Bridge the gap to mend our broken society
John Clark writes…
First published: February 2010 – Gazette & Herald
Mrs. Thatcher told us that: “There is no such thing as Society.” The latest Tory leader claims that: “We have a broken society.” How something that doesn’t exist can be broken baffles me. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister he promised to close the gap between the poor and the rich. The reverse has been delivered. We are now in a position where 40% of the population have no hope of owning their own house. An even greater number lose out on education. The education gap is most clearly demonstrated by those that can afford private education. Only 7% of children go to public school. They come almost exclusively from families within the top 10% of household income. This group then win the ‘jackpot’. It produces 75% of judges, 70% of the Finance Directors, 45% of the top Civil Servants and 32% of MP’s. Out of this 32% the public school element rises even higher if the Shadow Cabinet is anything to go by.
Lower down the rich list people still have a big advantage. They can afford to buy a house near to a ‘good’ school. They can afford for their children to take part in all the extra school activities. The poor have to opt out. The links between poverty and poor achievement at school are clearly proven.
What does this look like in Ryedale? The Ryedale Work and Skills Partnership (RWSP) has recently carried out an analysis of work, education, skills and employment. Among the gems of information:
- 24% of Ryedale resident population has poor numeracy skills (2nd worst in North Yorkshire).
- 27% of Ryedale resident population has poor literacy skills (the worst in North Yorkshire).
- 33% of Ryedale jobs are knowledge workers (generally higher paid) – less than Craven at 48%, Harrogate at 47% and Hambleton at 43%.
- 23% of Ryedale jobs are in ‘elementary occupations’ (generally low paid). Ryedale has the highest percentage of jobs in ‘elementary occupations’ in the whole of Yorkshire and Humber.
The RWSP then makes a whole series of recommendations: improved links between schools and employers; encourage young people to stay in Ryedale; improve the skills of the unemployed; develop locally delivered training packages; improve the awareness of young people of the opportunities that exist in Ryedale; and others.
Many will benefit Ryedale. Some won’t work. Encouraging young people to stay in Ryedale is unrealistic as long as so few affordable houses are built in the district. None of them tackle the real problem. The solutions must involve dramatically closing the gap between rich and poor. If the rich eat out or take a holiday in Ryedale they will have to pay more. As a result the poor working in the Tourist Industry can be paid nearer to £10/hour, the living wage, than the present minimum wage.
If we don’t stop the stretching between the rich and the poor then the educational, employment and housing problems in Ryedale will get worse. Not only will our society become a ‘broken society’, it will stay broken.