Bank bonuses make a mockery of the Tories' rhetoric

Payments hit £14bn despite the coalition's pledge to block "unacceptable bonuses".

We've already highlighted five stories that slipped under the radar this week as the phone hacking scandal gathered pace. Here's another one: figures from the ONS show that bank bonuses totalled £14bn this year, unchanged from the previous year and higher than the 2008-09 figure of £12 billion. Significantly, the bonus pool is now 58 per cent higher than in 2000-01. Banks and insurance companies paid 40 per cent of all bonuses despite employing only 4 per cent of the workforce.

It's further evidence of the gap between the Tories' tough rhetoric in opposition and their inaction in power. In 2009, George Osborne called for a ban on bonuses at banks that had received any sort of government guarantee. He told the Guardian:

It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees ... It must stop.

He later promised to block all cash bonuses over £2,000. Even the coalition agreement pledged to tackle "unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector". But the government allowed Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond to receive a bonus of £6.5m and Stephen Hester, head of the 83 per cent state-owned RBS, to receive a bonus of £2m.

We're not all in this together


Bank bonuses are 58 per cent higher than in 2000-1. Source:ONS

Remarkably, as Will Straw points out at Left Foot Forward, the bonuses paid out by nationalised banks exceeded those paid out to every public sector worker in the country. The public sector, which employs 22 per cent of the workforce, accounted for 1.5 per cent of all bonus payments. But the publicly owned banks, which employ just 1 per cent of the workforce, accounted for 1.6 per cent. It's yet more evidence that, contrary to George Osborne, we are not all in this together.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Anxiety is not cool, funny or fashionable

A charitable initative to encourage sufferers to knit a Christmas jumper signalling their condition is well-intentioned but way off the mark.

The other night, I had one of those teeth-falling-out dreams. I dreamt I was on a bus, and every time it stopped one of my teeth plunked effortlessly out of my skull. “Shit,” I said to myself, in the dream, “this is like one of those teeth-falling out dreams”. Because – without getting too Inception – even in its midst, I realised this style of anxiety dream is a huge cliché.

Were my subconscious a little more creative, maybe it would’ve concocted a situation where I was on a bus (sure, bus, why not?), feeling anxious (because I nearly always feel anxious) and I’m wearing a jumper with the word “ANXIOUS” scrawled across my tits, so I can no longer hyperventilate – in private — about having made a bad impression with the woman who just served me in Tesco. What if, in this jumper, those same men who tell women to “smile, love” start telling me to relax. What if I have to start explaining panic attacks, mid-panic attack? Thanks to mental health charity Anxiety UK, this more original take on the classic teeth-falling-out dream could become a reality. Last week, they introduced an awareness-raising Christmas “anxiety” jumper.

It’s difficult to slate anyone for doing something as objectively important as tackling the stigma around mental health problems. Then again, right now, I’m struggling to think of anything more anxiety-inducing than wearing any item of clothing that advertises my anxiety. Although I’m fully prepared to accept that I’m just not badass enough to wear such a thing. As someone whose personal style is “background lesbian”, the only words I want anywhere near my chest are “north” and “face”.  

It should probably be acknowledged that the anxiety jumper isn’t actually being sold ready to wear, but as a knitting pattern. The idea being that you make your own anxiety jumper, in whichever colours you find least/most stressful. I’m not going to go on about feeling “excluded” – as a non-knitter – from this campaign. At the same time, the “anxiety jumper” demographic is almost definitely twee middle class millennials who can/will knit.

Photo: Anxiety UK

Unintentionally, I’m sure, a jumper embellished with the word “anxious” touts an utterly debilitating condition as a trend. Much like, actually, the “anxiety club” jumper that was unanimously deemed awful earlier this year. Granted, the original anxiety jumper — we now live in a world with at least two anxiety jumpers — wasn’t charitable or ostensibly well intentioned. It had a rainbow on it. Which was either an astute, ironic comment on how un-rainbow-like  anxiety is or, more likely, a poorly judged non sequitur farted into existence by a bored designer. Maybe the same one who thought up the Urban Outfitters “depression” t-shirt of 2014.

From Zayn Malik to Oprah Winfrey, a growing number of celebrities are opening up about what may seem, to someone who has never struggled with anxiety, like the trendiest disorder of the decade. Anxiety, of course, isn’t trendy; it’s just incredibly common. As someone constantly reassured by the fact that, yes, millions of other people have (real life) panic meltdowns on public transport, I could hardly argue that we shouldn’t be discussing our personal experiences of anxiety. But you have to ask whether anyone would be comfortable wearing a jumper that said “schizophrenic” or “bulimic”. Anxiety, it has to be said, has a tendency – as one of the more “socially acceptable” mental illnesses — to steal the limelight.

But I hope we carry on talking anxiety. I’m not sure Movember actually gets us talking about prostates, but it puts them out there at least. If Christmas jumpers can do the same for the range of mental health issues under the “anxiety” umbrella, then move over, Rudolph.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.