Thursday, 4 September 2008

An Unjust Society?

A new book by David Walker and Polly Toynbee " Unjust Rewards " is shaking the rafters . I went to the launch party and lecture at the RSA tonight. The book argues that despite a strong commitment by Government to creating a more equal society we have seen more inequality . They quote a lot of statistics to prove their point . I'm not sure whether this is actually the case . It strikes me that society has become more equal , and certainly the investment in our key public services like health and education , the radical social reforms on women and gender equality have made our society fairer . But it is also trus that there has been a huge growth in the gap between the rich and the poor and a massive growth in the super rich who make a pathetic contribution to the public realm through taxation .

There is an interesting exchange when a venture capitalist suggest that it is better for the super rich to give through philanthropy . Polly gives that old canard short shrift .And she name checks me in support of her ! the fact is tnat giving by the wealthy is minute in proportion to their wealth , and giving has not risen in line with the vast expansion of personal wealth. In any case, as Polly argues, philanthropy is undemocratic . It is old fashioned noblesse oblige , with the rich deciding what particular good cause will get their generous patronage . Hear , hear , Polly . It's the trouble with a lot of Foundations whose funding priorities are set by small groups of largely unaccountable trustees with little transparency and practically no accountability.

I support their call for fairer taxation of the very rich . And I support their call for politicians to put the case for taxes supporting our public realm .Well done to P and D for this polemic . Great to have them pushing this debate.Will any party be prepared to take up the issues they raise . This could be the big issue for Gordon brown , who undoubtedly does believe in a fairer society even if his actions have sometimes fallen short of that goal .

I buy the book and get Polly and David to sign it. Ther are a range of politicians there . David Willetts MP makes a good contribution though perhaps a little light on what a Tory Government might do on this issue .But it is excellent to have a key Tory thinker and strategist engaged in this debate . It marks a shift from the days of the last Tory Government and that is progress.And David is a good guy ( educated at my old college so that's not surprising! )

Ed Miliband MP turns up looking remarkably relaxed in the circumstances. He tells me he has just been in California , which probably explains it ! He tells me to keep up the blogging! He likes to find out about government policy on the sector from it!Good to see Ed , one of the governments top stars.And he spots my Obamaba lapel button!

Tomorrow I'm off to Sheffield to an acevo lunch with Nick Clegg MP, leader of the Lib Dems .I shall be quizzing him on his reactions to the Polly thesis ! He better have read it!+

1 comment:

Janet F said...

Not sure how you can suggest that society has become more equal, when the gap between rich and poor has grown so much over the last ten years. Recent times may have brought more people in the UK into the middle ground of relative prosperity (house, car, holidays etc) but the fact that the underbelly of our society has suffered more versus the rest of us suggests that we haven't got it right and we are being seriously let down by those that were elected to make a difference. David and Polly are quite right to challenge the giving principles of many rich people, for whom giving is often as much about recognition as it is about tax-avoidance (but fits with the twisted environment that both government and our wider society has created for them).

Yes, interesting to see which politicians will agree or not, but within the third sector how many of your members will join this call? Not many I suspect as, in a similar way to the depressing fawning over celebrities, no-one will want to upset their major donors, concerning themselves more with short-term income for their charities rather than a long-term shift in what we value in our society.