Ahead of his new show on wealth, Richard Bacon delivers some hard truths about the pay gap
Recently, I’ve been trying to work out why we are all so reticent to reveal what we earn, and I think it’s because it makes life worse.
If everyone wore a badge stating their annual income, it’d be quite entertaining initially. But soon, it would make people sad and frustrated. Jealous of those above. Sorry for those beneath. Or worse, smug.
We’ve all had that experience of finding out some knobhead at work, who you know is not as good as you, takes more home. What was better for that knowledge? Nothing.
Political correctness is, as Stewart Lee once said, “institutionalised politeness”, but it’s also how I see our reticence to talk about our earnings. It’s just nicer to not get into it. It keeps up a semblance of equality.
Like most people, I think bankers are overpaid. Especially investment bankers, some of whom labour under the impression they are the brightest people in Britain. They’re not. They’ve got one quite narrow skill. Some are wonderful and rounded, I’m sure, but many have close to zero emotional intelligence. Which, for me is a way of saying they’re not truly intelligent.
And never forget this about investment bankers (especially when considering all that garbage about “If we don’t pay them their bonuses, we’ll lose them, the British economy will tank, and we’ll all die”): banks’ fortunes are determined by many complex forces, not a few investment bankers. The idea that the average British citizen will be worse off because some petulant tw*t left the county after he didn’t get his enormous bonus is rubbish.
Investment bankers are not entrepreneurs. They don’t risk their own money. They make heaps of cash on the upside, and lose nothing on the down. It’s a magic version of a casino where you either win or walk away quits.
I got angry there, sorry. But that anger illustrates my point. I’d have been happier not knowing how well they do.
I’m presenting a show this month called How Rich Are You? Spoiler: not very. Not only are you likely miles down the ladder, you’ve got almost zero chance of joining the top lot. If you’re a long way down – say, in the bottom 10 per cent of earners – your chances of making the top 10 per cent are – get this – 3 per cent.
We think Britain is a meritocracy. It isn’t. If you’re born poor you will almost certainly stay poor. If you want to have a lovely, comfortable life, and want your kids to do well and live long healthy lives, there’s a simple answer: inherited wealth.
The fact is, Britain is more Downton than ever. Here are some stats I discovered during research:
1. The 100 richest people in the UK are worth around £257bn – that’s about the same as the poorest 19 million, roughly 30 per cent of the population combined.
2. In England, people in the poorest areas die seven years earlier than those in the richest.
3. Throughout the world, countries with high levels of inequality also have high levels of obesity, mental health problems, violence, murder rates, prison populations, teenage pregnancy and infant mortality.
Point 3 is why inequality really matters. And here’s another fact, one I guarantee you will quote to your friends; an illustration of the gap between a millionaire and a billionaire. Convert pounds to seconds. A million seconds is equivalent to 12 days. A billion seconds is... 32 years. That’s the gulf we’re dealing with.
This information, and the show, is not some left-wing student treatise. I just want people to know how bad it’s become. So that, maybe, we can start to do something about it.
How Rich Are You? is on Channel 4, 10 November at 8pm