Britain a Two-Tier Society

I’ve always known that the UK is a two-tier society, yet recent news reports and discussion programmes seem to suggest the issue is a new concept, or worse ask if the country is about to slip into this state of affairs! Seriously get real, just look around you, the stark economic contrast between people is vast. And I can’t see the imminent new budget announcement (Oct 29th 2018) bringing much consolation.

One report I read concerned young home owners trapped in a “car culture” due to living in new build estates on the periphery of towns. These areas had and I quote “no doctors, no pub, no schools, no jobs”, and so the use of a car was essential to have access to any kind of meaningful amenity.  I know of a few areas just like that built in the 60s and 70s so that’s nothing new, although quite possibly these houses were initially “council estates” with rented properties. And they may well have been serviced by a reasonably decent public transport system at the time. But neither statement is true anymore, with many council properties having been bought up (and never replaced) and public transport links slashed due to government cutbacks. So the young home owners find themselves saddled with extortionate mortgages and tethered to their private ownership transport. Some living in the older styled estates may well be original tenants of the area, are older now with much reduced income, and could find themselves in less well maintained properties, trapped by a reduced public service, with no means of owning their own transport. Two sides of the same coin, although the younger group have an element of choice in the matter.

Closures of post offices (even those small kiosk ones in shops are going now), the disappearance of bank branches and even cash withdrawal machines, are making it ever harder for people to have easy access to financial amenities. Not EVERYONE has access to, or uses, online banking (an urban myth). Then add in the closure/amalgamation of schools due to falling numbers, libraries, doctors’ surgeries, pubs and shops all shutting their doors forever. The heart of communities are  ripped out as a result, and you end up with areas that seem suspiciously like the new build estates, with transport being the crux to getting access to anything. Areas become backwaters with regard to access to amenities in comparison to larger towns and cities.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s on a Scottish council estate, two working parents, neither of whom could drive. Public transport was the only way for us to get around. The idea of “choosing a high school” was broached for the first time just before I was due to move on from my primary class in 1981. My Dad, who had never shown any interest in my education before, suddenly wanted me to go to his old high school; my mammy wanted me to move on with my classmates to the “catchment area” school. When Dad discovered the free bus pass offered for Coltness High was not transferable to his beloved Wishaw High, he dropped his argument. So today’s ideal of “having a choice of school for kids” still rings hollow with me, because many decisions will be down to family economics/dynamics. When I left school and was looking for work, my choices of jobs (area/hours) was directly influenced by public transport access that fitted with the job description. The reason I ended up working in Glasgow was that my village had a good late night running train service, including Saturdays, so I could work overtime in the bank when needed. Local buses and local jobs were not necessarily compatible.

The only way for a good majority of people to get to work/leisure activities/visit family is by having their own transport, and it’s a good job they do.  Looking at bus timetables (I don’t drive) and seeing the ever growing reduction of services is alarming. Some areas don’t have any bus services at all, whilst others have seen weekend/evening services cut off. This has resulted in people needing to get home before dark, and giving up activities (even jobs) they can no longer attend. Personally I can still get to my volunteering in Crewe, but it requires my husband to collect me in the car at night.

A Victoria Derbyshire show last week (Thursday Oct 25th) discussed the issue of disability and ethnic minorities being disadvantaged and marginalised in British society. The question seemed to be “are we heading for a two-speed society? I think it’s fairly obvious that we already are in one, and have for a long time.  Both groups certainly have to fight much harder for their basic rights and needs to be met, although a general decline in benefits and public spending within education and the NHS exacerbates the problem and affects everyone, particularly kids, the elderly and those with disabilities.

New house builds usually cost far in excess of what the average wage earner can afford, and “private” rents have ever increased, especially with the reduction in building affordable rented housing. Combine this with general low wages, zero-hour contracts and benefits becoming more inaccessible due to threshold changes, and you have a perfect storm. Homelessness and the use of food banks are rising exponentially and many feel caught in a poverty trap, even those in work. And until everyone has the same basic level of access to amenities for housing, work, transport, health, education and play, Britain will continue to remain a two-tier, two-speed society.

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