Saturday, 9 June 2012

Jubilee nonsense from the IFS

I managed to avoid much of the Jubilee - and my strategically planned overnight break meant I was not in touching distance of a TV for the reportedly dull flotilla pageant or the queue of beknighted or wannabe-knighted pop stars serenading the billionaires of Buckingham.

One thing did catch my eye over the Jubilee weekend though: a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) 'Jubilees compared' - which compared 1977 (silver jubilee) with today (diamond jubilee).

This paragraph in particular raised my ire:
"We are of course much better off in this Diamond Jubilee year than we were back in the Silver Jubilee year of 1977. In the intervening 35 years, despite recent economic woes, household incomes have more than doubled. The work we do, the goods we own, how we spend our money, and how government spends our money, have changed almost beyond recognition."

It's utter bollocks! Here's just a few reasons why:
  1. While incomes have doubled since 1977, some sizeable outgoings have more than doubled: housing costs in particular. In the 1970s the average house price was just under three and a half times the average wage; today it's over six times. Rental costs tell a similar story - back in 1977 about one-third of people lived in council housing and the private rental market was very small
  2. (and housing costs are just one example, other outgoings like travel costs have increased massively too)
  3. Incomes have not doubled in real terms for the majority. In fact, as the IFS itself points out, in 1977 the top 10% had an income worth three times someone in the bottom 10%. Today the top 10% have incomes four times the bottom 10%. And the figures are even more stark for the top 1% - who took home 3% of wages in 1977, but who now grab 9%
  4. Twice as many people are unemployed today than in 1977 - if unemployment benefit had increased with average earnings since 1979 it would be over £110 per week today (instead it's £71)
  5. There are more pensioners now than in 1977, but the basic state pension has decreased from 23% of average male earnings in 1977 to just 17% today
I'm not saying there haven't been technological changes or social advances that have made society better since 1977 - there have. However, we are a far less equal society now - and that matters (see Wilkinson & Pickett's Spirit Level).

The majority of working people have seen their incomes stagnate or fall - and that's predominantly because of this fact: in 1977 there were about 13 million trade union members in the UK workforce, today there are only half that.

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