Thomas Paine wrote of the 18th century: “The contrast of affluence and wretchedness continually meeting and offending the eye is like dead and living bodies chained together.”
More than 200 years later, Paine’s scathing critique of social inequality can be applied even more forcefully to modern day Britain.
The admission by Matthew Hancock that the Tories will not give public sector workers a pay rise until 2018 further compounds the wretchedness of working people. Hancock and the Tories represent a modern day financial aristocracy.
The emergence of the modern day financial aristocracy at the top of society has been directly connected to the impoverishment of ever broader layers of working people.
Over the past ten years, the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has doubled. During the same period, state finances were raided to provide a multi-billion bailout to these very same layers, whose ill-gotten gains were achieved through acts of financial speculation.
For the working people, the bank bailout ushered in an era of unprecedented attacks on their living standards and the social services on which millions depend. While the rich wallow in wealth, the use of food banks has reached unheard-of levels, wages have been slashed and public services eliminated or privatised.
Any talk of recovery applies exclusively to the wealthy. The stock markets are higher than ever, London property prices are stratospheric, but wages for the vast majority continue to stagnate or decline.
The economic growth figures touted as marking an end to the crisis come overwhelmingly from the financial sector, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of Britain’s economic output.
The uncritical acceptance of the repugnant levels of social inequality by all the major political parties is striking.
This acceptance is the reason why millions of people will be striking on Thursday and why a Yes vote is the only option.