” Can feudalisms aristocratic hold on the UK ever be broken? ” @rwscarter
Originally posted for UKProgressive September 6, 2014: http://ukprogressive.co.uk/can-feudalisms-aristocratic-hold-on-the-uk-ever-be-broken/article29621.html
Today’s Britain is a direct result of her cultural past, Feudalism through Mercantilism, early Capitalism then onto today with the mixed economy with decades of social policy and progressive governments.
During the 9th-16th century Britain and much of Europe was ran in a Feudalist fashion with manors owned/run by Lords who gained the land through allegiance to the Crown. These manors would then be passed on down to the first male born creating the Hereditary Lords which the UK still has 92 of in its Upper House. Manors were largely self-sufficient in the early days limiting the use of markets with no incentive to create a surplus for trade; the system allowed Lords to live comfortably off the fruit of the land and provide basic sustenance to those they had work it for them. With almost 80% of the workforce as servants or agricultural workers installing and perpetuating the class system.
In Feudalist Britain the Monarchy gave Lords land then Lords had serfs (poor people) work for food. The serfs were bound like slaves to their Lord as the lowest of the social ladder, beaten by Churchmen, Lords themselves and the Monarchy. There is still a House Of Lords in the UK of which there is a spiralling number of Lords which is not as powerful as the commons, and a limit on Hereditary Peerages of 92 and the Church still attached both to the Crown and State which holds 26 seats, this is a direct throwback to Feudalist Britain despite limits on all of their powers.
Advancing technological discoveries, new materials and the discovery of unknown lands creating the conditions for Mercantilism and allowed a move on from Feudalism in Britain. Industrialized capitalism took hold with inventions such as steam powered engines which allowed one person to do what many did before. Trade grew and with ‘new money’ came the second expansion of personal wealth, with trade creating wealth not just allocation by the Crown but by enterprise. Britain led the Industrial revolution which happened between the mid 1700’s-1800’s. Tied housing dropped as people took wages and lived in rented accommodation from landlords, as food become more available and a rise in manufacturing around metals and textiles created a new age of industrialization; with communities based around the local factory or mine creating employment over generations all working in the same factory or mine was seen almost as both an inevitability but also a pride among work class communities. Investment into war efforts led to a rise in innovation that meant that in the post-war years the country had new technology.
What about now: Have we made progress?
While it is clear progress has been made reducing the power of the Monarchy, banning new Hereditary peerages and bringing in social reforms within the last century, from the NHS and public services, through the Social Security System and progressive taxation. The allocation of land made an advancement flowing on from the decades of trade before, government schemes on housing and the emergence of the middle class however Inheritance still plays a large part in the distribution of wealth and positions in society.
According to a study by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commision many top, influential and powerful jobs are taken by those who attended private fee paying schools, including 71% of Judges, 36% of the Cabinet, 55% of the Civil Service and just under half of all Newspaper Journalists.
From Feudalism to now it is clear those at the bottom of society are still the first to suffer; with their jobs and living standards. Society has changed, though there is still a massive discrepancy between the haves and have nots. Despite the inequality accessing items previously held only for the wealthy such formal dress has become relatively cheaper over the years and access to credit for a house.
The re-emergence of poor doors and homeless spikes casts a shadow over recent gains; it is not surprising that as the Office of National Statistics data out earlier this year inequality in modern day Britain is unimaginably high. The richest 1% of the UK owned as much wealth as the poorest 55%, Oxfam calculated that five families controlled the same level of wealth as 13 million people. This is concerning not just because of poverty it is that the gap keeps getting wider with those in work falling short of their basics such as food. According to the Trussell Trust who run most of the food banks in the UK they saw over 330,00 children from April 2013 – April 2014, and almost double that for adults that is nearly a million people.