Teacher Liam Taylor leads Occupy London tours every couple of weeks through Canary Wharf, the privately-owned, guarded riverside oasis of wealth in Tower Hamlets where nine of the world’s biggest banks trade, lend and advise clients.
Bloomberg reports: Bank security guards in London lock the doors when they see Liam Taylor coming.
At a time of protests in March 2011, the secondary school teacher and a dozen others pushed through the revolving doors of Barclays Plc’s headquarters in the Canary Wharf financial district of London. He led placard-waving chants to protest bonuses and tax avoidance.
The British bank was handing out 65.5 million pounds ($106 million) to eight executives, including Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond, whom Taylor has never met. Meanwhile, the council of the poverty-mired surrounding London neighborhood of Tower Hamlets was slashing 72 million pounds from its taxpayer- funded budget.
Here, where two worlds collide, the 26-year-old umbrella- toting teacher plays an active role in the Occupy London protest movement. Tower Hamlets has one of the highest rates of young people receiving jobless benefits in London, the highest proportion of poor children and older people in England and the worst child poverty in the U.K.
In its midst is Canary Wharf, a privately owned, guarded riverside oasis of wealth where Taylor leads Occupy tours every couple of weeks. Nine of the world’s biggest banks trade, lend and advise clients here. His message: This is where the wealthy 1 percent enrich themselves by avoiding tax, racking up debt, selling risky investments and using public funds for bailouts. They do so at the expense of the remaining 99 percent, who bear the burden of higher taxes and fewer public services, he says.
“These huge glass towers you can see around us are all in Tower Hamlets, and yet Tower Hamlets remains the borough with the highest rate of child poverty,” says the soft-spoken Taylor, who has blue eyes and cropped red hair. “The bonuses are being paid out of money which should have been paid in tax to provide public services.”
Canary Wharf is the base for companies that pay some of the highest salaries in the world. They include Barclays and HSBC Holdings Plc of the U.K., Switzerland’s Credit Suisse Group AG and the European operations of U.S.-based Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp.
Protests over economic inequality erupted around the world again last week. After a year of Occupy and trade union demonstrations in London, the sense of unfairness is growing as support for the U.K. government erodes. The ruling coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties lost hundreds of seats in last week’s local-council elections, although London’s Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson retained office.
British austerity measures are taking effect just as the U.K. enters its first double-dip recession since the 1970s. The budgets of Tower Hamlets and the deprived boroughs of Hackney and Newham were cut the most among London neighborhoods last year while wealthy Richmond-upon-Thames’s was reduced the least.
Income inequality among working-age people has risen faster in the U.K. than in any other wealthy Western country since 1975, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. London and the finance industry are the driving forces behind the rise, according to Mark Stewart, an economics professor at the University of Warwick.
“There is a groundswell of increasing concern with the scale of inequality,” says Richard Wilkinson, coauthor with Kate Pickett of the book, “The Spirit Level.” They make the case that more-unequal societies have lower life expectancies and more mental illness, violence, teenage pregnancies and incarceration, resulting in less trust.
Nowhere is the divide between rich and poor more evident than in Tower Hamlets and Canary Wharf. Many of Canary Wharf’s 95,000 workers travel to and from the skyscrapers on trains that pass under or over the 240,000 residents of Tower Hamlets. Taylor’s students say commuters on trains look right through them. A four-lane highway and railway separate Canary Wharf from the rest of the borough. There are guarded checkpoints for cars.
Canary Wharf’s shiny underground malls are decked with advertisements for products including a Citigroup (C) account for those with an “international lifestyle.” The grubby streets of Tower Hamlets feature empty spaces covered with graffiti: “Sorry! The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock.” [Continue reading…]