It's near-impossible to imagine that this time last year the streets of Britain were the scene of arson, looting and violence on a mass scale. The feel-good factor from hosting the Olympics, alongside the deployment of a huge chunk of the country's security forces in the capital, has rendered the burnt out buildings, smashed shop fronts and street fighting as distant memories. But, as Olympic fever begins to die down, it is vital that we don't relax into thinking that society's ills have been healed.
A new paper by the Equality Trust looks at the seven major themes that the government-commissioned Riots, Communities and Victims Panel identified as needing to be addressed if future riots are to be prevented. The issues highlighted by the panel include 'criminality', 'riots and the brand' and 'police and the public'. The Equality Trust research suggests that each of these categories was 'powerfully affected by inequality':
• The usual suspects [criminality]: Crime, including violent and acquisitive crime, has been linked to inequality--in multiple contexts and through multiple methodologies
• The brands: Relative deprivation has been linked to conspicuous consumption and consumerism.
• Police and the public: Where inequality is high, there is evidence that there is more deadly use of force on the part of police.
The paper uses international comparisons to make clear that those countries with lower levels of inequality are less likely to suffer from the problems that the Government identified as contributing to last summer's unrest.
If the riots were a symptom of inequality then it's fair to assume that this summer's peaceful sporting remission may not be repeated in the future. Indeed income inequality is getting worse and is exemplified by what's going on in corporate Britain. Chief executives of Britain's biggest companies earned an average 12% more in 2011 than in 2010 . In stark comparison, the average British worker saw their pay stagnating. The pay ratio between these CEOs and the average pay in the private sector is 200:1. For those at the bottom of the pay ladder, making ends meet is increasingly difficult. The national minimum wage will rise by only 1.8% this year for those over 20 and won't rise for under 20s. Everyone on the minimum wage is getting poorer in real terms.
With those at the top seemingly unaffected by the 'belt tightening', it is unsurprising that people feel powerless in the face of rising inequality. But powerless we are not. It may make uncomfortable reading for our top chief executives but the British public have woken up to the problems of excessively high and extremely low pay. Earlier this year FairPensions led calls for restraint on the pay packages of underperforming executives. We saw a number of high profile casualties of the so-called 'shareholder spring' and a binding vote on executive pay packages given to shareholders. Pension funds and ISA providers up and down the country received emails from our supporters demanding that the power of their investments was used to hold companies to account.
It's not only those at the top whose pay is being discussed at company AGMs. FairPensions has also galvanised investors and customers to demand that the biggest companies in Britain pay their workers Living Wages. We've already persuaded companies like HSBC, Barclays and Aviva and we're not stopping there.
Next summer we won't have an Olympics. It's down to all of us to make sure that an August without sport or troops on the streets of London won't result in the kind of disturbance we saw last year. As savers, investors and customers we all have a stake in corporate Britain and, in the year to come, we must use our sway to tackle excess at the top and poverty at the bottom of the income ladder.
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