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Posts Tagged ‘Society’

Inequality and the Generation Gap. More Than Meets the Eye?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Read any newspaper or magazine which focuses on economics and politics over the last few days and you will have almost certainly stumbled upon the idea of “intergenerational inequality”. The basic argument goes; for most of modern history in Britain every successive generation has enjoyed improved living standards compared to the generation that came before it. However, thanks to the economic crisis of the past decade there is a real chance that this will not hold true for the generation born between 1981-2000 (the so-called “millennials”). A basic tenant of our social contract and a fundamental aspiration for every parent, that our children should have a better life than we did, has been thrown into doubt in a way that is truly unprecedented.

Is that fear justified? I’d argue “Yes, up to a point”. It’s true that the figures don’t make for pretty reading. According to the Resolution Foundation, older millennials (around 30-35 years old) are the first workers to earn less than those born five years before them, and many of them entered work before the Great Recession. At the same time, it’s been reported recently that pensioner household incomes have overtaken those of working age equivalents for the first time.

Clearly something needs to be done, but the danger here is that we start seeing intergenerational inequality as a zero sum game, where making things better for young people can only be done by taking away from older people. Will, for example, will following the advice of some in abolishing the “triple lock” on pensions (where pension increase per year by the higher of the growth in average earnings, the Consumer Price Index or 2.5%) create good-quality, high-paid jobs for young people by itself? I’d argue not. Reducing inequality must come from lifting people up to the same level, not dragging them down.

I’d go further and say that treating entire generations like some vast amorphous block does nobody any favours. Take two young people born on the same day; one living in the countryside and another living in an inner city. Do they really have any similarities beyond the fact that they share a birthday? Do we miss any potential inequality in income and opportunity between these two because we’re more focused on how they’re doing compared to their parents? A few facts and figures can show what this means in practice. While some pensioners may be earning more than those in work, there are still 1.6 million pensioners (14% of the total pensioner population) living below the poverty line after housing costs. A higher income young person at age 20 has a greater income than a poorer member of their parent’s generation at any age.

We must resolve ourselves to fighting inequality wherever we see it, not setting up one generation against another. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways in which we can do this. Building more and better housing will benefit both young people looking to settle down and older people looking to move or downsize in retirement. Protecting pensions gives security not just to people on the verge of retirement age, but to young people who want to know that pensions will still be there for them decades from now. This is more than a dry debate about economics. If we accept that inequality both between and within generations is one of the gravest issues we face (and I believe it is) then how we deal with it says a lot about what kind of country we are.

I’ve had enough of the policies of scapegoating, divide-and-rule and “us versus them”. We need to be far more ambitious and far more progressive before we can even begin to put things right.

Caring Together for Tameside’s Mental Health

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

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Over the course of their lifetime one in four people will develop some kind of mental health issue. As things stand, few of them will go and see a doctor about it and even fewer will get the treatment they need. Levels of self-harm among young people have increased by more than 50% between 2010 and 2015. In 2015 alone there were over 6,000 deaths recorded as suicide. It’s estimated that mental health issues cost the country up to £15 billion a year in lost productivity.

I usually try to avoid so stark an opening in my blogs, but in this case I think the severity of the situation justifies it.

How on Earth did it come to this? The sad fact is that for many the stigma against being open and honest about mental health remains strong. Far too often people who (quite rightly) would go straight to the doctor if they broke their leg would never do the same thing if they felt depressed or anxious. At the same time the rapid changes in the society we live in, particularly globalisation and the rise of social media, have created stresses and strains on our mental health that governments and health services are only just beginning to understand. While progress is being made in both these areas, there’s still a way to go.

And as always when I talk about issues like this, we can’t ignore the impact of austerity. Although it can be definitely argued that mental health has been historically underfunded, the last half a decade of cuts have undermined improvements to mental health services at a time where it has never been so vital to make them. The Prime Minister may have announced this week that her government will make mental health a priority, but at the same time national newspapers were reporting that hospitals were using hundreds of millions of pounds earmarked for children’s mental health to plug gaping holes in their budget left by government cuts. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that actions speak louder than words, especially with this government, but one speech does not undo the damage that has been done.

All this means that we’ll need to take matters into our own hands if we want to see serious changes made in how we deal with mental health. Fortunately, our work on integrating health and social care allows us to do just that, bringing together hospitals, communities and employers to create well-rounded treatments for both mental and physical health, tailored to individuals and the local area. As a council, we’ve also made mental health a priority through pledges such as signing the “Time to Change” mental health pledge and supporting national events promoting good mental wellbeing. In 2017, wtimetochangejpge’re going to build on both of these, transforming the way we do health in Tameside and Greater Manchester.

In the 21st century, access to high-quality mental health services is not a nice-to-have. As people become more open about the mental health challenges that they face, it falls to us to make sure that the help they need is available whatever and whenever they need it. At both the local and national level, we must take a stand and say that these people will no longer fall between the cracks in our healthcare systems. The hard but necessary work starts here.

Calling Time on Excessive Pay

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

3311There were a couple of pieces of news at the end of last week that should give anybody who is concerned about fairness and equality in Britain pause for thought. Firstly, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that cash bonuses from UK employers have reached £44.3 billion, surpassing their pre-crisis peak. At the same time, wage growth has slowed down from 2.5% to 2.3% in the last quarter, which includes the month following the vote on our European Union membership. It’s for these reasons that I welcome the announcement that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee are launching an enquiry into corporate governance in Britain, with a focus on corporate governance and levels of executive pay.

Before I start, let me make one thing perfectly clear, I have no issue with people making good amounts of money if they deserve it. Where it becomes an issue is if that money bears no relation to their performance in the job, or if the money that they earn is wildly more than could ever be justified. Maybe Sir Martin Sorrell has done a good job as Chief Executive at WPP, but can you really say that his work is worth £70 million a year? Does the Chief Executive of BP, Bob Dudley, really merit a 20% pay rise when the company recorded the biggest operating loss in its history under his watch? Extraordinary bonuses and pay should be a reward for extraordinary performance. These days they seem to be handed out for run-of-the-mill management and even, in some cases, for outright failure.

It’s not like this is a new issue either. Some readers of this blog who are a bit older than me may remember the controversy when Dr Richard Beeching received the then-princely sum of £24,000 a year (£14,000 a year more than the then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan) to dismantle Britain’s railway network, the negative consequences of which are still being felt today. In recent decades, the usual suspects in government and the media have hounded anybody who dares voice their concerns about excessive pay as “anti-business” or engaging in “the politics of envy”. This doesn’t change the fact that we are reaching a point where re-evaluating and resetting our attitude to excessive pay is not only desirable, but necessary. Increasingly there are signs that even the business world itself is beginning to tire of massive, unjustifiable salary packets and bonuses. Shareholder revolts against executive pay rises are becoming regular occurances, with bosses at companies as diverse as estate agents Foxtons to betting company Paddy Power Betfair feeling the pressure. If the government committed itself to regulating executive pay in a way that still allowed for some flexibility in terms of attracting the best talent and rewarding the best performances, I believe they would receive more support than you’d expect.

If you’re not convinced by the moral argument, then ask yourself these questions instead. Would you prefer tens of millions being spent to invest in and expand a business, or would you prefer to see it disappear into a CEOs back pocket instead? Is it really healthy for our society and economy that a small amount of people at FTSE 100 companies can take home pay packets that are 123 times higher than what the average worker here in Tameside can expect to earn? Is it re_89367940_thinkstockphotos-470808506ally a good sign that pay for a director has increased by 47% since 2010 while workers received only a 7% increase over the same period? For these reasons and many more, I shall be watching the deliberations of the Business, Investment and Skills enquiry, and our new Prime Minister’s response to it, with great interest. Mrs May has said that she wants everybody to share in the country’s wealth. It won’t be long at all before she’ll need to start matching words with action.

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