Where do Lords go in August?

Lord Soley

The answer to this question is ‘anywhere with some decent weather! Not unlike the rest of the population.

I had a short holiday in Italy and I hope to take another two weeks soon. It has been a messy break partly because of family and personal complications. I had to return early for the funeral of an old friend who bravely fought cancer so hard she deserved to win through but alas didn’t.

In between I have been doing some of the background work that enables me to keep myself up to date on various issues. One of these concerns the way we measure wealth in this country. The gap between rich and poor accelerated in the 1980’s and is still very wide. Does this matter? I think it does but the problem is complex. We live in a global economy and London attracts mega wealth. If you tax hard then you threaten London’s premier position in international finance. If you ignore it then the gap between rich and poor stays wide. If we remove the very rich from the statistics then the gap is more normal but that seems like fiddling the figures.

I am beginning to think we need a different approach to this. People do accept significant differences in wealth if the poorest are not desperately poor. That is largely true in this country except in a couple of very important ways. One of these is housing. Housing is crucial to a comfortable life and good quality, affordable housing is still not as good as it should be.

Public services are one important way a society can protect the less well of against the vagaries of market forces. Health and education have improved greatly in recent years but housing and one or two other public services need to be improved further. I hope to return to this issue in the near future and would welcome any views on this.

Responses please!

5 comments for “Where do Lords go in August?

  1. Adrian Kidney
    24/08/2008 at 6:14 am

    I’m very sorry to hear about the death of your friend, Lord Soley.

    As to your main point, I think it’s probably quite hard to disagree with what you say. As you say, health and education seem to have come off the boil at the moment, and housing is definitely a problem – especially for first-time buyers. I myself have resigned myself to not being able to afford to buy my own home, probably for the rest of my life! Although your situation is probably not directed at me – I’m not on or below the poverty line.

    Although my sister had a tough time with her local council when she was homeless and pregnant. She was put in ‘temporary’ accomodation and told it would be maximum six months, but she ended up staying there for two years. It wasn’t nice at all – rot, damp, a swamp for a garden.

    Linking into it, it’s these situations that help to breed resentment against what the public perceive as ‘immigrants’ getting the best housing and benefits, and so on. I know this is patently not the case, but it’s hard to dissuade someone of their opinion especially after my sister’s experience – or maybe she’s just stubborn.

  2. Senex
    24/08/2008 at 6:22 pm

    Please accept my most sincere commiseration on your deep felt loss.

    I always remember having a robust discussion during a break with a colleague on a training course in my late teens. I regard the event as being my first meaningful view on anything political.

    The discourse centred on employment. My colleagues view was that having a job was a right and given the strength of his delivery an inalienable one at that. My own view was that it was a privilege to have a job and without saying so I had based this on the nature of a master servant relationship or enterprise owner and employee.

    Needless to say we parted company having agreed to disagree. My view has remained substantially the same over the years modified now only by the degree of being poor or wealthy and the fact that a master cannot exist without his servant.

    Grinding poverty, malnutrition and persistent ill health are abominations that are banished thanks to the socialist with a small ‘s’ that exists in all of us. We have all contributed to its demise regardless of political persuasion and thankfully so.

    So what really matters? Not bringing it back!

  3. John R.
    26/08/2008 at 2:24 pm

    I like your blog very much, but find it amusing that you jump so quickly from talking about ‘the global economy’ to London-centric matters of finance.

    I take your point about poverty, because lately my colleagues (I work in housing) talk a lot about relative – as opposed to – absolute penuary. I think about this a lot because although I have a reasonable salary and live in a Midlands city, some people would see me as disadvantaged; certainly not poor!

    I rent a small flat in the red light district of Birmingham, own very little, and call it good. I would be quite happy to eschew the pursuit of personal wealth in exchange for a stronger sense of community and more friends. Unfortunately your London-centric focus on ‘mega-wealth’ leaves me cold. Most people are interested in things on a smaller, more sustainable scale. That’s where we experience our lives: at home.

    For me the way forward is for everyone to think locally. We should begin a switch to using locally produced goods and services. The global marketplace (driven largely by online technology) might seem incredibly sexy and interesting, but it’s the problem, not the cure. It’s killing us by degrees, and is illusory.

    Hope you don’t mind my online vapourings. I regret the loss of your friend.

  4. Krishna
    27/08/2008 at 1:35 pm

    Lord Soley,
    My condolences on your loss.

    On the matter of wealth, and the stark differential between the “uber-wealthy” and the rest, why does it bother us? Wealth is the outcome of many factors (and luck is certainly one of them).
    Isn’t the role of society to provide something approaching equal opportunity and not obsess about the result? There will always be people who are luckier, more motivated, more focused, and -dare I say it- smarter. As long as no one is starving in the streets, and everyone has access to a decent education, is society required to step in?

    Of far greater concern is the Govt. intervention in banks- where bankers (many of whom are amongst the “uber-Wealthy”) made enormous bonuses by selling toxic waste and are not being required to relinquish this. Many Govts. meanwhile, are (in the interest of saving depositors/shareholders) have been bailing out these banks WITHOUT reforming the incentives that drove bankers (banks are nothing more than people)- and therefore subsidizing and perpetuating these ethically questionable behaviors with the money of the common man.

    How can anyone take Govts seriously as long term planners -education and health are certainly not short term wins-when they botch up every market intervention with their short-termism. Shouldn’t we leave it to someone else?

  5. 27/08/2008 at 10:25 pm

    Sorry to hear about your loss Lord Soley.

    I absolutely agree with you about increasing tax having a negative effect on the economy and good of the nation in general. Moreover, it seems that increasing tax mostly effects the middle classes, not the ultra-rich. These people can avoid tax with clever investments, off-shore banking and a million other tricks.

    It seems that what you’re proposing is ‘honest taxation’. Instead of taking from the rich to give to the poor, we take a small amount from everyone and use it to build good services everyone can use.

    Services are also important to social mobility. The gap between rich and poor is easier to bear if there are plenty of opportunities to get rich (or vice-versa).

    Housing is crucial to a comfortable life and good quality, affordable housing is still not as good as it should be.

    Granted I haven’t any figures to back this up, but apparently in the rest of Europe a much higher proportion of people rent, meaning less demand in purchased housing market. I believe this can be traced back to the Conservative government’s push for every Englishman to own their own home (not to mention increasing the North/South divide by impeding people’s ability to move home).

    Also the UK has a rather high population density, but very little *good* high-density housing. This was a feature a few weeks ago in the Toronto Star, comparing a few of the world’s major cities and the different types of housing: London is very flat, basically lots of small houses; whereas a city like Toronto has a cluster of high-density housing (high-rise blocks of flats — but really nice ones) in the core, but then horrible urban sprawl the further out from the centre you travel.

    So housing in summary: more rented accommodation, more high-density in the form of *nice* apartment buildings.

    We should also discourage those US-style out of town shopping malls, as they’re impossible to get to without owning a car. People living in poor inner-city districts of the US often live off junkfood because they lack the means to travel to ‘real’ shops (sorry I don’t have a source for this, it was on a Canadian/American tv show a few weeks ago).

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