Member’s Thoughts: Report from the wild and barren North

Charlie McCarthy

Friday, 01 July 2016

Compass member Charlie McCarthy writes on life in post-Brexit Britain…

How do we begin to explain the EU Referendum vote of 23rd June? Well it’s a tall order and there have been forests cut down in an attempt by the mainstream media to understand the harm we have inflicted upon ourselves.

However I am going to try.

Firstly the number of working poor in England is growing. The hourly minimum wage for those of 25 years or above now stands at £7.60/hour. This gives a weekly wage of £252. Unemployment benefit for the same age group is £73.10 per week. This is not riches beyond your wildest dreams.

The Economist reports, ‘though more Britons than ever before are working, the rate of absolute poverty after housing costs, has drifted up over the past decade’.  [The Economist June 25th – July 1st 2016 p 25]. You do not need a degree in economics to realise that this makes life hard for many communities, especially those in economically fragile areas such as those found in the North of England. So wages are low, housing costs are high and there are few opportunities to plot a route to a different life, even for many able and gifted young people born into these communities.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that 21% of employees in the bottom quarter of wage earners are in ‘relative’ poverty.

Opportunities to register a protest against poor social conditions are few and far between. The composition of the local council has little influence over depressed economic communities. The Referendum provided one of these all too rare moments when local people who are struggling against the history of industrial and social decline, where able to cock a snoot at what they perceive to be the pigs with their noses in the trough. They don’t care about the self-inflicted recession, they’ve been living it for years. The truly shocking thing is that it has taken the political leaders of both main parties by surprise. The message to them is get out more. Leave the Westminster bubble more and talk to people in Newcastle or Rochdale making out on £252 per week. Live their live for a month or better still, a year and then come back with your ideas about ‘One Nation Conservatism’ and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

As for the Labour Party! The words joke and farce spring to mind.

England has had a bit of a wobble this week and few saw it coming. Where this will lead we are as yet unsure. One thing is certain though. We badly need a new set of economic ideas to motivate and inspire us because what we have now is tearing us apart.

About Charlie: Born in Glasgow 1955 to a father who worked as a labourer and a mother who worked in the canteens in the UCS (Upper Clyde Shipbuilders). Politics and economics came daily with dinner. Educated at Penilee Secondary and Glasgow University. Left Glasgow at 22 to a two year teaching contract with VSO in Kenya. Married fellow VSO Maggie in 1979. Three children, four grandchildren. Taught Science and Mathematics in a variety of schools in Merseyside and Harrogate. Now semi-retired and living in Harrogate.

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  1. Posted by Andy Crow

    If you are right, Charlie, it really does mean that the Brexit referendum was a farce. Not necessarily that the result was the wrong one (though I feel it was) but that many voters were not actually answering the right question. Post Brexit discussion of how much of the £350M was promised to the Nhs points this up rather starkly.
    Quite how that figure was believed to be a net figure of money ‘sent to the EU’ and was therefore somehow spare money being given away illustrates admirably how the Brexit debate was carried out without any real grounding in public understanding of the issues – or indeed consequences of the Brexit decision. And the money is only a part of the question which barely touches upon the wider political implications. Levels of immigration of course are the other issue that has loomed large in the debate and as ever it is the people at the bottom of the economic pile who feel most acutely the stresses on housing and social facilities – exaggerated in recent years by the cuts in funding at a time of, often localised, population, increase. Any prospect of advantageous economic growth is smothered by ‘Austerity’.
    For those who see themselves stuck firmly in the economic mire a ‘leave’ vote was not irrational since the staus quo simply promises more of the same austerity because that is the current (mistaken) economic orthodoxy across the entire EU. The crash of 2007/8 which should have ‘righted’ the market was manipulated by governments and financial authorities to protect the illegitimate gains of a bubble market. Brexit is part of the revenge, though probably a pyrrhic victory.