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Take your place in line

5 Oct

In 1971 Dutch economist Jan Pen came up with a brilliant graphical way of conveying the distribution of income in a society. Imagine each person’s height is stretched in proportion to their income. Line them all up in height order with the shortest (poorest) at the front and the richest (tallest) at the back. Now imagine this parade passing by in 1 hour. Where would you be?

Can I share with you some figures from an OU course that uses data from 1995 as an example, bearing in mind that the income gap is accepted to have grown since then?

Rather than individually, people will be parading by in family groups, which means non-earners or low earning partners aren’t counted as destitute. The figures are also adjusted for family size, so based on a couple without children, a single person with the same income would be adjusted upwards since they have more to live on and a couple with children on the same income would be adjusted downwards since they have less to live on.

The average height of 5’8″ is used to represent the average household income.

And so the parade begins.

What’s immediately striking is how tiny almost everyone is, barring the few giants who arrive at the end.

After 3 minutes a single unemployed mum with two small children living below the Income Support level passes by, she is 1’10”.

Six minutes later a single male pensioner who owns his home and claims Income Support passes, he is 2’6″.

Everyone in the first 12 minutes is under 2’10” with household incomes less than half the average.

After 21 minutes a childless couple go by, he works full-time as an exhaust fitter, she does not do paid work, they are 3’9″.

After half an hour the person that passes is only 4’10” with a household income only 83% of the average.

We don’t see anyone who is 5’8″ until 62% of the population have already passed by.

After 45 minutes a couple pass with a baby and a toddler, he is a full-time technician in an engineering firm and she works part-time as a receptionist, they are both 6’10”.

With only 10 minutes left the heights really start to grow.

Fifty one minutes in and a single woman aged 45 with no children passes, she is a full-time personnel officer and is 8’7″ tall.

With only 3 minutes left a couple in their late fifties with grown children pass, he is a freelance journalist and she is a part-time manager of a day centre for the elderly. They are 11’11” high.

In the last minute a company chief executive and his non-earning wife pass, they are at least 60′ tall.

I shall let Pen describe the very last seconds

suddenly: the scene is dominated by colossal figures: people like tower flats… the rear of the parade is brought up by a few participants who are measured in miles… their heads disappear into the clouds

A modest estimate of the income of Britain’s richest man in 1995 would make him and his partner each 4 MILES high.

No-one denies that the earnings gap has increased in the past 15 years.

The average household income in Britain is cruelly distorted by these mile-high behemoths. If even the top 1% were discounted, today’s average income of £20,800 would be considerably reduced.

Which brings me to the magic number.


Our household income of £43,000 as an unadjusted figures quite firmly places us in the top earning part of the parade.

Adjusted to take into account one non-earning adult and three children, not so much.

The point of Child Benefit for me is to ensure that I exist. Because, you see, I don’t exist.

As a breeder and a dependant I’m accorded a social status that barely amounts to full citizenship – by which I mean I get to vote.

Child Benefit is the only recorded evidence that I am stepping back from paid employment to be a SAHM. For the years I claim Child Benefit my NI contributions will be topped up to compensate for me taking time out at no cost to the state to raise them. And by no cost I mean ME, my choice not to work costs the state nothing.

The only proof I have of my existence as anything other than a chattel is my Child Benefit.

My two older children are not my partner’s. Their father is a policeman, he earns a good bit less then £40,000 and is married.

Ignoring the rank stupidity of using the personal tax system to determine access to Child Benefit, how do we fit into George Osborne’s new structure?

As a socialist at heart I have no issue with the redistribution of wealth. If MrW and I lose Child Benefit for our child and it results in increased support for families on lower incomes I wholly support that.

What I am not fine with is my ex-husband and I losing child benefit for our children, the two with parents whose income doesn’t amount to the higher tax bracket. It is my ex’s income that determines the maintenance he provides, so surely it’s only fair that his income determines their entitlement to Child Benefit?


Linking MrW to Kathryn and Andrew through the personal taxation system will be somewhat of a challenge, and no less expensive than implementing a fair, means tested system.

But the thing that really pisses me off is that lower income families won’t be better off as a result of this. They won’t get more support.

The notion that a family on £18,000 is supporting, through their taxation, the provision of Child Benefit to a family on £50,000 is ludicrous Mr Osborne.

This is an attack on stay at home parents. This is an attack on those of us who wish to avoid institutionalised child-care (been there done that got the t-shirt no thanks).

Forcing parents who can manage adequately on one wage into the job market in this current economic climate is just plain stupid.

If you want fair Mr Osborne, as a non-working, non-claiming adult I want my tax allowance to be transferable to the person I am deemed to be dependant on. MrW. Only then will you have a fair measure of my household income and my decision to raise the next generation of tax payers will be recognised and valued.

Source: Mackintosh & Mooney, Identity, inequality and social class in Woodward (ed), questioning identity: gender, class ethnicity, 2004, The Open University


And another thing…

27 Apr

… yeah OK I would change a few more things.

Why oh why oh why oh why having worked for twenty years paying both tax and national insurance into the system, now that I am a stay at home mum taking absolutely nothing out of the system, can’t I transfer my tax allowance to MrW?

It really pisses me off that the Tories are threatening to re-introduce the Married Man’s Person’s Tax Allowance. WTF should we get married? Is nine years and a child together not public enough a commitment? AARRGGH!

I am an individual, and the government treats me as an individual only when it suits it. I am an individual for tax purposes, yet when it comes to just about everything else I am nothing more than another dependant of MrW’s. I am on par with the children. I have no income yet I will not be entitled to Job Seeker’s Allowance when I declare myself available for work. Despite being a single income household we are not entitled to the same discount a single working person would get on their Council Tax. I even have to ask MrW to pay for my tertiary education. I have a personal income of precisely ZERO, so if I want an education I have to ask MrW to fund it because, unlike single zero income students, I am not entitled to a government funded education.

Don’t get me wrong, MrW and an ILA from the Scottish government (who do treat me as an individual for tertiary part-time education) fully support my somewhat sporadic forays into my university education, but how many people are denied the opportunity to learn because their partners, the people they are financially tithed to, say no?


Thank gawd it’s Gallery day tomorrow…

Technorati reclaim: ZMN85WDA4JC2

If I could change one thing and only one thing…

27 Apr

I spent 20 minutes before he left for school this morning explaining to my 13 year old son how we vote for the UK parliament.

His only response?

“Well that’s not fair”.

Here in Scotland we have a voting system that combines first past the post with additional member list proportional representation that results in what I consider a fair outcome every time. We have a parliament that reflects what people actually vote for and not one that sees the big parties protect their power base by redrawing constituency boundaries.

If each of the three main parties in the UK got 33.3% of the vote on 6th May it would result in Labour holding over 300 seats, the Conservatives winning around 200, and the Liberal Democrats scraping a meagre 100 or so.

That is not democracy.

I do not understand the English reaction to the prospect of a hung parliament. I understand the politician’s response, they are desperately fighting for the upper hand in an unfair system, they are painting their nightmare scenarios of a crippled economy and a country in ruins should we, the electorate, be allowed to actually vote for who we want. It threatens their right to form a majority government on the back of a minority of votes. But the fact that they paint these ridiculous scenarios must be because voters respond.

No party in Scotland has ever had a majority, and if it did it would be on the basis of receiving the majority of votes. What we do have is government by consensus. Why should a party that receives less than 50% of the vote ever be in a position to form a majority government and push through policies that OVER 50% of voters disagree with? That just does not make sense to me. If 20% of the people who vote on 6th May agree with and support Liberal Democrat policies then they should hold 20% of the seats in parliament, and have 20% worth of influence on policy making.

That is fair.

Tactical voting, of the type our scaremongering prime ministerial candidates are wont to encourage, is pointless in a PR system. Voters are truly free to vote based on their preferred ideology because each vote counts. In my constituency it’s a two horse race between the SNP and the Tories. I am a member of the SNP so it’s a no brainer for me, but many Lib-Dem supporters and Labour supporters feel that voting is pointless in this constituency and they’re probably right. After elections to the Scottish parliament it’s not unusual to see constituencies return an MSP from one party yet support another party in the PR part of our system.

Every vote counts.

We desperately need electoral reform in this country. Proportional representation isn’t some hippy-dippy unworkable Utopian system, it’s the preferred system in most of the world’s democracies including Germany, Japan, Sweden (the list is here) and other such economically crippled and ruined countries. The notable exceptions are the UK, USA and India. Which just shows that the “bigger” the democracy the less say the population has in who  governs. In fact, if you look at the G8 countries, with the exception of Japan and Italy, they all subscribe to an undemocratic FPTP electoral system. It’s power protectionism at every level and personally I just wish we’d stop kidding ourselves that, as things stand, we have any say in anything and actually do something about it.

Head in the clouds? Blue Sky thinking?

You were wondering how I was going to get a photo in huh?

For more musings from UK parents on the forthcoming elections pop over to Mummy Do That who’s hosting the current BMB Carnival on that very theme.

They came on Friday at tea time…

20 Mar

… just after Crackerjack had started. There was nothing we could do, nobody would listen. My Mum was crying, my little sister hid behind her, confused and scared and my Dad? He was absolutely livid. Not at me thank god, at them.

I’d got the letters, actually it was quite a rush getting real grown up letters like my parent’s, well the first one was, until I opened it. After that I hid the new ones amongst my Just Seventeen’s, nobody ever looked there. I didn’t know how to stop it., I mean, it’s not as if I could undo what I’d done. I don’t think I really believed it would go this far.

First they took the TV. My Dad erupted when they started rummaging through the bedroom I shared with my sister for any hidden radios… if my Mum hadn’t managed to hold him back I’m sure he would have slept in a cell that night. They found my cassette deck and the radio in the kitchen easy enough. They even took our stereo. We’d just upgraded to one of those new CD player, double cassette deck, radio and turntable all in ones. It had a really cool light up graphic equaliser. If only we’d stuck with the old Pioneer in bits… maybe we could have kept the amp and record deck? Who knows.

When they pulled the phone out my Mum just totally lost it… “But how will we contact people?!” she sobbed, “You can’t cut us off….”.

But they had the paperwork. And they could.

All the time I just stood there, not believing any of what I was seeing. I was fifteen for crying out loud, how could I have caused this?

My Dad didn’t talk to me about it, not at the time, not while they were there, stripping our home of music, cutting us off from our family and friends. Later on he told me he’d known all along what I was doing, but he didn’t believe it would ever go this far either.

He tried for months afterwards to get our stuff back. We couldn’t even replace it since we were blacklisted with all the electronics companies, which was simple since they’d made it law that you had to show photo ID to buy anything that could pick up radio or TV signals. There was no point going to the black market either, since the detector vans prowling the streets every night would have no difficulty picking up that we were receiving a signal. BT said, off the record, that it would be at least another 6 months before they would be allowed to reconnect our phone line.


Completely and utterly cast adrift.

My Mum had to give up her Open University degree, how could she continue without a TV, without a phone?

My little sister spent more and more time after school round at her friend’s, she really missed Blue Peter.

And me?

I took my shame and locked myself away with my magazines. It’s not as if I could turn back time. Go back six months, to the summer.

Go back and NOT make my boyfriend that mixed tape.


Far fetched? You think?

Unfortunately not, this is precisely what YOUR government is proposing to do to YOU if you or any member of your family shares music online.

Despite research showing that people who download music illegally spend more money on music, illegal downloaders are decried as the destroyers of this very industry and if you’re caught doing it your whole family could be cut off from the internet. No ISP will touch you. You will be cut off, cast adrift. It won’t matter if you need it to work, to study, to function in your daily life, NONE of that will matter. The entertainment industry’s business model will be protected at any cost, and that’s scary.

Every single provider of goods and services, anyone who takes our money and gives us stuff in return, has had to adapt. Book shops, grocery stores, banks, insurance companies, estate agents, any high street retailer you care to name… every one of them has had to adapt their business model to take advantage of the new opportunities the internet offers. Admittedly they don’t have such easily stolen products, but to have such draconian laws enacted to protect the business model of one industry is still absolutely outrageous. And draconian they are, do not doubt it. You will be guilty until you can prove you are innocent. You will be sentenced until you can prove you are innocent. And it won’t matter if it’s your 10 year old kid who’s been sharing MPS3 with his mates, your whole family will be guilty and sentenced until you can prove yourselves innocent.

In the good old days, if you taped a movie off the TV or recorded an album onto cassette and gave it to your friend, although you were technically breaking the law, you weren’t profiting from it and the law more or less left you alone. The law was sensible enough to go after the big guys, the ones who sold pirated VHS tapes and cassettes at markets and car boot sales, en masse. Not the punter. Can you imagine if they arrested everyone who bought a dodgy movie at the Barras? If you can be sentenced for repeatedly visiting a P2P sharing site what makes that any different from being sentenced for repeatedly going to a car boot sale where illegal DVDs are on sale?

I download music illegally. If I like it I buy it and if I don’t like it I delete it. Times have changed and artists can no longer rely on me parting with my money in return for an album of unheard tracks. Sometimes I can’t buy the stuff I’ve downloaded since it isn’t available in digital format. For many years I relied on a fantastic file sharer in South America through the now defunct Blubster. He must have converted his whole vinyl collection since most of what he shared wasn’t and still isn’t available in digital format anywhere. It was thanks to him I had a copy of Time Zone: World Destruction, a copy I cherished until it finally appeared in the iTunes catalogue. I have since bought all seven mixes, which supports the research.

Ridiculous scenarios are being mooted should piracy continue to increase at its current rate. Something in the region of quarter of a million jobs will be lost in Britain alone? We apparently have 2 million people working in the creative arts industry and over a quarter of them will lose their jobs? Are we counting the spotty youth who sells me my Anime in HMV on Saturday afternoon? Because nobody thought much about counting the spotty youth in Borders who sold me my Manga… come to think of it nobody cried that Borders demise heralded the end of book publishing as we know it.

You know what’s really galling though? No matter what shade our next government there will be public spending cuts. There will be cuts in education. And, as always, it will be the Arts that suffer first and most. Maybe if our lawmakers are so concerned about the creative arts industry they should give a passing thought to investing in it… just a thought.

I know I need to learn more.

Open Rights Group

It's just a jump to the left, then a step to the ri-i-i-i-i-i-ght

6 Jan

How do the English stand it? All the political back and forth and back and… aargh! How do people switch from supporting a right-wing ideology, to socialism and back again? Over and over?

I’m not naive, I know there’s barely anything socialist about the current bunch waving the red flag, but what in the name of all sense and reason encourages anyone who previously voted for Labour to believe that the Conservatives are a better option? If Labour have “strayed further right to get into your heart” the Tories must have taken up residence in a very dark place indeed, bum-chumming it round Europe with anti-semitic Holocaust apologists.

The 2010 general election will be the 6th I vote in, but certainly not the first I bear witness to. I didn’t think I was a particularly politicised child, not at the time, I vaguely remember the rapid fire elections of February and October 1974 as well as the Common Market referendum of 1975. I was off school sick and watching BBC2 the day Harold Wilson made his resignation speech (I was 9!) and will never forget the day that fucking woman won in 1979. By 1983 I was desperate for a vote but had to wait until 1987 and I was 21 before I got a chance to make my mark on a general election ballot form.

On 11th June 1987 MrW and I sat, somewhat pickled and optimistic, on the steps of Perth City Hall awaiting a change of regime. For some reason we’d thought that fair and transparent elections included the right for members of the public to witness the count and announcement of the results. I still think it should be that way, but it’s not, so outside on the steps we sat. That was the first night, but certainly not the last, I went to sleep full of hope for the new day approaching, only to wake, stare in shock, weep at the foolish, fickle, selfish, short-term me mine hands-off mine me gimme fix ME! electorate.

If it had been at all feasible for me to emigrate on 10th April 1992…

I lost all hope for Britain the day John Smith died.

I fear what 2010 may bring.

In recent years the Scottish government has been a cushion from the follies of the Even Newer Right (Labour) and the selfish, racist, extremists of the Righter than Right (Conservatives, UKIP, BNP) and I’ve largely ignored English politics. But it’s looking increasingly like the English are in danger of taking yet another “step to the ri-i-i-i-i-ight” and once more dragging Scotland not so much kicking and screaming as whimpering into the darkness. This was a scary enough prospect when I was a school pupil and student, it’s an unbelievably nightmarish prospect as a parent.

I think we can all agree that the financial institutions in Britain have royally fucked us over. There’s no escaping the fact that our children, the third generation baby-boomers, have been landed with national debts of gargantuan proportions and frankly I don’t differentiate between those who de-regulated the banks or those bankers who took the unregulated risks that caused this mess – they’re all to blame. The next government, whatever its hue, will cut public spending and raise tax. For the next five months (please don’t let it be longer) they are each going to try and convince us that where they propose to cut spending and raise tax is the best option.

The Conservatives have declared themselves the party of the NHS (excuse me while I throw up). John Major single handedly dismantled what was left of our NHS when he defiled it with free market economics in the 1990s. Education is the traditional Tory soft target for sweeping cuts in public spending and this time round it looks like business as usual. I don’t get it. The days of mass educating the working classes for a life in the textile mills or pits are long gone Mr Middle-England Tory. You can’t reduce the number of children, all you can do is reduce the teachers, crank up the class sizes and slash budgets back to the good old 1980s when schools could barely provide paper for pupils to write on. Labour have already sold off a whack of the education infrastructure to PPP/PFI/Piss It Into The Wind “Partnerships” who can sell our schools off in 25-30 years to the highest bidding property developer, so what’s left to cut? Heat? Light? Food?

I’l never “get” the right. They complain at the number of non-British doctors and nurses working in the NHS yet target spending cuts at the education of future generations of potential professionals. It’s short-term, it’s short-sighted and it makes me utterly sick to think of it happening. Again. They want to charge foreign nationals for health care – the same foreign nationals who staff our bloody hospitals. In a country with an ageing, falling population they want to drag children from their beds in dawn raids and deport them back to something that must be pretty appalling if living here as an immigrant minority is preferable.

I remember being told before I was old enough to vote that if I wasn’t a socialist at 18 I had no heart and if I wasn’t a conservative by 30 I had no brain. It was the singularly most pessimistic outlook on adulthood I had ever heard and it still offends me.

No I’ll never “get” the right.

But I’ll still be able to look myself in the mirror.