Yesterday’s Telegraph headline was “The Return of Class Warfare”.  Apparently, the government’s decision to raise income tax on incomes over £150 000 to 50% is class warfare on par with Stalinist purges, etc.

Right now, if you make over £40 000, then you are in the top 10% of earners in the UK.  So, those on £150 000 are a wealthy minority indeed.  Taxing them 50% is not class warfare – it’s basic common sense.

On a 50% tax rate, you would still take home £75 000.  £75 000!!  I actually don’t know what I would do with that much money!!  I mean, there’s only so many pairs of shoes a person can own.  I love books – but you can only read so many at a time.  Also, there are charity shops, as well as this new-fangled invention called ‘a library’.  I like earrings, but I like cheap earrings I don’t have to worry about losing or breaking.  I own one really nice pair of pearl earrings that my favourite aunt (and godmother) bought me when I got married, and a really nice necklace I bought myself for my wedding.  And I wear them about once a year – they’re too nice to wear every day, they don’t match anything else I own, and I worry about losing them.  I suppose I could buy a house, but there’s just me and my partner, no children, so there’s not much point in buying a very big house is there?  Just  more cleaning to do (by which I mean, for my poor put-upon partner to do, as I am a slob).

At some point, I think people are obliged, not just practically but also ethically, to ask themselves – how much do I really need?  I’m not suggesting everyone should live a life of extreme asceticism.  Have fun!  Go to plays!  Go on holiday!  Buy that really nice pair of shoes!!  But at some point, it has to be recognised that no one needs 34 pairs of shoes, and that apples from Waitrose taste the exact same as apples from Aldi.  Having a 3 bedroom house when you live alone is actually immoral in a country where others are homeless.

I also think people who are making anywhere near £40K + are obliged to step back and recognise how lucky they are, financially (unless of course they are supporting 6 children with that one salary or something).   My partner and I are both working, both making middle-class salaries, for the first time since we’ve met.    Our combined income is about £40 K, and you know what – we’re doing really well.  It’s a huge change from last year, when we were living on my salary alone (which worked out to both of us working full-time for less than minimum wage), and each heating bill was a major crisis.  At the moment, if we weren’t trying to pay off our myriad debts before deflation sets in, we’d have ludicrous amounts of disposable income.  I’d be able to actually buy stuff at Monsoon instead of just looking longingly through the window (not a lot of stuff, mind you).  So when a couple in The Guardian talks about struggling to get buy on twice as much – I’m sorry, but my sympathy is limited. 

With all the panic about the Recession, there’s very little concern for the people who are going to be hurt the most.  There is this weird disjuncture between the “money-saving tips” found in The Guardian and the rash of new budget books, and the actual lives of a lot of people in the UK.  Most of the “money-saving tips” are things I’ve been doing my entire adult life, out of economic necessity at first, and then later, out of a dislike of waste.  Of course you should plan out your meals for the week and then draw up a grocery list, rather than just buying food at random.  Not only will you save money, but you won’t waste food.

But there are a lot of people who have either been doing this already, or for whom this is already extravagant – people who go to Asda, buy whatever is on sale, and then work out what can be made with it, even if it’s not terribly nutritious.  They can’t cut back anymore,  not without giving up food, or heating.  There’s a phrase used in Toronto to describe the situation of people on minimum wage or benefits – “Pay the rent OR feed the kids.” 

There is nothing in this budget that is going to really help those people – child benefit has gone up a pathetic £20/year. 

So yes, if you make £150 000/year – you should be paying at least 50% tax.  Outside of London, if you make £40 000/year, you are comfortably upper middle class (and in London, comfortably middle class).  If you are making more than £20 000 and you have no children, then you are doing better than at least half the country.

Actual class warfare would involve massive redistributions of wealth, so that no one is wondering how they’re going to make rent this month.  It would involve a mainstream media that recognises that going out for dinner once a week instead of twice a week is not a “money-saving tip” if you’re struggling to pay for groceries.  And it would involve all of us who are middle-class seriously reconsidering our priorities, and recognising the difference between “want” and “need.”

I’m Alive!!!  But really, really busy with activism, and work, and PhD applications.  It’s quite possible no one is actually going to read this, due to my extended absence.  Also, I wish I could write something about the G20 protests, but I’m not there as I couldn’t get the time off work.

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Rahila Gupta has an mostly very good article in today’s Comment Is Free arguing in favour of the European Convention on Human Trafficking, which would allow women up to 90 days of accommodation in which to gather evidence that they have been trafficked and apply for asylum. 

Unfortunately, in the article, Gupta says that 80% of prostitutes in the UK are foreigners, and that most of them were trafficked, and condemns those who would rubbish those statistics.

Here’s the thing – it’s fully possible to “rubbish” that particular claim and still agree with every other word in Gupta’s article.

There were serious methodological issues with the survey that claimed to find that most foreign prostitutes were trafficked – among other things, the authors interpreted a willingness to have anal sex as proof that the woman in question was trafficked.  Good methodology is important – as sociologists, are we interested in the truth, or in what “proof” would best serve our particular view of the world?

That being said, of course women who are trafficked should be allowed to stay in the UK.  And of course, as Ms Gupta says, a lot of women in sex work are not there by a full and free choice but because the situations in which they find themselves provide them with no better option.  And of course we have to provide exit strategies for anyone who wants out of the sex industry. 

I feel, however, that the government approach to trafficking, which includes the acceptance of the statistics quoted above, actually makes migrant women, trafficked or not, more vulnerable to being exploited and forced into the sex industry.   The government defines trafficking very narrowly – and any organisation, like the Poppy Project that requires government funding must adopt this definition.  This definition would continue even if women are given 90 days to decide if they want to contact the police.   Women who knowingly came to the UK illegally and were coerced into sex work, or became prostitutes willingly but were deceived about the hours, or became sex workers later because no other jobs were forthcoming given their lack of papers – none of these women would necessarily qualify for government assistance.

Furthermore, the government uses the spectre of supposedly widespread trafficking to justify crackdown in immigration and more authoritarian border controls – the new concentration camp for migrants being built in Calais, for example, has been portrayed by the government as necessary to prevent human trafficking. 

Finally, let us not forget our sisters (and brothers) in other industries, where they are viciously exploited and subject to sexual violence.  While the government pretends to care about trafficked sex workers, Transport For London is having many of the tube cleaner union activists deported, in retaliation for their union activism.  Many of these women have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape on the job – but somehow, this sexual violence is of no concern to the government.

One of the many reasons I have undying respect for Rahila Gupta, even where I disagree with her, is that she knows this and incorporates it into her analysis of the situation of migrant sex workers.  In her book Enslaved, Ms Gupta profiles not only a sex worker, but also a domestic worker, a women in an arranged marriage, a (male) construction worker and an asylum-seeker.  She makes it clear that non-status women in any industry are very vulnerable to sexual violence.  She also argues that the only way to eradicate this exploitation and violence is by eliminating all immigration controls.

In the short-term, advocating for the Convention may be the best way forward, though it is crucial that feminists engage very warily with the government, and recognise the shortcomings of this law.

However, in the long-term, only the abolition of immigration controls, and the establishment of a society where no one is forced to become a sex worker / prostitute to fend off starvation, will end human trafficking. 

While I may disagree with Ms Gupta’s acceptance of the quoted statistic, I fully support  her goal of abolishing immigration controls.  And I think this is very important to emphasize – that a lot of people who “rubbish” those stats still agree with  most of what Ms Gupta says are still vehemently opposed to trafficking and to the exploitation and abuse of any migrant workers, regardless of whether they were trafficked or not, and believe strongly in providing all sex workers / prostitutes with exit strategies.   Hopefully, we can build a movement from these common goals and agree to disagree on peripheral issues.