For once the Guardian (on 7 June) contained a useful article which asked: what can a week sat in an inner London courtroom tell us about the condition of British society?
A parade of poor people, many accused of micro-scale shoplifting or petty theft, passed through the court.
Mamadu earns £200 a month as a cleaner. He was caught on camera taking a small amount of money from his employer’s office because he did not have the fare home. He is embarrassed and humiliated.
Bshart admits stealing £6 worth of condoms. He is addicted to alcohol and heroin. Now he will have £5 a week deducted from his Jobseekers Allowance.
Halima, in and out of foster care, is now 18 and has been addicted to alcohol since she was 13. She is alleged to have bitten a policeman, something she says she has no memory of.
Altaf, “who looks extremely ill,” is accused of trying to take a mobile phone. He has lost his benefits and his defence lawyer told the Guardian’s journalist, “He was just trying to get through the day.”
Dealing with such crime by fines and — sometimes — prison is ridiculous. Such a “justice” system is a way of making poor and miserable people more unhappy; it deals with no underlying problems and may well make people who have been through the system more likely to get into trouble again.
Most crime is falling, but shoplifting is rising, up 6% in 2013. The police recorded over 300 000 shoplifting offences last year.
The British Retail Consortium claims that in 2013 shops suffered the highest level of theft for nine years — up 166% from 2007-08, the year before the banking crisis and the start of the current slump.
Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands told the Birmingham Mail that, “Unemployment, cuts to benefits and difficulties in coping with the rising cost of living [were to blame for increased rates of shoplifting]. We are seeing shoplifting of food in particular. [T]he patterns of criminality are poverty-related — people are stealing food and essential items.”
On the same day the Financial Times published its regular glossy , How to spend it. It is the most disgusting contrast imaginable to the Guardian’s story. If ever a publication deserved the label, “Decadent Bourgeois Shit,” this FT magazine is it. How to spend it is aimed at people who are so enormously, fabulously rich they don’t really know “how to spend it.” This magazine aims to help them.
Obviously it would be too vulgar for the kind of products advertised here to have a price attached. Needless to write, however, that all the watches, bags, clothes and jewellery cost thousands — sometimes tens of thousands — of pounds. None of us could afford to spend £2000 on a shopping bag, or £50 000 on a watch — but could you imagine ever wanting to?
What type of a world allows people to buy a suede jacket costing £1306? And especially when many others earn the minimum wage, currently £6.31 an hour.
The richest 10% now have 850 times the wealth of the poorest 10%. The top 1% of earners take 14% of all income. And the consequences are not just seen in the magistrates courts - places intended to deal with the poor. For example, the gap in life expectancy between the very rich and poor in London is now a staggering 25 years.
The contrast between the lives of the very rich and the poor is not only stark, it is also obscenely unnecessary. This irrationality is part of the case for socialism.