Provocative article in the Yorkshire Post by John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, yesterday. It opens:
With renewed public outrage at the excesses of the financial sector and the huge inequalities in wealth it has helped to generate, we are being confronted daily with new evidence of extremes of wealth and poverty, demonstrating how scandalously unfair our society is. But how is this to be addressed? This is the urgent task for us all.
The news that Chief Executives (CEOs) of the FTSE 100 companies last year received average pay increases of almost 50 percent adds urgency to our cause. Typically these CEOs receive 300 times as much as the least well paid British employees in their companies. If they have a responsibility to their staff, it is hard to imagine a more powerful way of telling some people that they are of little value than to pay them one-third of one percent of your own salary. (emphasis mine)
Sentamu argues that a change in attitudes towards wealth and inequality will drive a change in practice, and suggests a couple of reforms that might help to trigger the change in attitudes. One is to withhold royal honours from those who've awarded themselves large salaries, or whose companies have a big wage gap between the best and worst paid. The other is making public the amount of tax we pay, (voluntarily) to encourage people to take pride in the contribution they make, through tax, to the country.
Behind both of these is a desire to change values, to see pay not simply as an issue of economics, but of the fundamental value we place on one another, and on what we do for one another with our money.
Because changes in public attitudes can take place quite quickly. Over the last few decades racism has lost its respectability and is seen as unacceptable. The same applies to homophobia (the irrational fear of homosexuals) and discrimination against women. My belief and trust is that a society which has shown itself capable of making such rapid changes to attitudes in these areas will also prove capable of recognising that our society will work best when we recognise that as human beings we are all, fundamentally of equal worth and members of one society.