I was reading about the Swiss vote on pay in the Financial Times last week. We have been hearing since the 80s that the rich are getting richer. I certainly know from my own situation and that of many of my friends and acquaintances that the once comfortable middle class (for want of a better word) are finding it harder and harder with time. But nothing has shown me quite how stark that gap has become than, surprisingly, Children in Need.
Anyone who follows my blog knows I am not Pudsey's greatest fan. It's not charity I have an issue with, but being told when to give and the minimum acceptable sum to give to. For example this week has been Pudsey mad once again - all money in the country apparently has to go to Children in Need. Much as I appreciate how much better and more fun they make some kids' lives, this week I would much rather donate the pounds the various schools, shops, afterschool clubs, radio, TV etc are trying to get out of me to the orphans and the starving in the Philippines, for starters. I can think of at least half a dozen causes I would prefer to support, but that is apparently not acceptable.
Anyway back to the point... I listen to Chris Evans on the school run most days and this week he's been auctioning stuff - the kind of things money can't buy - there was a five day golf tour with some well-known celebs, the hiring of a dozen or so vintage Ferraris for five days, a five course meal prepared by world-renowned chefs while some well-known pop stars entertain you and finally a five day Monaco Grand Prix thing. Given I only spend a total of about 18 minutes in the car going round all my drop-offs I missed some of the more pertinent points of the packages but those are the bare bones anyway. These packages on auction, of course, can only be bought by the richest in the land (or perhaps even corporate buyers) but for the most part they seemed to be going to individuals.
So let's put the proposed Swiss model to the test. The best paid in the country ought to earn no more than twelve times the worst off. The UK national minimum wage is currently £6.31. That's about £12K before tax if you work a 35 hour week. So let's imagine a couple on minimum wage earns £24K. If you are a couple on that income you might be willing to spend one month's salary on your summer holiday if you have no dependants or debts, so let's say £2K. Given these prizes are not something you could ever hope to buy in a life time you might just try to stretch to £3K and forego next year's holiday. Of course these packages are not aimed at Mr and Mrs Minimum wage, they are aimed at the top earners. So on the Swiss scale the top execs should be bidding somewhere in the region of £24K or even stretching to £36K for the privilege of partaking in this treat, but no, the bids on Radio 2 this morning, all in the space of half an hour (so with no time to organize a bank loan or rob a bank) were around £225K which suggests to me that the current UK gap between rich and poor is not in fact 12 times salary but 120 times salary. Whether you think the Swiss model is ideal, or could even be argued up or down to say 15 times or 8 times minimum working wage, I find it hard to stomach that some people earn 120 times more than others. In the current climate people who have spent years studying at university are working day and night, skimming along on close to minimum wage while others, oblivious, are bidding around the average house price (which some of us work for 25 years to pay) for a five course meal for two. Much as it is nice for the charity to gain some of their obviously superfluous cash, it really is a sick society that allows a gulf that large.