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‘Fairness’ is the issue, not ‘squeezed middle’

Bart Becht "earns" £92.6 million

A new statistic just revealed: what should a chief executive earn? A Joseph Rowntree trust survey has found that two-thirds of the population believe that a CEO shouldn’t take home more than half a million a year (that’s 21 times the average national income). What they actually take home has also just been disclosed by Income Data Services – it’s £4.9 million a year (£94,230 a week, or 204 times the national average wage). The full truth is even worse.  Whereas in the last 30 years the pay of cleaners has increased 3-fold, bank clerks 4-fold and nurses just under 6-fold, the pay of the average FTSE-100 CEO has increased 58-fold. This is grotesque. When are we going to start banging the table about fairness?

What is someone worth? How can it be tolerable that a brain surgeon today at the top of his profession might be paid £200,000 a year, just 0.5% of the remuneration that a top banker gets at around £40 million? How can it be acceptable that the highest paid CEO in the country, Bart Becht (he sells household commodities), is being paid this year £92.6 million – no less that 1,172 times more than a GP on £79,000 a year?

What do examples like this tell us? It’s that out-of-control deregulated capitalism has allowed the bankers and corporate bosses, freed from any internal constraints and riding the wave of a counter-culture of wealth, bling and celebrity, to pay themselves trainloads of cash because, as they always fall back on when challenged, “I’m worth it”. Yet they’re manifestly and incontrovertibly not.

When are we going to make fairness the rallying cry to overturn this mountain of injustice? Thank goodness for Will Hutton’s ‘Them and Us’ cry of outrage about indefensible inequality. And for Compass’ demand for a High Pay Commission. And for UK Uncut’s protests against massive tax avoidance and evasion by the hyper-rich. And for Richard Murphy and others driving the Tax Justice Network. And for the Hutton report’s recommendation to the Government of a 20:1 maximum differential in the public sector (though that must emphatically apply to the private sector too where the real damage to social solidarity is done). And for Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘Spirit Level’ for documenting so thoroughly that inequality breeds every kind of social breakdown.

So when is the Labour Party going to join them? This is now the most unfair society since 1918. Time to make this the central war-cry on every issue running right through to the next election.

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