Jeremy Corbyn’s 20:1 pay ratio is a start, but ultimately doesn’t go far enough
The BBC’s gender pay dispute laid bare and gave a renewed platform to what is one of the most prominent issues plaguing our society today: pay inequality. What’s lost in the wake of this case however, are the ludicrous sums of money being discussed. As deplorable as this blatant sexism is, we are referring to the differences in levels of affluence, not the more pressing issue of whether they can make ends meet or not. This concern was shared by Jeremy Corbyn, who took to the air shortly after the revelation and reiterated Labour’s pledge to put an end to CEOs pocketing millions each year compared to their workers earning — if they are lucky — the minimum wage. With Theresa May having welched on any promise she made to tackle this ever growing epidemic, which she last year described as ‘an irrational, unhealthy and growing gap’, she has pathed the way for Labour to force home the government’s inadequacy and finally create a more cohesive and equal society.
The gulf in pay between those at the top of a company and those at the bottom is widening. Looking back two-decades ago, the top bosses of the FTSE 100 companies earned around 50 times that of their average worker. Today, that figure is an astronomical 130 times. When you consider that 60% of families living in poverty have at least one worker, something has surely got to change. In an effort to tackle such injustices, the Labour leader pledged to place a cap on executive salaries in the public sector and government-contracted firms at a ratio of 20:1. Sadly, but not entirely unexpectedly, such a call was met with howls of derision, but why?
This isn’t about punishing the rich, limiting aspiration or penalising success, it’s about offering everyone the opportunity to lead a comfortable life and recognising that success is a collective effort and all should reap the rewards. It is, as Clive Lewis — the then shadow business secretary — said, ‘an outrage that, before Christmas trees have even been taken down, chief executives will have already earned more than most people will earn all year’. It’s also a fallacy that those earning the most amount of money work the hardest. We humans believe that reward should follow proportionate effort, the issue is however, that we measure ‘effort’ in terms of prestige. How many letters do you have after your name? And what’s your title? It’s difficult to deny that single parents working two jobs in order to provide for their children, or a refugee fleeing their war-torn homeland being chastised at every turn are working any less hard than the fat cats who are taking home increasingly disproportionate amounts of money.
This increasing wealth gap is not due to lack of effort on the part of workers but to an ever-growing piece of the pie going to those in charge even while productivity and working hours expand. Capital is rewarded for ownership, not for effort. Similarly, lack of progress in tackling social mobility has led to dynastic wealth. With two thirds of British businesses being family owned and run, there is less and less opportunity for young entrepreneurs, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, to succeed. Is the struggle of being born from a wealthy womb so great as to be worthy of such colossal reward?
It’s important to note that Labour’s proposal is not a cap. If, for example, the lowest paid workers are on the minimum wage then the CEOs can earn in the region of £350,000, a mammoth sum given the average salary is £27,000. If they paid their workers the average salary then their own earnings would top half a million. Both numbers are more than any one family needs, and would surely appease even the country’s most financially greedy.
I argue here that Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal doesn’t in fact go far enough and that we mustn’t let capitalism dictate and destroy our lives any longer. I understand that such a policy must be phased in, so fully back the Labour leader’s proposals but it is my hope that we continue to progress as a society until all people from all families are given the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive. For all too long the country’s rich have continued to prosper whilst more and more working families can only live to survive. Our inherent altruism must be acted on for the betterment of all.