“Everything was possible”

Saturday, August 17, 2013 – 22:26

I sit, for the 12th hour now, alone and struggling for what to do. For the first time since I got on a plane for Egypt on January 292011, I am at a loss.

Worse days than today lie ahead of us. 

We thought we could change the world. We know now that that feeling was not unique to us, that every revolutionary moment courses with the pulse of a manifest destiny. How different things feel today. I will not bury our convictions, but that feeling – youthful optimism? naiveté? idealism? foolishness? – is now truly and irrevocably dead. 

I mourn the dead and I despise those killing them. I mourn the dead and I despise those sending them to their deaths. I mourn the dead and I despise those that excuse their murder. How did it come to this? How did we get here? What is this place?

The revolution is dead when we say it’s dead. The revolution is dead when we will no longer die for it

It is February 122011. Hosni Mubarak has fallen. In the morning I will fly to America to finish a job, before moving permanently to Cairo to help build the new country. I am sitting on my mother’s balcony. We are smoking cigarettes and drinking tea to keep out the cold and talking; about all that we’ve seen and done, about all that we’re going to do. Everything, on that night, was possible. Our conversation ranges from the grandiose of the global revolution to the practical re-thinking of ministerial appointments to the minutiae of the requirements of the film school that should be established. We talked through the night. I took notes. 

It is, perhaps, this memory that hurts me the most. 

By the time I return from America the army had cleared two sit-ins, begun court-martialing civilians en masse and assaulting women protestors with virginity tests. The revolution now is smaller, but serious, focused and under sustained  attack. The un-fallen state, the deep state, the client state; once a month, every month, it attacks. It clears Tahrir in March, April, August and December. It attacks protestors at the Israeli Embassy. It envelopes downtown Cairo in a November mist of Pennsylvanian tear gas. It rains down rocks and Molotov cocktails from the roof of the Cabinet building. It welds shut the doors of the Port Said stadium deathtrap. Every month, people die fighting it.

There were moments when we could have broken the army’s grip on the country. We should have stayed in Tahrir after Mubarak was ousted. Tahrir was in the driving seat and hadn’t yet acquired the politicians to sell it out. But we left. Everyone said they would be back the next day and then, somehow, they weren’t. People wanted to shower and to sleep in their own beds. Then spontaneous cleaning brigades of earnest patriots spread through the city and by midday everything was nice and tidy and gone. 

In November 2011 and in January 2012 the streets echoed with chants demanding the end of military rule. But now it had become the self-appointed role of the politicians to translate street action into political gain. Now, the army had people to talk to. Had all the forces that were supposedly against the military – the revolutionaries, the liberals, the Brotherhood and the Salafis – ever truly united where might we have been today? Dead, possibly. But maybe not. Maybe somewhere closer to a civilian state.

A real, ideological alliance was never possible. But a tactical, practical one might just have worked. But rather than work together each party repeatedly met with and made deals with the army, consistently placing the generals in the strongest tactical position. Everyone was to blame. The old, moneyed liberals who presented themselves as allied with the revolution lived in relative comfort, had historical ties to the army and routinely demonized the Brotherhood. The revolutionaries’ disdain for high politics meant that they effectively removed themselves from the equation. The Salafis were only ever interested in the deal that brought them the most power and their prized ministries – education and health. And the Brotherhood, long-enamored of their ability to put numbers on the street, was arrogant and duplicitous from the beginning – making serious electoral promises to the liberals, lobbying America and offering the army immunity and oversight of itself. 

When in power, Mohamed Morsi refused to take on the Ministry of Interior. Instead, he appointed Ahmad Gamal al-Din who, as chief of the Assiut Security Directorate almost killed off the revolution there in January 2011 and then was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ chief of General Security at the time of the Moahmed Mahmoud and the ultras massacres. 

The main enemy of the people has always been the security state – the police and the army. We will never get anywhere until they are dismantled entirely. There was a moment when that could have been achieved, when a civilian state could have been built. But Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood would have had to choose the challenge of working with the disparate and bickering forces of the left and the liberals over dealing with the organized certainty of the military. 

* * * *

I write now from Sarajevo. I sat yesterday in the Srebrenica memorial museum. While men were jumping off Cairo’s October 6 Bridge to escape the gunfire closing in on them from all sides, General Ratko Mladic was staring at the camera, speaking to history:

Here we are on July 11th 1995, in Serbian Srebrenica, just before a great Serb holy day. We give this town to the Serb nation; in memory of the uprising against the Turks. The time has now come to take revenge on the Muslims. 

I wander the streets alone. Every building is still mapped with the scars of war. I drink alone at the opening gala of the film festival I am attending, thinking of a woman in the museum video.

If I had cried out, if I had screamed that they couldn’t take him. If I had grabbed him. If I had done something. I don’t know. Maybe I would be able to live with myself.  

* * * *

It’s June 272013. We’re sitting in Estoril, at the corner table under the television. Of the six of us, three genuinely believe that the marches on June 30 will be very seriously attacked; that it is the perfect moment for the old National Democratic Party networks to throw the country into chaos, and so force the army to take control again. There is talk of kill lists. I spend hundreds of pounds on goggles I hope will keep the birdshot out of our eyes. I don’t want to march that day. I want Morsi gone, but the voices we are hearing are all feloul, and online instructions are circulating insisting no one chant against the army or the police. But all my friends are going, so what choice do I have? To watch them die on television? 

We read it wrong. The blood that the army, the regime, wanted was not ours. Not this time. Is it because we are now irrelevant? Or because the backlash would have been too strong? 

And on July 3, just as they did on February 112011, the army staged a coup. In February they removed Mubarak to sap public pressure and demobilize people. And it worked. What happened this time? Did the street pressure force the army to act, or did the army create the street pressure through Tamarod to get what they wanted? 

* * * * 

Can the side without guns ever win? 

An Iranian friend once assured me that reform, rather than revolution, is what we want. That revolutions are only won by those most violent. 

The first thing I read when I woke up today was Adam Shatz. He wrote,

Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution. 

But what do we have if not our beliefs? They are the foundation of our actions, of our identities. And it was transformative: the belief we all shared, for a moment, in each other. In an eternity of disappointment and greed and malice that moment, that moment in which being human was finally worth something, in which having a community was preferable to being alone with a book, had a value that will never be lost.  You cannot underestimate how important these two and half years have been for people, how empowered, how unafraid people were. The existence of the revolution should not be confused with the existence of a political leadership and process. The revolution is dead when we say it’s dead. The revolution is dead when we will no longer die for it.

My apartment in Cairo is in Bab al-Louq and every time I go to the supermarket I see the doorway I hid in on November 222011, during the first battle of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. I smell the cloud of tear gas filling the street, see the locked glass door and the flashes of police gunfire coming closer and closer in the reflection. I hear the crack of a shotgun reloading, louder and louder. And I hear, with perfect clarity, my thoughts

Turn. Take it in the back. Maybe you’ll survive. Stand up straight. Stand up. They will remember you. It’s your turn now. People have given more. People have given their eyes. Alaa is in jail. They faced it bravely. Bravely. Stand up straight. They will remember you. 

I cannot stand up to death today. Today I am a coward who can only write. I see the revolution being dragged away to be shot over a shallow grave and I don’t know what to do. But I do know that, before it’s too late, we will grab it, we will fight for it. We have to, or we will never be able to live with ourselves.

Source: Omar Robert Hamilton

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UK’s poorest 20% pay proportionately more tax than the richest 20%

UK's poorest 20% pay proportionately more tax than the richest 20%

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UK Trade Union membership vs Income of UK’s top 1%

UK Trade Union membership vs Income of UK's top 1%

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Labor’s Falling Share, Everywhere

When I was getting my feet wet in economics back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was conventional wisdom that the share of national income going to labor fluctuated a bit from year to year, but didn’t display a rising or falling trend over time. But the stability of labor’s share no longer holds true. The Internation Labour Organization discusses some of the data in Chapter 5 if its Global Wage Report 2012/13 on the theme of “Wages and equitable growth.” Here, I’ll provide a few background charts, and then some thoughts. The ILO report summarizes some of the evidence this way:

“The OECD has observed, for example, that over the period from 1990 to 2009 the share of labour compensation in national income declined in 26 out of 30 developed economies for which data were available, and calculated that the median labour share of national income across these countries fell considerably from 66.1 per cent to 61.7 per cent … Looking beyond the advanced economies, the ILO World of Work Report 2011 found that the decline in the labour income share was even more pronounced in many emerging and developing countries, with considerable declines in Asia and North Africa and more stable but still declining wage shares in Latin America.”

Here’s the labor share of income in the U.S., Germany, and Japan. For example, the U.S  labor share of income (shown by the triangles) hover around 68-70% of GDP through the 1970s, and even by the mid-1980s is near the bottom end of this range, but has declined since. 

Here’s a figure showing patterns for several groups of emerging and developing economies. The longest time series, shown by the darker blue diamonds, is an average for Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey.

And what about China? Labor share is declining there, too. 

One of the results of the declining labor share of the economy is that as productivity growth increases the size of economies, the amount going to labor is not keeping up. Here’s a figure showing the divergence in output and labor income that has opened up since 1999 for developed economies. The results here are weighted by the size of the economy, so the graph largely reflects the experience of the three biggest developed economies: the U.S., Japan, and Germany. 

What can be said about this pattern of a declining labor share?  
1) When a trend cuts across so many countries, it seems likely that the cause is something cutting across all countries, too. Looking for a “cause” based on some policy of Republicans or Democrats in the U.S. almost certainly misses the point. The same is true of looking for a “cause” based in policies more common in Europe, or in China. 

2) The causes are still murky, but one possible answer can be pretty much ruled out. The declining labor share is not caused by a shift from labor-intensive to more capital-intensive industries–because the trend toward a lower labor share is happening across all industries. The difficulty is that the other possible explanations are interrelated and hard to disentangle. They include technological change, globalization, the rise of financial markets, altered labor market institutions , and a decline in the bargaining power of labor. But after all, technological changes in  information and communication technology are part of what has fed globalization, as well as part of what led to a rise of the financial sector. Globalization is part of what has reduced the bargaining power of labor.The ILO report offers some evidence that the rise of the financial sector is a substantial part of the answer. Here’s a post from a couple of weeks ago on the growth of the U.S. financial sector

3) The flip side of a lower share of national income going to labor is a higher share of income going to capital. The ILO report argues that in many countries, this pattern seems to involve rising dividend payments.  

4) While understanding causes is useful, policies don’t always have to address root causes. When someone is hit by a car, you can’t reverse the cause, but you can still address the consequences. However, it’s worth remembering that the falling share of labor income has been happening all over the world, in countries with a very wide range of different policies and economic institutions. For example, European labor market institutions are often thought of as being more worker-friendly, but they haven’t prevented a fall in the labor share of income. 

5) It’s important to remember that the falling share of labor income is different from a rising level of wage inequality. The share of income going to labor as a whole is falling, and also a greater share of labor income is going to those at the highest levels of income. Both trends mean that those with lower- and middle-incomes are having a tougher time. 

will presumably level out at some point: will it return? or not?

Source: Timothy Taylor – Conversable Economist


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“The UK Is Putting Young People Into Indentured Servitude”

Albert Edwards, the famously bearish strategist at Societe Generale, has a new note that goes to town on U.K. chancellor George Osborne, who, as part of his budget plan unveiled in March, proposed that the U.K. get more involved in subsidizing mortgages.

Edwards has decided that he can no longer keep his mouth shut on the matter, and must lash out at this horribly misguided policy.

George Osborne in his March budget proposed an unusually misguided piece of government interference in the housing market. The measures will see government provide lenders with a guarantee of up to 20 per cent of a mortgage in an attempt to encourage lending to borrowers with small deposits. This means that if a borrower defaults on a loan, the taxpayer will be liable for a proportion of the losses. Numerous critics of George Osborne’s scheme range from the IMF to the outgoing Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, who said “We do not want what the US has, which is a government-guaranteed mortgage market, and they are desperately trying to find a way out of that position.”

He goes on to express the viewpoint that house prices are already way too high.

He points to this chart, showing how high U.K. prices are relative to other countries.

Screen Shot 2013 06 04 at 4.59.07 AM

In the end, he says, this is mere indentured servitude of the youth, under a crushing burden of debt:

What makes me genuinely really angry is that burdening our children with more debt (on top of their student loans) to buy ridiculously expensive houses is seen as a solution to the problem of excessively expensive housing. I would have thought the lack of purchasing power should contribute to house prices declining or stagnating (relative to incomes), hence becoming affordable once again.

You would have thought that George Osborne would be ideologically predisposed to a market solution, wouldn’t you? But apparently not. Why are houses too expensive in the UK? Too much debt. So what is George Osborne’s solution for first time buyers unable to afford housing? Why, arrange for a government guaranteed scheme to burden our young people with even more debt! Why don’t we call this policy by the name it really is, namely the indentured servitude of our young people.

Source: SFGate’s Business Insider


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Employers forced to repay workers for refusing minimum wage

More than 26,000 workers for some of UK’s largest companies paid back £4m following action by HM Revenue and Customs

Tens of thousands of workers who were denied the minimum wage have received hundreds of pounds in back pay from their employers following tougher enforcement policy by tax inspectors. Over the last year more than 26,000 workers were paid back £4m after action by HM Revenue and Customs, who are responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws.

Some of the 1,693 complaints against employers for allegedly breaching minimum pay rules resulted in some of the UK’s largest employers being forced to repay hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Though they were unable to name the companies involved, HMRC said that during the last year:

A national retailer, which required its employees attend work before and after opening hours without pay, was ordered to pay arrears of wages of more than £193,000 for nearly 3,500 workers.

A multi-outlet retailer was ordered to repay almost £170,000 for more than 6,000 workers after requiring employees to purchase specific items of clothing from its shops, and a major fashion chain was ordered to pay its 90 unpaid interns almost £60,000.

Last year the Guardian revealed how theArcadia group who run Miss Selfridge and Topshop stores, had been forced to hand retrospective payments worth hundreds of pounds to dozens of its former unpaid interns.

Under the national minimum wage, which stands at £6.19 an hour for workers aged 21 and over, it is unlawful for organisations not to pay anyone who could be classified as a worker.

HMRC said on top of forcing wage payments, they had issued fines to 708 employers with 51 receiving the maximum penalty of £5,000.

Employment minister Jo Swinson, who has been driving some of tougher policies said: “Paying less than the minimum wage is totally unacceptable. Whenever we find examples of businesses breaking the law we will crack down on them.

“Supporting fairness in the workplace is one of our key priorities and the national minimum wage is one way of making sure this happens.

HMRC revealed that between 2012-13 a total of 17,775 people called the government’s Pay and Work Rights Helpline for advice or to report an illegal wage which, led to 1,408 investigations into employers.

Currently calls to the helpline from interns, who are working for nothing or for “expenses only”, are being fast-tracked to HMRC enforcement officers for investigation.

Swinson said the figures showed that HMRC “can really help people who have been underpaid to claim back the money they are owed.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the enforcement action but called on HMRC to shame those involved. “These investigations show why more resources must be put into catching minimum wage cheats.”

“As well as handing out fines, the government must publicly name and shame all those rogue employers who knowingly underpay their staff.”

“Nearly a million UK workers rely on the national minimum wage, which has become a vital lifeline. There must be no hiding places for companies who flout it.”

Michelle Wyer, Assistant Director of HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team, warned that for the most serious of cases, criminal prosecutions could follow adding, “Paying the national minimum wage is not a choice – it’s the law. HMRC enforces the rules, protecting workers from rogue employers, ensuring they get at least the wage to which they are legally entitled.”

Source: The Guardian


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Woolwich attack: of course British foreign policy had a role

While nothing can justify the killing of a British soldier, the link to Britain’s vicious occupations abroad cannot be ignored

I am a former soldier. I completed one tour of duty in Afghanistan, refused on legal and moral grounds to serve a second tour, and spent five months in a military prison as a result. When the news about the attack in Woolwich broke, by pure coincidence Ross Caputi was crashing on my sofa. Ross is a soft-spoken ex-US marine turned film-maker who served in Iraq and witnessed the pillaging and irradiation of Falluja. He is also a native of Boston, the scene of a recent homegrown terror attack. Together, we watched the news, and right away we were certain that what we were seeing was informed by the misguided military adventures in which we had taken part.

So at the very outset, and before the rising tide of prejudice and pseudo-patriotism fully encloses us, let us be clear: while nothing can justify the savage killing in Woolwich yesterday of a man since confirmed to have been a serving British soldier, it should not be hard to explain why the murder happened.

These awful events cannot be explained in the almost Texan terms of Colonel Richard Kemp, who served as commander of British forces in Afghanistan in 2001. He tweeted on last night that they were “not about Iraq or Afghanistan”, but were an attack on “our way of life”. Plenty of others are saying the same.

But let’s start by examining what emerged from the mouths of the assailants themselves. In an accent that was pure London, according to one of the courageous women who intervened at the scene, one alleged killer claimed he was “… fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan …”. It is unclear whether it was the same man, or his alleged co-assailant, who said “… bring our [Note: our] troops home so we can all live in peace”.

It should by now be self-evident that by attacking Muslims overseas, you will occasionally spawn twisted and, as we saw yesterday, even murderous hatred at home. We need to recognise that, given the continued role our government has chosen to play in the US imperial project in the Middle East, we are lucky that these attacks are so few and far between.

It is equally important to point out, however, that rejection of and opposition to the toxic wars that informed yesterday’s attacks is by no means a “Muslim” trait. Vast swaths of the British population also stand in opposition to these wars, including many veterans of the wars like myself and Ross, as well as serving soldiers I speak to who cannot be named here for fear of persecution.

Yet this anti-war view, so widely held and strongly felt, finds no expression in a parliament for whom the merest whiff of boot polish or military jargon causes a fit of “Tommy this, Tommy that …” jingoism. The fact is, there are two majority views in this country: one in the political body that says war, war and more war; and one in the population which says it’s had enough of giving up its sons and daughter abroad and now, again, at home.

For 12 years British Muslims have been set upon, pilloried and alienated by successive governments and by the media for things that they did not do. We must say clearly that the alleged actions of these two men are theirs alone, regardless of being informed by the wars, and we should not descend into yet another round of collective responsibility peddling.

Indeed, if there is collective responsibility for the killings, it belongs to the hawks whose policies have caused bloodbaths – directly, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, and indirectly in places as far apart as Woolwich and Boston, which in turn have created political space for the far right to peddle their hatred, as we saw in the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich attack.

What we must do now is straightforward enough. Our own responsibilities are first of all to make sure innocents are not subject to blanket punishment for things that they did not do, and to force our government – safe in their houses – to put an end to Britain’s involvement in the vicious foreign occupations that have again created bloodshed in London.

Source: The Guardian


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Poor nations ‘deprived of billions as half of investment is chanelled through tax havens’

Report says one single transaction could have provided every Indian primary school child with a subsidised meal for a year if it been taxed fully

Some of the world’s poorest countries are missing out on billions each year due to investors chaneling money through tax havens before it reaches them, according to a charity report.

In How Tax Havens Plunder the Poor ActionAid claims that almost half of all money invested in developing countries goes through tax havens, with the money lost equating to three times that amount they receive in aid each year.

Mike Lewis, ActionAid’s tax expert who carried out the research, said: “As we have seen with recent cases like Google and Amazon, tax avoidance is a huge issue here in the UK.

“But evidence shows that poor countries are losing even more from tax avoidance, and are least equipped to protect fragile public revenues.

“Developing countries are being deprived of billions of dollars of tax revenue by wealthy corporations and investors using secretive tax havens.

“Tax havens are one of the main obstacles in the fight against global poverty.

“Their secrecy and harmful tax regimes leach money out of developing countries that could be used to end hunger and provide hospitals, schools and clean water.”

The charity reported that one single transaction through UK-linked tax havens would have supplied India with $2.2 billion in tax had it not taken place offshore.

The sum is almost enough to provide every Indian primary school child with a subsidised midday meal for an entire year.

In another case, a major mining firm is reported to get 84 per cent of its revenue from Africa but has just four of its 81 subsidiaries registered in African countries, and 47 registered in tax havens.

The report comes shortly before the G8 Summit in June when world leaders, including David Cameron, have an historic opportunity to call time on tax havens.

The UK is responsible for one-in-five global tax havens, more than any other country.

G8 countries are collectively responsible for 40 per cent of tax havens.

Research by ActionAid shows that 98 of the FTSE 100 companies use tax havens, showing the high involvement of British companies.

Source: The Independent


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Europe and the US should heed Latin America on drugs – Guardian editorial

It’s time to engage with Latin America and pursue alternatives to the present policy

You wouldn’t know it from listening to UK officials but a game-changing debate is taking place in the Americas about the war on drugs. There is a growing belief that the current punitive-based approach has failed. It has visited a savage level of violence on Latin America as narco cartels, moving cocaine and cannabis into the US, have butchered and bribed their way through the continent. The killing and corrupting of public officials – judges, police, politicians – threatened, and still threatens, to demolish the institutions of those states.

Those countries are now asking uncomfortable questions of the US and Europe, such as, why do we suffer so much in trying to prevent cocaine and cannabis leaving our countries in order to reach those markets where they are mostly consumed? There is near-unanimous agreement in Latin America that the war on drugs has failed.

A year ago, at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, regional leaders, including Barack Obama, agreed to commission a study on drug policies and to recommend options. The report was delivered last week by the Organisation of American States (OAS), which includes all 35 North and South American countries. As we report on other pages, the report provides an evidence-based approach to rethinking the drugs war. It sets out different scenarios, including legalised, regulated markets, and provides a stimulus to debate new approaches. It also challenges America and Europe to engage with the new mood in Latin America.

Those countries are increasingly vocal in their determination to reset the war on drugs.

There are clear signals that one or more may unilaterally opt out and stop prosecuting those who pass drugs through their country. It is time for Europe and the US to join a conversation that has gained real momentum. If they leave it much longer, there is a danger no one in Latin America will be listening.

Source: The Guardian


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Young and poor hit hardest as UK cuts widen inequality, says OECD

Senior analyst says coalition has chosen policies likely to ‘fall on the back of the poor population groups’

The OECD has warned that Britain faces rising levels of inequality by pursuing austerity polices that are widening the gulf between rich and poor.

In a report examining the developed world’s response to the global slowdown, the thinktank warns that the “financial crisis is squeezing income and putting pressure on inequality and poverty” across the board.

It says that income inequality in the UK “remained pretty steady” between 1995 and 2007 but jumped during the first three years of the recession.

A fresh analysis shows that in 2010, the disposable income of the top 10% of UK households was an average £53,600 a year – 10 times higher than the bottom 10th, which survived on just £5,300. Five years earlier the ratio was closer to 9:1. In Europe only Greece, Italy and Spain appeared more divided societies after the first three years of the crash than the UK.

“The concern is inequality will rise much more once the full impact of public spending cuts is felt,” said Michael Förster, senior analyst at the OECD social policy division.

Förster said that in the UK the coalition had chosen policies that were likely to “fall on the back of the poor population groups”. By attempting to prune back welfare directed at poorer people, such as housing allowances, he warned, inequality will rise in the short term.

Förster argued that proponents of austerity defended the strategy on the grounds that more people will get jobs eventually – and help reduce inequality in society. “The theory is that in the medium term more people will go into the labour market and this low-wage employment will help equalise household incomes,” he said.

However this has only worked in one country in recent years – Germany – and that was unique, Förster said. “Germany had the benefit of a weak euro and high exports and also a model of social partnership where trade unions were always at the table, asking for very modest wage increases. But both these elements are not there in Britain.”

He warned that austerity would “not be enough” to make Britain more equal, pointing out that among 18 to 25-year-olds poverty rose by more than a percentage point annually during the first three years of the recession. Only young people in Estonia, Spain and Turkey fared worse. The report says the old have been protected while the young fall back: “On average, elderly poverty fell by almost 20% across OECD countries. In fact, children and youth now face larger levels of poverty than the elderly, on average.”

Source: The Guardian


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