Top City broker says consumerism and materialism are to blame for the riots

An intriguing new report from an unlikely source.

You might expect the Labour left or the trade union movement or the Greens to blame the recent riots on an "out-of-control consumerist ethos" -- but how about one of the largest inter-dealer money brokers in the world?

From today's Guardian:

The recent riots in London and other big cities were the product of an "out-of-control consumerist ethos" which will have profound impacts for the UK economy, a leading City broker has said.

The report by the global head of research at Tullett Prebon, Tim Morgan, is part of a series in which the brokerage analyses bigger issues for the UK. It details recommendations to resolve what it sees as a political and economic malaise: new role models, policies to encourage savings, the channelling of private investment into creating rather than inflating assets and greater public investment.

It warns: "We conclude that the rioting reflects a deeply flawed economic and social ethos . . . recklessly borrowed consumption, the breakdown both of top-end accountability and of trust in institutions, and severe failings by governments over more than two decades."

The note pinpoints the philosophy behind the riots as consumerism.

A typical internet user sees a hundred adverts an hour, the report says, and the underlying message many receive is: "Here's the ideal. You can't have it." Accompanying this is an inflation of government and private debt, a key theme of Morgan's other work.

"The economy has been subjected to repeated 'boom and bust' cycles, above all in property. The overall pattern has been that an over-consuming west has borrowed and spent the surpluses of the increasingly productive and under-consuming east.

"The dominant ethos of 'I buy, therefore I am' needs to be challenged by a shift of emphasis from material to non-material values. David Cameron's 'big society' project may contribute to the inculcation of more socially-oriented values but much more will need to be done to challenge the out-of-control consumerist ethos."

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.