In both countries for many years politicians seeking election have promised, during their campaigns, that economic inequality will be addressed and the quality of life improved.
A few weeks ago a valued contact of CHSUK, Rianne ten Veen, was underwhelmed by yet another top-down meeting – this time about a Global Poverty Project organised by Tony Blair’s Faith Fellows.
Another, George Morran, hopes to bring power to the people which is the demand being made in several parts of India, by people who are tired of waiting for central government to fulfil their promises.
An article in the Financial Times said that Indian citizens are questioning the effectiveness of existing political and administrative structures to address disparities in economic progress and quality of life that, though rooted in history, traditional land ownership patterns and water availability, have widened sharply during the rapid, private sector-led growth of the last two decades.
Demands are being made for New Delhi to grant statehood to several regions. Last December K. Chandrashekhar Rao, a pro-Telangana politician, went on a hunger strike demanding the creation of the state of Telangana and on the 10th day of the fast, with his health deteriorating, New Delhi agreed to start the process. It has set up a committee to study the issue.
Critics say that these movements are often led by local elites for their own benefit but many genuinely feel “ruled by somebody else”, blaming economic hardship on state governments’ indifference or hostility to their regions. Lack of access to water, intense competition for government jobs, low levels of public and private investment, and the physical distance to centres of decision-making are all sources of grievance.
In Britain the issues are different and – arguably – more difficult to address. Libby Purves wrote in the Times, 1999, about what is now called by some ‘Broken Britain:
[we need] a decent society where everyone is needed and individuals flourish in co-operation; then we have to demonstrate that ideal in concrete form to the youngest and poorest . . . for a child needs to believe that there is a future to be won. Post-war children of every class expected to get jobs and were constantly told to “make themselves useful”. Earlier generations worked on the land or in factories. But many children now have no such assurance. It is made clear to them that . . . the enervating idleness or criminality of their parents will be theirs in turn.
In both the UK and the US, it is consistently found that the highest rates of teenage pregnancy are in areas where industry and employment have collapsed. These areas also – not by coincidence – suffer epidemic family stress and fracture. Unemployment is a way of life: it is hard for a 25 year old single mother who never worked and whose parents were jobless for years, to convey ambition and discipline to her own drifting ten-year olds.
In both countries there would be vigorous opposition to the introduction of measures to address these problems; the corporate/political elite in power find the current economic systems very profitable and would have much to lose by introducing most of the changes needed.