people who become the hard-core at the centre of the unemployment figures – not necessarily through their own fault, but because they become trapped by the systems and economic problems caused by those at the top. They are then unable to find a way out of that trap when the economy starts to recover.

Arrogant politicians think they know all about the long-term unemployed when they know nothing, and deal with it by increasing the ‘stick’ and reducing the ‘carrot’ but this may only make things worse. It is possible to be too poor to get a job.

The government needs to stop dictating to the unemployed and blaming them for being unemployed. It needs to START LISTENING – REALLY LISTENING, to what the barriers to work really are, instead of deciding for themselves what they think those barriers are – they are NOT always to do with literacy, numeracy or ignorance. They may be different in different parts of the country, but unless these real problems are addressed, as opposed to the imagined, top-down versions, these poor, people trapped in a cycle of despair are never going to find the help they really need to climb out of the hole into which their lives have been pushed.

What do you think?

See also:

https://wendybscott.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/could-this-be-the-future-for-berwick/

https://wendybscott.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/are-modern-customer-service-methods-making-life-easier-for-pick-pockets/

http://wendybellscott.hubpages.com/hub/Where-is-Berwick-upon-Tweed