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Britain's Olympic sized hangover

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If the 1988 Seoul Olympics were described as South Korea's coming out party, London 2012 was surely Britain's fading out party. A  three-month Sky Sports investigation reveals the Olympic Games cost Britain a grand total of $37.49 billion.  Britain it seems is robbing both Peter and Paul.

According to a  Wall Street Journal report, ( http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/02/21/economics-journal-why-a-flagging-britain-continues-aid-to-a-rising-india/ ) 20 percent of the UK's population lives in poverty. Sweeping budget cuts have consigned millions to the developmental netherworld. As grants dry up, accident and emergency services, maternity units, public libraries and swimming pools have started closing, the disabled population is being asked to fend for itself, and cuts to housing are forcing thousands to sleep on park benches and pavements. A third of charities are likely to shut down, leaving the poor without a cushion.

While the Olympics focussed the world's attention on the gleaming towers of The City and the billion dollar stadiums, in the inner suburbs there is "an air of panic" ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jul/17/despair-loneliness-austerity-britain ). Here people are fighting over discounted vegetables in supermarkets and women are eating once a day so their children are able to eat.

The safety of nuclear armed submarines, the last vestiges of power, and nuclear power stations has been compromised because essential staff has been laid off.

And it's likely to get worse. Even as  the  unemployment rate is expected to rise to 9 percent by the end of this year, prime minister David Cameron has declared austerity measures will continue well into the next decade.

Make that decades. The Office of Budget Responsibility, Britain's treasury watchdog, says austerity measures will have to continue for the next 50 years to avoid a financial time bomb.

The Olympics, therefore, placed additional financial burden on a country that can't pay for basic public services. But like the Roman emperor Nero, Britain's leaders cheered on the gladiators in the stadiums, apathetic to the angry mobs outside.

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Unkindest cut
Ordinary Britons are being asked to forgo basic necessities at a time when the UK's leading corporations have been avoiding paying taxes. The king of tax dodgers is Phillip Green. The owner of fashion house Topshop wrote the biggest cheque in corporate history in 2005 when his business paid a $1.8 billion dividend. But the payment went to his wife who lives in Monaco. By paying the dividend to his wife, no UK income tax was due and the couple saved $445 million.

Green is not alone. Vodafone is alleged to have avoided paying $9.3 billion. Overall, says the London-based Trades Union Congress, British companies have avoided paying $38.9 billion in taxes, which is uncannily equal to the Olympics tab.

Predictably, such financial sleight of hand has caused a great deal of anger among ordinary people, the very folks who are being asked to tighten the last few notches on their belts.

Feudal Britain
Perhaps the only thing the crafty Karl Marx (who incidentally developed his discredited theories in Britain) got right is that the most difficult thing a person can do is to break free from his class. In Britain, where a person's accent gives away their social class, gentrification, or the improvement in social standing, has become nearly impossible for the permanent underclass.

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Canada 's Globe & Mail newspaper wonders if Britain's current condition is a window into the West's future. It says that intergenerational poverty, rare in most countries today, has become a factor in a notable British subculture. That tallies with a British government report, which shows that if you are born poor, you stay poor.

In 2009 the Alan Milburn Report revealed an uncomfortable truth - the previous 12 years had seen a widening gap between rich and poor and a decline in social mobility, and that children from the poorer social groups now have less chance of getting into the elite universities and the top professions than children born in 1958.

The report also showed that the 7 percent of the population who go to private schools (oddly called public schools) not only still dominate British society, but their dominance is increasing. They produce 75 percent of the country's judges, 70 percent of finance directors, 45 percent of top civil servants and 32 percent of MPs. Commented The Guardian newspaper: "Behind its modern veneer, British society is determined by who you know, and who your parents are."

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Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based writer.

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