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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Rich and Poor are Always with Us

This is autobiography.

Today the Government has announced that in Britain there are rich people and poor people. This is the conclusion of an academic study, commissioned by Harriet Harman, the Equalities Minister. The rich have lots more money than poor people, and the situation isn't changing.

My mother's ambition was to bequeath £1000 to her only son. When she died in 1978, aged 71, her Post Office Savings Bank account wasn't quite in four figures. So I tried hard to get as much as I could for the bits of furniture and knick-knacks and eventually persuaded myself that she had achieved her ambition. I needed to feel that she had achieved something. After leaving my father in 1961 ("Mental Cruelty and Neglect to Maintain" in those days) she spent most of the rest of her life on benefits because he failed to pay maintenance (nothing new there) and because she was not well enough to work. When she did work, it was as a shop assistant.

When my father died in 1997, aged 85, he left tens of thousands - some of it kept in cash because he was afraid he might be charged for help received from social services. But he didn't leave as much as you might have expected for a small businessman and very mean man. Though he had worked from lock-up shops (in Dartford, Kent) for over thirty years, he had never got himself onto the property ladder. For twenty years after retiring he lived in a caravan until infirmity (and the state of the caravan) got him into sheltered accommodation. He put his money into Tesco shares. Tesco started out from a lock-up shop in Dartford, Kent, offering tins of pineapple straight from the cardboard boxes stacked outside the shop.

My father's money helped me expand the small business I run, and have run since taking early retirement from university teaching. I am on the property ladder, which is what makes all the difference, and so if I die tomorrow my children will inherit a couple of hundred thousand plus the assets of my business. But I can see from Harriet Harman's survey that I am nowhere near entering the top ten per cent of households which, at my age, are able to pass on around a million. There' still time.

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