Wednesday 04 November 2015.
Dear Mr Cameron,
The abolition of slavery is considered to be one of the mile stones in human progress yet, just like the founding of our welfare state and NHS, it was fiercely opposed by those who benefited and profited from it. In fact, the only way it was achieved was by compensating those who had reaped the benefits of slavery for so long. In all the UK government paid out £20 million (in excess of £70 billion in today’s money) in compensation to slave owners which at the time was 40% of the government’s total annual expenditure.
According to researchers at the University of Birmingham, £4 trillion was extracted from slaves in the Americas in unpaid labour alone and the vast profits from slavery went into financing the building modern Britain.
It is impossible to imagine what it must have felt like for slaves to find themselves free people, it is also impossible to imagine how they then made their way in life without a penny in compensation, cast adrift to find some way to build a new life. Although former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as ‘apprentices’ it was little more than slavery by another name.
You may be wondering why I raise slavery a this time. It is, in part, to voice my support for the 14 Caribbean states who are preparing to sue Britain for reparations, but there is a second important reason to do so. As the former slave owners discovered, it was cheaper to hire people than it was to keep them as slaves, handing over the responsibility for sustenance and shelter to the former slaves via the token of pay, making them what we colloquially call ‘wage slaves’.
A study by economist Stewart Lansley and academic Joanna Mack finds that up to 20 million people in Britain are living in poverty, more than half of them in work. Paying people for their labour less than the actual amount they need to live on and walking off with the rest of the return on their labour and calling that profit is a neat trick. Iain Duncan Smith, the champion of modern day slavery in Britain, has gone much further, effectively breaking the primary and most fundamental link between work and pay with his Workfare pogrom, offering companies and charities a huge body of free labour which they have been only too keen to exploit, although pressure is mounting against this despicable practice.
The poor are effectively slaves, earning less than they need to live on and thereby forced to work week in week out in a hopeless and vain attempt to make ends meet. Iain Duncan Smith’s answer to this is to force people into finding more work or better paid work under threat of sanctions and the loss of the benefits they need in order to survive. In work benefits constitute a largely unremarked welfare subsidy for businesses to the tune of £56.4 billion a year. The work of keeping people slavishly poor is escalating daily of which you and your government, and Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne in particular, are the architects under the guise of austerity and making paying down the deficit the almost exclusive domain of the poor. We, the people, need to put ‘slavery’ firmly back in the national consciousness if we are to stand any chance of thwarting ever increasing job insecurity and poverty pay, which includes Osborne’s bogus ‘new living wage’.