The “squeezed middle”: the key data

The wage squeeze, the rise in wage inequality and the coalition’s benefit cuts.

He may not have mentioned them by name, but Ed Miliband's speech today on the "cost-of-living crisis" was his most explicit pitch yet for the "squeezed middle". The speech was given to the Resolution Foundation (whose chief executive, Gavin Kelly, wrote a recent NS cover story on the "great squeeze") to mark the launch of its new Commission on Living Standards.

Here are three graphs that illustrate Miliband's key points.

1. The Wage Squeeze

In his speech, Miliband noted: "Over the last few decades less of what our economy produces has been paid out in wages – and more in profits. The gains in productivity we have seen have not been reflected in earnings." And here's the graph to back him up.

The chart below, taken from the TUC report Unfair to Middling, shows how wages fell from a postwar high of 64.5 per cent of GDP in 1975 to just 51.7 per cent in 1996. They then recovered slightly to reach 55.2 per cent in 2001 before falling back to 53.2 per cent in 2008.

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2. Rising Wage Inequality

But, as Miliband pointed out, this is only part of the story. The past three decades have also seen a dramatic increase in earnings inequality, as middle- and low-income earners have borne the brunt of the wage squeeze.

The graph below (also from the TUC report) shows that while earnings for the 90th percentile have doubled over the past 30 years, real median earnings have risen by 56 per cent only and real earnings for the 10th percentile have risen by just 27 per cent.

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3. The coalition's benefit cuts will make the situation worse

Combined with rising prices, falling wages and higher taxes, the government's planned benefit cuts will result in the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1920s. As the graph below shows, the losses that families will suffer as a result far outstrip those from the abolition of the 10p tax band.

The removal of the 10p tax rate cost the average family £232, but the cut in support for childcare means half a million mothers on low to middle incomes will lose almost £500 a year on average, with the hardest-hit losing a remarkable £1,300. The plan to reduce the starting threshold for the 40p tax rate from £43,875 to £42,475 not only means that the marginal tax rate for those affected will double, but also that they will fall victim to George Osborne's raid on child benefit.

The plan to abolish the benefit for all higher-rate taxpayers means a loss of £1,055 a year for one-child families, £1,750 for those with two children and almost £2,500 for those with three children.

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The coalition's decision to raise the income-tax threshold by £1,000 to £7,475 will benefit low-to-middle-income earners by roughly £170. But, as Kelly has pointed out, this is not enough "to offset the rise in VAT, let alone the far larger tax credit cuts". A study by Grant Thornton suggests that the VAT increase will cost each household £517 a year on average.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad