Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Concentrating (#2)

A few weeks ago I attended a conference. One of the plenary speakers was Danny Dorling, a geographer from Sheffield University. He was talking about his new book 'Injustice: why social inequality persists' and argued clearly and powerfully about the relationship between inequalities in income and inequalities in health. His main thrust is this - if there was less discrepancy between the rich and poor in our (UK) society, then that would bring with it many, many benefits including a reduction in the health inequalities that currently exist.

I've been thinking a lot about Dorling's arguments over the last few weeks. In the context of a coalition (by which I mean Tory) government, there is much to be gloomy about, but Dorling himself was positive, because - he said - we can change it if we want to. So, I've been thinking about how I can change it. I could of course lobby my MP, complain and harrass government ministers and that would have some effect. But, I've been thinking about this in relation to the things I do with my money and whether my spending helps to concentrate wealth into the hands of the richest. Shopping at supermarkets and on the high street generally means that our cash works its way through the hands of the not-very-well-paid staff to the corporate boards, shareholders and investors that control these global brands and businesses. There are some exceptions, e.g. John Lewis and the Co-operative group - which have no anonymous shareholders but which pay dividends to its members (customers in the case of the co-op and staff in the case of John Lewis). Of course, spending money in locally-owned businesses, craft markets, farmers markets, independent shops, Etsy, Folksy and so on does the opposite. It helps to put money directly into the pockets of individuals and their families. There are no fat cat investors or venture capitalists taking their share of the profits. The New Economics Foundation did some work on this a few years back, showing that every pound spent on a local veg box did much, much more for the local economy than every pound spent in a local supermarket - and that supermarkets employed fewer people for every thousands pounds of turnover than corner shops.

So, the bottom line is this: the more money I spend in my local economy, the more I support my local community - safeguarding jobs and helping to maintain a healthy (literally) place to live and work. While I was thinking about this, I came across an old newspaper article about going off-grid. This didnt mean living in a self-sustaining house with no connection to the National Grid, but refusing to shop in mainstream supermarkets and instead, spending all your food budget in farmers markets, independent butchers, fruiterers, fishmongers, bakers, wine merchants and so on. I saw the article in Earthy, a local and independent supermarket and cafe stocking local, organic and fair trade produce. It seemed to be fitting somehow.

Leading up to Christmas seemed to be a good time to think about this. Although we haven't gone completely off-grid with our food spending, I think most of our gift shopping has been with independent/local businesses and high-street companies without shareholders. It's a start, and I mean to go on. 

Enjoy the snow if you have it; keep safe and warm and have a very, very merry Christmas.

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