The Sunday Times Rich List: the 1,000 richest people in the UK got £35 billion richer in 2012-3, expanding their wealth to £450 billion.
The worse-off: the charities Oxfam and Church Action Poverty reckon that 500,000 in Britain today depend on food banks. They are building on figures from the Trussell Trust, one food-bank provider, which fed more than 350,000 people in 2012/13. As recently as 2009/10 it fed only 40,000.
Bankers’ bonuses: they totalled £13 billion in 2011-2, about the same as in 2010-11.
The hungry: to use a food bank, you must get a letter from a doctor or social worker or similar. Besides the 500,000 food-bank users, there must be many people relying on the skips where supermarkets throw out-of-date food, borrowing from friends, eating only the cheapest and inadequate diets, or just going hungry.
Industrial and commercial bosses: chief executive’s pay rose 16% in 2012. The average chief executive of a big (FTSE 100) company gets £3.2 million a year, a 266% rise since the year 2000.
Children in poverty: their numbers have been rising steadily since 2010. On optimistic predictions by the conservative Institute of Fiscal Studies, by 2020-1, 27% of children in Britain will be in “absolute poverty” as officially defined.
A wider swathe of company directors: their takings rose 5.3% in 2012, while average pay rose just 1.2%. Most of those directors will own lots of shares. Shares in big companies (FTSE 100) have gone up 12.5% over the last year.
The rest of us: According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, between 2011-2 and 2015-6, the poorest 10% will become 4.5% worse off, on average; the middle 70% will be worse off, too; and the top 20%, better off. The top 1%? Probably much better off.
The huge multinational corporations which control the world’s food trade: Louis Dreyfus had its best profits ever in 2012. Cargill scored its most profitable quarter ever in the first three months of 2013. The aggregate of companies controlling trade in metals and other basic commodities, as well as food, has pocketed nearly $250 billion over the last decade. They made more profit than Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley combined.
One person in eight across the world goes to bed hungry each day, according to Oxfam. A lot of that has the same reason as the trading companies’ huge profits: food prices have risen. Prices soared in 2007-8 and 2009-10 (with an intervening dip in 2008-9) and are still about 40% higher (in real terms) than they were in 2002-4.
Fruit and vegetable prices have risen more than others. In 2007-8, there were food riots in many countries. Since then, those countries have slid into slower, more insidious reactions. People eat lower-quality food, or less food altogether. Britain’s food banks are, relatively speaking, the luxury end of that global spectrum of hunger.
The world is divided into classes. One class, which owns property, factories, offices, land, patents, is profiting. Another class, the people who sell or try to sell their labour-power for a wage, and whose labour produces all the goods and services, languishes or goes hungry.
The problem is insecurity as well as inequality. More than half the people who come to the food banks in Britain do so because their benefits have been paid late, cut or stopped. Others are people with precarious jobs, waged one month, destitute the next.
Many people condemn socialists as impractical strivers after remote ideals. There is nothing remote or impractical about what we need for everyone to have enough good food to eat.
Simplest would be to distribute food, or at least basic foods, free, in the same way that (as even Tories dare not dispute) health care and school education are provided free. Food sales in the UK are about £35 to £40 billion a year, so a modest super-tax of about 15% on the income of the top 1% in the UK could cover the cost of that.
If for now we didn’t want to do that — for example, because in many countries it would undercut small farmers — a guaranteed living wage for everyone would get the same result.
There is nothing impractical or remote about that. It requires only that the working class organise ourselves to take control of wealth out of the hands of the top one per cent.