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Money for nothing

170428950I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by the mind-blowing statistics about money that have been peppering the news last week to publicise Davos, the annual meeting of mega rich and powerful minds in the Swiss resort of the same name.

The one statistic that has me reaching for a calculator and the back of an envelope is that 1% of the population will soon own more of than half of the world’s wealth. Breaking that down to individual bank accounts doesn’t sound too outrageous – the average wealth of the top 1% of the world’s population is $2.7 million per adult, according to Oxfam.

But delve a little deeper and we begin to enter Alice in Wonderland levels of daftness – again according to Oxfam, “The richest 80 individuals in the world have the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent of the entire population – some 3.5 billion people.

I don’t think my calculator has enough zeros to work out how much that leaves the poorest people to survive on, but it helps explain why so many are existing on a dollar a day.

“The bulk of the world’s remaining wealth was owned by the rest of the richest fifth, while the other 80 per cent shared just 5.5 per cent of the pot, equalling an average wealth of $3,851 per adult,” according to Oxfam.

The only way I can try to make sense of figures like that is to try to reduce them to childish mundanities, like wondering how 85 people can make use of the same amount of money that 3.5 billion people manage to survive on.

85 people! That’s about as many who managed to squeeze into our house for Cleo’s 19th birthday party. (So I’m told, I was banished to Liz’s, but my friend Emily gatecrashed it by mistake, thinking it was mine and hasn’t stopped dining out on it since – especially as her husband didn’t get past the Cool Police on the front door.)

Anyway, I digress, the point is what on earth can 85 people do with that much money and how can they possibly be equipped to relate to people surviving on less than a dollar a day? Not surprisingly Oxfam has hotfooted it to Davos to rattle its collecting tin and try to shake some sense into the whole proceedings. Whether they will be heard above the roar of the 17,000 private jets that brought the rich and powerful in to discuss poverty remains to be seen.

Until now I had no real feelings about the widening gap between rich and poor – I have always felt that as long as people in general are being pulled out of extreme poverty I don’t really care how many Ferraris the billionaires keep in their garages. Some things like cars, duvets and computers, just cause more trouble the more you have, so why anyone wants more than one of any of them is beyond me. However, I also felt that it made absolutely no difference to me whether Paris Hilton spends $13,000 on the world’s smallest Pomeranian handbag dog or not, so why bother getting steamed up about it?

But relative wealth does matter.

Today we have riches and conveniences and luxuries that our grandparents could barely dream of yet we still feel trapped on the hamster wheel of being one pay cheque short of being relaxed with our lot. I don’t think that’s because we are all shallow, greedy spendthrifts constantly checking out the Jones’s next door and feeling wanting. I think it’s because the richer people are the more they distort the value of things we all need, like homes, clothes and food. You only have to look at the house market in London and the south-east to see how an influx of money pushes normal things like three bedroom semis and student bedsits out of reach of all but those with inherited wealth.

The result is a distortion in what normal people are able to afford, which does end up affecting real life in quite a startling and tangible way. When I first began work as a local journalist I took home about £750 a month, a flatshare or bedsit in one of the best parts of London could be found for about £60 a week including bills and no one had cars or mobile phones or Pomeranians to bother about. Consequently I had colleagues on the paper who seemed ancient, but were actually younger than I am now, who were able to support mortgages and families while holding down a similar job.

Journalism was always competitive but once you got a place at college there were enough jobs on local papers to ensure that every student who enrolled on a journalism course and who managed not to make a spectacular hash of it would end up gainfully employed. Today students are queueing up for those jobs in a seemingly never-ending holding pen of work experience and internships that ensures only the rich, well-connected or ridiculously resilient ever make it and even then many have to survive on zero hour contracts or insecure day shifts.

Today it is almost inconceivable that one person could earn enough in that kind of job to support a family and a decent-sized home in London or the south-east. You cannot get a room anywhere near the centre of London, or many other big cities, for less than £100 a week, much less start saving for your first deposit on a journalist, teacher or nurse’s salary. Surviving on bar work while you plan your magnificent career on the stage or in the art world like some of my friends used to do would be considered about as quaint and realistic as Monica and Rachel’s fantasy boho life in the sitcom Friends.

Consequently the vibrant creative vitality that makes our towns and cities attractive so attractive at the moment to those with more cash than dash is being squeezed out of them. Less is almost always more, so, before we all become charity cases let’s try to ensure that those who were breathing the rarified mountain air in Davos are brought down to Earth soon and realise that not all of us want our cities to be paved with gold or Pomeranian poop.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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