The post-film discussion with (left to right): me (Ruby Szarowicz), Cleo Lake (Green Party), Kat Wall (New Economy Organisers Network), Mary Rivers (the Equality Trust) and Chris Sunderland (Bristol Pound).
Using local currencies isn’t going to defeat neoliberal capitalism, but it is a positive change anyone can make to support a fairer, more equal society.
Over 75 people packed into the Wardrobe theatre on Thursday night to watch The Divide, a film inspired by the critically-acclaimed book The Spirit Level. The film examines global inequality, following seven individuals in the USA and UK, where the top 0.1% earn as much as the bottom 90%. The crowning message of the film tells of a failed experiment: neoliberalism.
The film paints a bleak picture of the world we have created; a wall street psychologist misses his daughter’s bedtime and struggles into work the morning after back surgery, thinking only of the big house beyond the security wall. On our side of the pond, care worker Rochelle is also missing her children’s bedtime to make up enough hours on minimum wage to pay off £4000 of catalogue debt. This economic disparity has created dangerous social division, and the consequence is that neither side of the scale can truly be happy.
A panel joined us from the Green Party (Cleo Lake), the New Economy Organisers Network (Kat Wall), the Equality Trust (Mary Rivers) and Bristol Pound (Chris Sunderland) to discuss what meaningful changes we can make in our community to tackle inequality and make Bristol a fairer city. There are key small changes we can make which can lead to a big difference.
We ask people to choose independent businesses over corporate ones because we know that big corporate businesses can be really bad for communities; we know from the Panama Papers that these companies aren’t paying taxes on their profits, sending them to offshore tax havens and not contributing back to the social infrastructure they are benefiting from. The owners of these businesses often earn four or five hundred times more than the lowest person on their staff role. The work they create is often repetitive, low-skilled and often workers’ rights are diminished with zero hours’ contracts and minimum wage. These companies exacerbate inequality whilst giving us a false sense of choice as they monopolise whole industries.
By spending Bristol Pounds, you are passing on a pledge for an independent business to source their products locally, with less carbon footprint. Circulating money in our local economy prevents it from being lost to offshore tax havens; even the council are accepting it for council tax and business rates, which means more of our taxes are being spent in Bristol. Strong local economies can protect jobs, stimulate growth and make Bristol a fairer, more equal place to live.
So if you want to do one thing to fight inequality in Bristol, use the Bristol Pound!
Ruby Szarowicz is the membership manager at the Bristol Pound CIC and chaired the discussion at the screening of ‘the Divide’ on the 18 August 2016