(Update: you can now watch the documentary online here)
Inequality is rising up the political agenda right now, but the debate usually descends into clichés about wealth, bankers and tax. On Monday, I try to look at the subject more broadly in a Dispatches documentary for Channel 4 entitled How the Rich Get Richer (clip above). I write about it in the Sunday Telegraph today.
First, the problem is not (as Ed Miliband would have you believe) rich people paying zero tax. For the documentary, I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking after the top 0.01 per cent of earners – ie, the top 3,000. They pay 4.2 percent of all income tax, more than the bottom £9 million. Whether the UK government should be so financially dependent on such a small number of highly mobile taxpayers is an open question. But let’s not pretend (as Labour, Oxfam and others do) that inequality is chiefly a matter of rich tax-dodgers.
Yes, money is part of how the rich get richer. But so are things like decent education, having the support of a strong family and having work that encourages and rewards effort. These sound like basics, but these things are not much available to those at the bottom. For the documentary, we commissioned the Centre for Social Justice to look at these metrics – using Census data, schools data, Freedom of Information requests and police data to build a complete picture of equality in Britain. After months of research, they built a compendium of detail about each of all 40,000 neighbourhoods in Britain. We took a million people in the wealthiest neighbourhoods, a million in the most deprived and compared their lives.
As you’d expect, the poorer are far more likely to be in social housing, etc. But there were other results that were not expected.
- The poorest people are 12 times more likely to be victims of violent crime
- The poorest households are three times more likely to be fatherless than the richest
- Children attending state schools in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to fail to get five A to C grades at GCSE than those in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.
- Average male life expectancy for the million people at the top 88, compared to 70 for those at the bottom.
You can confiscate every penny earned by the top 3,000 workers, forcibly relocate every offshore British company to London, and it would not change the above. The creeping social segregation is, in my opinion, the single most important issue facing Britain today – and one we’re only beginning to understand. Facile arguments about the rich not coughing up don’t even scratch the surface of what’s going wrong.
The Dispatches documentary is on at 8pm tomorrow – so do tune in. And I’ll blog later on some of the extraordinary findings from the CSJ’s research.