Authorities' impatience with Occupy movement grows

In London, as in New York and California, it seems that the powers that be are slowly uniting against the campaigners. But the real surprise is why it took people so long to protest

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The Independent Online

The sense grew yesterday that the Occupy movement – for all the evidence supporting its claims about social inequality – is facing increasingly impatient establishments on either side of the Atlantic.

At St Paul's, despite mediation efforts, the standoff between protesters and a cathedral giving every appearance of siding with the status quo continued. Legal moves by the cathedral and the City of London to evict them loom this week. In New York, protesters' plans to camp in a park throughout the city's harsh winter have been dealt a blow. The fire department has confiscated generators and fuel because, it was claimed, they posed a danger. With the first snow falling this weekend, the Occupy Wall Street movement will now lose the generators that have been providing heat, electricity for computers and a kitchen in the Lower Manhattan camp they set up six weeks ago.

In California, the mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, who has come under widespread criticism for her handling of the protests, has apologised for a clash between police and protesters during a march on Tuesday night in which an ex-marine, Scott Olsen, was wounded. Mr Olsen remains in a fair condition after suffering a fractured skull – an improvement on the "critical" of the day before. He had served two tours of duty in recent years, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have called for a "full and complete investigation" into the circumstances. Protest organisers said he was struck on the head by a tear-gas canister fired by police.

Occupy protests are taking place in at least 11 other US states, and have been staged in more than 80 countries and 900 towns and cities worldwide. Yesterday, several thousand massed by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Protesters say they are upset about corporate excess and that the billions in bailouts doled out during the recession meant banks resumed earning huge profits while 99 per cent of people suffered.

The wonder is that the revulsion widely felt at bankers' bonuses, bloated salaries and extravagant pay-offs for failed executives has taken so long to reach the streets. Part of the explanation is that only now are the effects of the financial crisis hitting living standards and jobs. Also driving the protests is almost daily evidence that some wealthy individuals seem not only unaffected but also to be positively thriving.

Late last week, the US Congressional Budget Office released figures showing that, while the average after-tax income for the top 1 per cent of households rose by 275 per cent between 1979 and 2007, that of the middle 60 per cent went up just 40 per cent, and the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent crept forward by a mere 18 per cent. The result is that the share of all income earned by the top 1 per cent of Americans is now twice what it was in 1979.

Then, on Thursday, came the news that directors in Britain's top firms have seen their pay grow by almost 50 per cent in the past year, taking their average earnings to just under £2.7m. Research by Incomes Data Services (IDS) among directors of FTSE 100 companies showed that their 49 per cent increase - which covers salary, benefits and bonuses – was higher even than the 43 per cent rise for chief executives.

Meanwhile, an IDS analysis of settlements covering 1.8 million workers showed that workers in private firms received a median pay rise of 2.6 per cent in recent months, while those in the public sector received no increase. Small wonder that the Bertelsmann Foundation think-tank last week reported that Britain now had "a particularly high level of earnings inequality". Only Chile, Mexico, Turkey, Portugal and the US were more unequal.

And yesterday a study from Barnado's showed that, after paying for food and fuel, a typical family with which the charity works – a single parent with two children under five – survives on just over £5 per person, per day. That leaves very little to cover basics, such as the expenses of raising children, buying a new school uniform, bus fares and other costs. Barnardo's chief executive, Anne Marie Carrie, said: "These figures confirm what we sadly already know – life is getting tougher for all families, but especially the poorest."

Glaring geographical inequalities tell the same story. Figures released late last week showed that while house prices across the country fell by 2.6 per cent in a year, they rose by 2.7 per cent in London, where the average home is now worth £349,026, twice the national average. And earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics said that a child born in Chelsea today is projected to live 14 years longer than one born in Glasgow.

And if a symbol of unfairness is needed, it came last week with the story of the late Lance Corporal Jordan Bancroft. Unlike the many senior private and public sector executives who have left their jobs under a cloud yet are festooned with compensation, L/Cpl Bancroft's family were told, after he had been killed serving his country in Afghanistan, that he had been overpaid by £433 and this sum would now be reclaimed.

St Paul may have had a revelatory moment on the road to Damascus, but if the protests at the cathedral named after him have had any effect on Church of England bishops, they have not so far given any sign. In all but two cases, their heads remain buried in their mitres. One, the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson wrote on his blog: "Can [the St Paul's clergy] redeem their initial hysterical over-reaction?" He told this paper: "'What would Jesus do?' – that's the banner that's hung outside St Paul's, and I think Jesus would be asking hard questions about what's going on in the City."

But the sense that something is profoundly not right now covers a very broad range of opinion. The motivation of the protesters – that inequality has grown grotesquely, and that there are powerful groups not sharing the pain of recession – has many more sympathisers than activists. They include some surprising ones. This is from one British publication: "When the Institute of International Finance reports that banks are giving out more guaranteed bonuses to newly hired employees than they were before the crisis, it is no wonder that people occupy the public space in protest." Sentiments found not on the pages of some leftist blog, but in the Financial Times.

Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University, said: "Usually in a recession, the gap between rich and poor narrows. You saw this during the Thirties crash and slightly in the Eighties and Nineties. Now the gap is rising. I can't find a precedent for this situation."

Additional reporting: Lucy Fisher and Ashley Hamer

Those not-so-turbulent priests

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been criticised for making no public statement about the St Paul's protests. But now that he is reported to be thinking of standing down, are any of the candidates to replace him likely to come off the fence and disagree with the Government? We asked them for their views, and give the odds on them taking the top job.

"He isn't available to comment."

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York; 6/4

"If the protesters will disband peacefully, I will... organise a... debate on the real issues here under the Dome."

Richard Chartres, Bishop of London; 7/4

"He will possibly call you back."

Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry; 4/1

"He is away."

Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford; 11/2

"The Bishop is unable to comment as he is in Kenya."

Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford; 10/1

"He doesn't want to comment."

Peter Bryan Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells; 20/1