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Letters: Tories’ poor grasp on inequality

Tim Montgomerie (On social justice, the coalition is reasonableness personified, 18 August) is right that the riots are an opportunity to rethink the government’s social policies but wrong if that means blaming poverty on usual standbys like single parents while ignoring the impact of the government’s own policies.

One very good reason for a change of direction is that ministers came in promising to cut child poverty, saying the previous government hadn’t done enough, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that the government’s policies – attacking child benefit, cutting benefits and tax credits, and reducing childcare help – may actually increase child poverty by 300,000 in the next three years. This is in razor-sharp contrast to the 900,000 children taken out of poverty between 1999 and 2010.

The question the government should be asking on family breakdown is: why are children in lone-parent households much more likely to be in poverty than other children? In other countries, like Sweden, with progressive family policies such as universal childcare, guaranteed maintenance and high levels of female labour-market participation, lone parents are not poor.

What’s needed is greater recognition by ministers that our child poverty levels aren’t the fault of the poor. It is our inadequate policy response to the realities facing all families that leaves children in poverty.

Alison Garnham

CEO, Child Poverty Action Group

• I know from the experience of growing up in Wokingham that John Redwood is a good MP who works hard to help all of his constituents. However, a grasp of the issues surrounding inequality is clearly not his strong suit when he writes that “I do not believe you can make the poor rich by making the rich poor” (It’s ludicrous to say that rightwingers don’t care about inequality, 17 August). With the exception of the few remaining Maoists (who were never a big problem in Wokingham), I don’t think anyone in the UK is interested in making the rich poor.

What most people in the UK do want, when surveyed, is for the gap between rich and poor to be reduced. Our evidence suggests that even small movements towards making the UK more equal would yield huge benefits for all of us in terms of better health and social outcomes. This great prize is tantalisingly within grasp when you consider that it could easily be financed from the excessive incomes of the top 1% of earners, the very people that have largely driven us to such an unequal state.

Bill Kerry

Co-director, The Equality Trust

• John Redwood would no doubt not accept William Morris as an authority: “I don’t know anything about economics; I only know that the rich are rich and the poor are poor, and the rich are rich because the poor are poor.” But what about Adam Smith? “Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.”

How the rich achieved that status is a separate question, of course. But simple arithmetic surely is all that is needed to show the fallacy in Redwood’s argument. If the nation’s wealth is divided so that the rich have a bigger share, then the poor inevitably receive less. And conversely.

One does not need to be a multimillionaire, still less a billionaire, to have a happy and fulfilled life, as I can personally testify. But one does need a basic level of economic security. That a significant minority do not have that security in this rich country is a scandal, and it is surprising that there is not more revolt.

Frank Jackson

Harlow, Essex

• I was impressed with Tim Montgomerie’s concern with social deprivation when, in 2002, he brought Iain Duncan Smith to our project in Easterhouse. And Iain Duncan Smith was impressed by the way the project involved families and reduced gang fights. Today it is suffering cuts. So perhaps Tim can explain why Iain Duncan Smith has failed to keep his promise that locally run projects would receive funding from central government.

Bob Holman


• John Redwood refers to the left seeking to make the rich “too poor” and warns us all “not to be jealous” of those earning “mega-bucks”. This is just a rehash of the tired old Tory mantra levelled against anyone suggesting a fairer tax system that they are indulging in the politics of envy. A Robin Hood tax on financial transactions has been suggested at the rate of 0.05%. Just how would this make multinational corporations “too poor”? It is noticeable, however, that the CBI and the usual suspects in the City are already threatening to pack their bags. Redwood should forget the politics of envy and start worrying a bout the politics of hysteria.

Ted Woodgate

Billericay, Essex

• I found myself agreeing with more of what John Redwood wrote than I had anticipated. Though I found him especially less convincing when he stated: “the rich do not have to hang around … They have the best lawyers and accountants. They can go on strike … ” He is implying that we can not nor should we do anything about the antisocial behaviour of this not inconsiderable group in British society. His argument is that UK taxes are too high for the “rich”. Experience seems to suggest that any level of tax is too high for the rich, who frequently arrange their affairs in order to avoid it entirely. I would suggest as much effort and a similar amount of condemnation should accompany this aspect of bad behaviour as that rightly directed towards the recent rioting, and invite Mr Redmond to join in the denunciation. I believe Warren Buffett is of a similar opinion (Buffett on the debt crisis: make billionaires like me pay more, 16 August).

Gwilym Williams


• John Redwood asks a lot of questions such as “Why are most of the new jobs going to recent arrivals in our country”? Answer: Because they work for less money. QED.

The reality of globalisation is that most manufacturing is done in countries with low wages, low environmental standards, low safety standards etc. Jobs that cannot be exported, such as construction, hospitality and the service industries, are then filled by the new arrivals. They work for the minimum wage and sometimes less – and, if recruited by gangmasters, may well have accommodation and travel costs deducted from their pay, and the accommodation will not be the Ritz!

Meanwhile, many workers only survive financially because of tax credits, a subsidy to employers paying low wages. One government department says this is how much people need to live on and another government department says this is the minimum wage, and there is not a chance of joined-up government!

Michael Gold


• So John Redwood believes in the trickle-down theory, originally attributed to the late Ronald Reagan, so beloved by American rightwingers. As far as I’m aware this theory has been thoroughly discredited, but Redwood, while claiming he is against inequality, then proceeds to espouse the fracturing of our schools supposedly to raise standards, and hold up grossly overpaid footballers and media stars as examples for the upcoming generation! He then follows with the tired argument that nothing can be done to make the rich pay their fair share because “they do not have to hang around … and have the best lawyers and accountants”! Who is he kidding?

Peter Ward

Saltford, Somerset

• I have many issues with Tim Montgomerie’s arguments on economic reform, but one element of his thinking specifically makes my blood run cold. When Conservatives talk about tackling family breakdown and “invest[ing] in pro-family projects” they often use the language of benevolent liberalism, but the planned reality of their policies would inevitably be very different. Rather than increasing the incomes of hard-pressed poor families, the Conservative ideal of “pro-family” strategy involves making it more economically difficult to live outside of the conventional family structure. In their eagerness to blame society’s problems on the decline of the traditional nuclear family unit, the Tories tend towards policies that make it more and more difficult to escape abusive relationships. Thus many children, wives and sometimes husbands will be all but forced to stay in situations where they are suffering mental and physical torture.

I suspect the problem stems from well-heeled political thinkers that come from predominantly middle and upper-class backgrounds. Coming from settled, traditional family units, they will have no conception of how widespread the problems of domestic violence and abuse are. The social problems of Britain do not stem from urban moral decline, as modern conservative thinking claims. It stems from the gap between rich and poor widening drastically, the poor example set by politicians and the press through their behaviour in recent years, and the unobtainable aspirations constantly being thrust into the faces of those living in poverty.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

• Tim Montgomerie supports the liberal principle of wealth taxation – with which Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly agree – but spoils it by advancing the spurious argument that “Britain’s tax burden is one of the reasons why so many parents are working long hours outside of the home”. Setting aside the fact that the number of hours worked in the UK economy has fallen in the last three years by some 30 million, the squeeze on living standards is due far more to real wages having fallen for years and continuing to do so. Families can’t afford the basics despite working full time because they’re not paid fairly.

This comes at a time of a record private-sector surplus, indicating a failure of corporate investment in the face of slack demand and uncertainty, and booming corporate profits allied to disproportionate pay for the lucky few at the top. This speaks of a massive failure of corporate governance, of an economic system stacking the odds against ordinary people.

The answers may make Conservatives even less comfortable than wealth taxation; increased workplace democracy, more effective corporate governance in favour of employees and all stakeholders, and to encourage investment in jobs, all within a more investment-driven model of economic growth.

The Social Liberal Forum will continue to press for such policies; one hopes Tim can convince the Tories of their merit.

Prateek Buch

Policy co-ordinator, Social Liberal Forum

• Can it really be only 15 months since the “nasty party” came to power through a coalition with the Lib Dems? (Unemployment has been the dog that hasn’t barked. Until now, 18 August.) In that time they’ve been busy throwing the economy into reverse (when in May 2010 growth was rising rapidly in relation to the UK’s European neighbours) and increasing unemployment (when it was beginning to decline). This all in the name of their ideologically driven mission to reduce the size of the state.

Another outcome of their holding the reins of power once again? The kind of social unrest not seen on this scale since Thatcher and the poll tax riots – a disintegration for which Cameron stubbornly refuses to accept any responsibility. Thatcher’s response to deprivation and joblessness, through the legendary pronouncement of one of her ministers, was to exhort the unemployed to “get on [their] bike”. Today Osborne puts hundreds of thousands of women and young people on the dole while Iain Duncan Smith draws up plans to cut benefits, vainly trying to persuade them to look for jobs that just aren’t there. Who said Cameron has obliterated the “nasty” epithet?

Barbara Cairns

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