The inevitable consequence of Free Market Capitalism is that society becomes ever-more unequal, as the wealth gap between those at the top and those at the bottom gets larger and larger. This happens directly (with salaries diverging, and wealthy people using their assets to generate yet more wealth for themselves), but it also happens indirectly, as pressure from those at the top to pay less tax forces the government to balance the books by imposing Austerity – the result of which is ever-greater cuts to public services, and so an ever-faster decline in the standard of living of the more disadvantaged members of society.
This last point took a particularly unpleasant turn today when the Police Inspectorate announced that much criminal activity was now going uninvestigated due to lack of resources, and in some cases the victims of crime were even being asked to do the investigations themselves (including interviewing neighbours, looking for fingerprints, locating CCTV footage or checking eBay for their stolen property.) The result of this, it said, is that a lot of offences, including criminal damage, car theft and burglaries of property were effectively being decriminalised.*
Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Police Officers Association made a direct link between this and Austerity, saying ‘The reality of austerity in policing means that forces must ensure that their officers’ time is put to best use and this means prioritising calls.’
This is of course just the thin end of the wedge, and as Austerity continues to bite more and more of these essential services will be cut back, and our streets will become less and less safe. Anyone who has ever travelled to countries with very divided societies and under-funded police will know where this all ends up. In places like South Africa, and many parts of South America the huge crime levels mean that the wealthy start to barricade themselves in their homes, living behind razor wire, high walls or in secure compounds, and often with private security. Meanwhile on the streets the less well-off have to make do as best they can, often living in constant fear of the dreadful crime levels. In this country we may be some way off from such awful times yet, but we are undoubtedly taking the first steps in that direction. And as long as those with the reins of power think that their personal wealth is all that matters, the needs of society are irrelevent, and it’s simply down to every individual to look after themselves, then for sure that is the kind of society we will eventually find ourselves living in.
As a sad addendum to this piece, last week it was announced that lawyers are setting new records for personal wealth, with more of them than ever before now earning over £1m/year. Could our society be any more dysfunctional, with lawyers raking in so much money, whilst those who actually catch criminals are unable to do so due to lack of funds? http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/economics/article4192714.ece