The world's richest 1 per cent may soon own more than the 99 per cent. Photo: Getty
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The richest 1 per cent is set to own more than the rest of the world: we need action on inequality

A rich man's world.

The media has dubbed today "Blue Monday" – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Pseudoscience, probably, but it’s hard not to feel gloomy with a report out today from Oxfam showing that the world’s richest 1 per cent have increased their combined share of global wealth to almost half, and if current trends continue, next year will see them overtake the other 99 per cent. Equally striking is the finding that the combined wealth of 3.5bn people – half the world’s population – is matched by the wealth accumulated to just 80 individuals, who enjoy beneficial political influence by virtue of their assets, according to Oxfam. 

This extreme concentration of wealth is not an abstract global problem, but one that’s visible on our own doorstep. New Equality Trust research shows that the richest 100 families in Britain in 2008 have since seen their combined wealth increase by at least £15bn. The wealth of the top 100 increased by a staggering rate of £1,268 per second last year, to equal that of nearly a third of UK households put together. And among the richest of the rich in this country, ten people saw their incomes rise by £3.1bn to an eye-watering £96.6bn.

Contrast this with a JRF report also out today, showing that more than 8m parents and children in the UK are living on family incomes which are inadequate for supporting a socially acceptable standard of living, an increase of over a third since 2008/9. Within this group, families headed by lone parents and those with a single breadwinner have faced significant increases in their likelihood of having to try to make ends meet on an insufficient income. 

Given what we know about the negative health and social effects of pronounced economic disparity, these refreshed figures on accumulated wealth and increasingly inadequate incomes are great reason for concern. The three pieces of research come at the beginning of the week when politicians, civil society and business leaders are due to meet in Davos at the World Economic Forum to discuss key issues of global concern. Last year, inequality was a dominant theme, and experts have placed deepening income inequality in the top spot for 2015 as well. However, talking about inequality isn’t really getting us anywhere and concerted action globally and at home is urgently needed if we are to stem the upward flows of wealth and power.

Lucy Shaddock is Policy and Campaigns Officer at The Equality Trust

Photo: Getty
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The Liverpool protest was about finding a place for local support in a global game

Fans of other clubs should learn from Anfield's collective action.

One of the oldest songs associated with Liverpool Football Club is Poor Scouser Tommy, a characteristically emotional tale about a Liverpool fan whose last words as he lies dying on a WWII battlefield are an exhalation of pride in his football team.

In November 2014, at the start of a game against Stoke City, Liverpool fans unfurled a banner across the front of the Kop stand, daubed with the first line of that song: “Let me tell you a story of a poor boy”. But the poor boy wasn’t Tommy this time; it was any one of the fans holding the banner – a reference to escalating ticket prices at Anfield. The average matchday ticket in 1990 cost £4. Now a general admission ticket can cost as much as £59.

Last Saturday’s protest was more forthright. Liverpool had announced a new pricing structure from next season, which was to raise the price of the most expensive ticket to £77. Furious Liverpool fans said this represented a tipping point. So, in the 77th minute of Saturday’s match with Sunderland, an estimated 15,000 of the 44,000 fans present walked out. As they walked out, they chanted at the club’s owners: “You greedy bastards, enough is enough”.

The protest was triggered by the proposed price increase for next season, but the context stretches back over 20 years. In 1992, the top 22 clubs from the 92-club Football League broke away, establishing commercial independence. This enabled English football’s elite clubs to sign their own lucrative deal licensing television rights to Rupert Murdoch’s struggling satellite broadcaster, Sky.

The original TV deal gave the Premier League £191 million over five years. Last year, Sky and BT agreed to pay a combined total of £5.14 billion for just three more years of domestic coverage. The league is also televised in 212 territories worldwide, with a total audience of 4.7 billion. English football, not so long ago a pariah sport in polite society, is now a globalised mega-industry. Fanbases are enormous: Liverpool may only crowd 45,000 fans into its stadium on matchday, but it boasts nearly 600 million fans across the globe.

The matchgoing football fan has benefited from much of this boom. Higher revenues have meant that English teams have played host to many of the best players from all over the world. But the transformation of local institutions with geographic support into global commercial powerhouses with dizzying arrays of sponsorship partners (Manchester United has an ‘Official Global Noodle Partner’) has encouraged clubs to hike up prices for stadium admission as revenues have increased.

Many hoped that the scale of the most recent television deal would offer propitious circumstances for clubs to reduce prices for general admission to the stadium while only sacrificing a negligible portion of their overall revenues. Over a 13-month consultation period on the new ticket prices, supporter representatives put this case to Liverpool’s executives. They were ignored.

Ignored until Saturday, that is. Liverpool’s owners, a Boston-based consortium who have generally been popular on Merseyside after they won a legal battle to prize the club from its previous American owners, backed down last night in supplicatory language: they apologised for the “distress” caused by the new pricing plan, and extolled the “unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters”.

The conflict in Liverpool between fans and club administrators has ended, at least for now, but the wail of discontent at Anfield last week was not just about prices. It was another symptom of the broader struggle to find a place for the local fan base in a globalised mega-industry.The lazy canard that football has become a business is only half-true. For the oligarchs and financiers who buy and sell top clubs, football is clearly business. But an ordinary business has free and rational consumers. Football fans are anything but rational. Once the romantic bond between fan and team has been forged, it does not vanish. If the prices rise too high, a Liverpool fan does not decide to support Everton instead.

Yet the success of the protest shows that fans retain some power. Football’s metamorphosis from a game to be played into a product to be sold is irreversible, but the fans are part of that product. When English football enthusiasts wake in the small hours in Melbourne to watch a match, part of the package on their screen is a stadium full of raucous supporters. And anyone who has ever met someone on another continent who has never travelled to the UK but is a diehard supporter of their team knows that fans in other countries see themselves as an extension of the local support, not its replacement.

English football fans should harness what power they have remaining and unite to secure a better deal for match goers. When Liverpool fans walked out on Saturday, too many supporters of other teams took it as an opportunity for partisan mockery. In football, collective action works not just on the pitch but off it too. Liverpool fans have realised that. Football fandom as a whole should take a leaf out of their book.