The gulf between rich and poor is growing fast enough to make a billionaire blush. It’s time to narrow the wealth gap – and Tania Edwards knows exactly how to do it.
Illustration by Laura Swaddle
Labour has been ahead in the polls, but unless someone teaches Ed Miliband to close his mouth between sentences, or better yet, switches him in the night for the brother people liked, I can’t see them winning the General Election next year. This means George Osborne’s proposed freeze on benefits is something we should all be worried about.
Of course I enjoy inequality as much as you do. Who doesn’t think it’s romantic to see an adult man begging outside Baby Dior? But I do understand that what we call “benefits”, are actually small compensations meted out to the people our system is geared to fail. Real benefits are enjoyed by those at the top: and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is now so great it makes feudal England look like a hippy commune by comparison.
I blame billionaire poster boy Bill Gates whose wealth (about $81bn the last time anyone checked) outstrips the annual gross domestic product of more than 120 countries. But he’s such a nice guy, I hear you protest. So what? In a free world he is free to not be nice. And right now his good works are blinding us to the goings on of all the billionaires lurking in his shadow who know they’re not obliged to be good people.
There needs to be a cap on how much the winners can win. Obscene riches will still be the rage – I believe in inequality remember – we just need to remind ourselves what obscene is. The gap needs to be narrowed to keep us all labouring under the illusion we might be able to suppress our own neighbours soon.
Thankfully I’ve worked out exactly how this cap could function. The limit will be set according to the national average income of the country you live in. In the UK this is £26,500 per year (think how much poverty is balancing out Phil Green’s haul to keep this figure as low as it is). We all fantasise about winning the lottery, think greed is great etc – so let’s say we can each accumulate up to 1000 times the average national income (1000 x £26,500). Twenty six and a half million quid (£26,500,000). And in case that’s not enough to sate the greediest amongst us, I say throw the cat another wild salmon and double that again. So in the UK you could have up to £53,000,000 savings in cash and assets. By all means, keep earning. As you approached your limit you could give your money away to family, friends, hell, good works, but the second you crept one penny over your allocated savings, that penny would be siphoned off for public causes.
Every incremental increase in the national average wage would generate a huge bonus for the millionaire’s piggy bank. For the first time corporate bosses would be arguing for instead of against an increase in the minimum wage so that they could add an extra yacht to their fleet.
It’s always been easier to identify with the celebrity than the tramp: because it’s easier to imagine drifting to sleep in a hammock than a doorway. Perhaps that’s why a few of you are already worrying how someone like Branson would cope if he had to choose between his island and his space programme? Maybe he’d share. Maybe he’d pool resources. What is certain is that he would cope a lot better than the jobbing families now wondering how they will afford to get to work when their tax credits are frozen.
It’s time we put a limit on the benefits super-rich individuals can enjoy before they have to help the less advantaged – whether or not they are ‘nice’ by nature. If this is too tricky to achieve by 2015 we must urgently switch Ed for David (and I don’t mean Cameron).
Tania Edwards is a standup comedian and writer.