Monday, 7 August 2017

A society with the wrong priorities

Who are the most important people in the country? I'll give you a choice of a few. is it Doctors, Nurses, Fund managers, Estate Agents, Insurance executives, Teachers or Social workers? You all may have different opinions. If your wife has just been abducted, you may think the policeman. If your mother is dying of cancer, maybe the nurse in the hospice, if your daughter has broken her arm, maybe the doctor in A&E who treated you. If your kids are going to school, maybe the teacher who is responsible for their education. I've not heard too many people make the case for Estate Agents, Fund managers and Insurance executives. Maybe this is a bit unfair, as our pensions require competant fund managers, when we get burgled, we rely on competent Insurance executives to ensure we get compensated to continue our lives and when we have to move house, it could be very hard without estate agents and if we get dishonest ones, it can cost us a fortune. So  yes we should appreciate the efforts of these sometimes more maligned professions as well. Society functions best when we all do our bit and we all receive fair compensation for our efforts. Every profssion from the gravedigger to the locksmith, to the personel manager to the public to the tycoon all have a role to play in the modern world. The sum of all of their efforts make our lives better. It's called society, a thing Margaret Thatcher famously dismissed.

The current bogeymen have for a few years, since the banking crisis been the bankers. But banks play a central role in our lives in modern society. Bank cards mean we can access our money 24 x 7, if an unexpected crisis hits. Mortgages mean that we can own our own homes and live in comfort. Finance for cars means we can transport ourselves.  Have you ever left your bank cards at home, then gone to buy something and found yourself embarrassed at the checkout. That is the difference technolgy has made to our lives via banking. I've bought beds, carpets, cars and cupboards on finance. Without a banker, I'd have had to sleep on the floor and taking my bands equipment to gigs would have been impossible. So I do not believe in even bashing bankers.

I suspect that when you read the title of this blog, you didn't expect this to be the drift of the blog? But it is important to make the case I make in a calm and rational way and to explain that it is not the politics of envy which I am advocating. I am advocating fairness. Whichever one of the jobs you feel is most important, one thing is clear. For the UK PLC to flourish, we need an educated population. All of the most important jobs require an education. Which, to my mind, puts teachers near the top of the pile. So how much do we pay teachers. I did a quick google and the first Barnet teaching job I found had a  starting salary of around £26,000 per annum. This was for a science teacher at Oak Hill School. The cheapest property to buy with an EN4 (ie local to the job) postcode I could find was a shared ownership flat at £154,000, but that was only for 35% of the equity. The cheapest outright sale was £254,000, for a one bedroom flat. This means that the cost is over nine times the salary of a teacher on the starting salary. What does this tell us about how much we value teachers? It is interesting to note that on the website for the estate agent, there is a school checker, which shows how good the schools locally are.  It seems that the estate agent actually understands the value of the teachers efforts. There is a debate as to whether our public sector workers deserve a pay rise. The argument against it is that "we can't afford it". But why can't we? a quick search on jobs for investment managers threw one up in Harrow. The Salary Range - £45,000- £100,000 with a bonus up to 20%. Now as I said, people need fund managers, we rely on them to administer our pensions etc. But is there worth to society really 2-3 times that of a teacher? Don't we want the best and the brightest to educate the next generation of our workforce. Don';t we want teachers who can afford to live locally and have a decent home? Driving miles to work adds to pollution, which is another evil.

Let me tell you one interesting thing. During the second world war, all the aces with the most kills were German fighter pilots. This wasn't because Germans were better pilots. It was because the Germans thought the best place for their aces was flying fighter planes. The Allies had a different strategy. When pilots proved their competence, they were moved to other roles, as pilot trainers or elsewhere. The idea  was that they share their knowledge and pass their tricks on.  This meant that whilst their were less kills for the aces, the pilot gene pool was stronger. It also meant that there were less elite cliques and a better teamworking environment. In short, when it really mattered education was valued.

Sadly, the Thatcher years saw the denigation of professions. The loads of money, spiv based economy where cash is king has dominated our thinking. We want great schools for our kids, but we don't want to pay the taxes to give teachers a decent standard of living.  It's the same with doctors, nurses and social workers. These vital roles are suffering a pay freeze, whilst executives vote themselves ever greater pay rises, whilst voting for the party which offers the lowest tax. The net result is that our society has become disfunctional. A time will come soon, when the workforce required to run a city will be priced out of it. This will ultimately punish our children, our grandparents and our vulnerable friends. At the weekend, a well to do friend stated that his children would always do well because he'd paid for the best education for them. This makes the assumption that they will always be healthy, always be able to find a plumber when their drains block, always be able to drive to a hospital and never need an ambulance, a  policeman or a fireman.

Homelessness on the rise again
Sadly I suspect we are starting to live in a spivocracy. You can have anything so long as you have cash, no questions asked. At the weekend, we saw the season finale of Poldark. In this we saw a greedy landowner happy to let people starve rather to see a bigger profit. It seems to me that such viewpoints are coming back into fashion. The Grenfell Tower disaster graphically showed how little care was shown over work undertaken on social housing. Costcutting and shoddy work were the cause of the disaster. All done in the name of keeping taxes low. I am not an idiot and I am as selfish as the next person. I groan when I get my self assessment bill. We simply don't associate paying the bill with the services we get. I worked out how much my cancer treatment has cost me so far. I reckon around £30,000.  A drop in the ocean of tax I've paid in my life. However, if I got a bill for that tomorrow it would be a serious problem. Even more so if I had to pay for insurance, as I'm now uninsurable. The great thing about the UK is that I get the same treatment as a someone on benefits, who has never paid a penny in tax. That is called humanity. It is also something that some on the right want to see ended. Why, so a few Spivs can pay a bit less tax. Thirty years ago, I never expected to see the levels of homeless on the streets of London we see today (note : A kind reader reminded me that homelessness was higher under Thatcher. The Labour govt got it down, but it is once again on the rise). I shudder to think what surprises await us in the next 30 years, unless we start accepting that we need to pay more tax if we want a fair and just society. This isn't a party political rant, it is a plea for justice across the board, so we can all sleep at night.


Anonymous said...

Memory is an unreliable thing. GLA statistics recorded London boroughs accepted 25,900 households as homeless in 1985. In 2016 the figure was 18,060.

Rog T said...

Thank you anonymous, for your comment. You are of course quite correct. 1985 was the height of the heartless Thatcher Government. A time when homelessness was seen as a useful economic tool. It did come down considerably under the Labour government of 1997-2010. Sadly as we have a Conservative Government, it is on the rise once again. I've added a graph.