Mind The Gap



Outside the station today, people are pavement-preaching with signs reading ‘Mind the (God) Gap’. A quick check reveals they’re an unaffiliated, vague religious group with a website that fails to answer any of the questions they pose. Under ‘Who Are We?’ they offer;

TheLondonGap.com has been created to give Londoners access the good news about Jesus, and the salvation that is available through Him.

I was expecting reams of tiny print, but that’s the sum total of what you get. The site hasn’t been updated for a year, and has categories like ‘Hell’ and ‘Sin’, in which a Bloke With Glasses talks in the most abstract possible terms about redemption while standing in that den of iniquity, Piccadilly Circus.

I stopped by the street people to chat because I thought they were the actual preachers, but they weren’t. They were just several poor hirelings who had been coerced into zero-hours contracts to stand there, presumably by the Bloke In Glasses, who can’t actually be bothered to do his own preaching and has outsourced it. I should have realised this when I saw that they were politely handing out leaflets, not haranguing the pedestrians. It got me thinking about the real London gap. An illustration herewith;

A male friend of mine had a conversation with a female colleague, chatting on the way home from work. They discussed going to the Proms, having tickets for Wimbledon, a weekend in Verona to see an opera, a new restaurant. My friend became paralysed with shame when he remembered that they were in an Uber cab, and their conversation (if listened to, which is unlikely) was the small talk of the 1%. In a city were educationally subnormal kids in the East End are currently dowsing each other in sulphuric acid, he felt ashamed for discussing the arts.

In his head he was passing around a silver salver of larks’ tongues and powdering his periwig while someone of Arabic descent whipped his Hansom horse.

So, is this the hand-wringing of the city’s upper layer or not? A lifestyle is to some extent at least a choice, and we’re talking here about a charitable and kind self-made person who motivated himself to improve his lot in life. As a single man on a good wage setting aside money to go out in London he should surely not need to feel embarrassed about the way in which he passes his free time. Besides, he’s not actually in the 1% – those are the progeny of despotic investors who buy up Candy Brothers apartments and live in tax havens.

There’s no quick fix for this one; In the Victorian social economist Charles Booth’s map of London residents were divided into “Vicious Class”, “Very Poor”, “Lower Middle Class”, “Poor”, “Mixed”, “Middle Class” and “Wealthy”, categories which now feel arbitrary. When newspapers and organisations (Oxfam is the latest to wade in) bandy about the idea that London has slipped back to levels of Victorian inequality I bridle a little, because the latter was judged by a different set of criteria; these included the Poor Laws, health, literacy, separation of market and state, fixed minimum wages, infant mortality, life expectancy (45 years), contagion, crime and many other factors, half of which, like the Corn Laws and the General Enclosure Act, are hardly applicable.

One thing is sure. Since 1993 the working poor have seen substantial loss of income and real wealth. In the latter part of that time it has come to adversely affect the middle class, with university being ruled out due to rising debts, longer working hours, fewer employment opportunities and fewer holidays. Brexit is now biting deep, partly because it lacks a strong government in a position to negotiate. Faith in the PM has entirely evaporated, and the opposition’s inability to make a single clear decision about anything provides no viable alternative.

Mind the gap? The gap will continue to grow for now – with or without the help of the gods.

7 comments on “Mind The Gap”

  1. Steveb says:

    Some misconceptions here.
    Just for example:
    By definition if you accept half a million or so a year of low wage immigration every year, as the UK did for more than a decade, the average wage of the ‘working poor’ will go down, even though everybody is individually better off – the native people and the immigrants.
    You have to be careful of all these group statistics when the composition of the group is changing, because the group average is nothing to do with the individual experience.
    To make a point at its extreme, the more a locality globalises, the more it will experience global inequality. This doesnt necessarily mean anyone individually got worse off.
    There’s a separate UK point is that the UK took on a lot of deferred liabilities in 2000-2007, during the China-expansion-fuelled era, and failed to make a hard correction in 2008-2010, opting instead for a long haul. That means the UK is still in a correction process to the new world of Chinese power and consumption and there isa lot of pain still ahead.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    So there’s “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If you cite individual cases you’re accused of using anecdotal evidence from which you can’t extrapolate, but statistics should be the mass of the anecdotal evidence. We don’t live as statistics, we live as anecdotes and it’s the anecdotal evidence that matters. Taking the broad view is only possible if you aren’t in that section that is losing buying power.

  3. brooke says:

    To add to Helen’s point, it’s not just the size and mix of groups (e.g. the “immigrant” and the native), it’s also the nature, composition and design of the work that’s available. Philadelphia is an example: we too have an immigrant population which competes with a large African-American working class. But the issue is Philadelphia has lost most of its industry; no more manufacturing; no more agri-pharma-chemical business located here; major financial investment houses have migrated to NYC or DC and so forth. Consequently, there’s little “up” as in upward mobility in a large corporation. Left is retail (outlets headquartered elsewhere, apply on-line please) and non-profit healthcare-educational institutions, gobbling up land tax free. Not good prospects for the future. And that impacts the city’s middle class, which bears an ever increasing burden for housing, educating children, and so forth. BUT we had choices …and we punted.

    Mr. Fowler’s male friend sounds like a thoughtful sensitive human being. May we all be surrounded by such friends.

  4. Vivienne says:

    I know there is a huge gap between London’s rich and poor. On the other hand, it is I hope still possible to enjoy some culture wherever you start from. My dad was a bricklayer when I was born, so I feel some claim to be working class yet, as I grew up, I felt I deserved as good as I could get, whatever my origins. It’s much easier now to go to smart places in London.

    As a young woman I remember walking around the ladies’dresses department in Fortnums and being overwhelmed by the elegance, prices and atmosphere. Now nobody notices what you wear and judges you for it as I think they used to. That said, on the occasion of my grandson’s birth, when I felt Claridge’s was the place to celebrate, after a time the head waiter started talking socialism to us, so maybe I was sussed.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    Bugger statistics. One thing is certain-go round the country (like I am on my Bucket Tour) and see the divide-in the last 6 or 7 years or so, the number of people begging and sleeping on the streets has risen dramatically.

    Apparently, according to the Tories, there is no money tree. At least, not until May (PM doesn’t seem appropriate)conveniently found a billion pounds to bribe a party of extremist head-bangers in NI just so she can save her wretched and incompetent self-serving skin. Just think what that billion pounds could have done to help poor people!

  6. Roger says:

    As far as culture goes, “standard culture” at least is easily and freely accessible. Admission is still free to the main collections in all the major galleries and museums; despite the efforts of government – local and national – libraries are still accessible and librarians helpful and most English classics are available free via the internet anyway. Even music: the wonderful Radio 3 is still going and a friend educated himself in live performances of classical music by finding out about London’s church choirs and what they were performing at various services.
    More than anything it is social and psychological factors that keep people away.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Roger makes a very good point. What is important in life once you have food and shelter? One of the great benefits of modern life is access to the foundations of society and countries which make education available and art, literature and music accessible provide the means for people to participate at even the highest levels, provided there aren’t accent barriers. Free museums, art galleries, and libraries are the basis for civilised society. Our country provides only free libraries (unless you live in Lions Bay I read this morning) but the collections do include music, drama, and film and Vancouver’s library has a collection of musical instruments which can be borrowed. Museums and art galleries are best accessed through annual memberships, which make visits dirt cheap when spread out.
    You can be as educated as you want to be no matter what your income. (above the food and shelter level, of course. And don’t get me started on that.)

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