In Prime Ministers Question time this week, Theresa May indulged in a rather clever piece of deception which effectively told us that in their view those on benefits are very much second class citizens if barely citizens at all. Here’s what she said, I’ll break it down afterwards.
“What is important is that we value work, we value getting people into work where they are able to work, but we want a system that is fair, and it is a system that is fair both to those who need the benefits, but also fair to those who pay for the benefits through their taxes. There are many families struggling to make ends meet who are paying for the benefits of others. I want a system that is fair to them as well.” – Theresa May.
She preceded that with the following, “And crucially, the point about Universal Credit is making sure that work always pays. As people earn more they, err, as people work more, they earn more.”
The first thing to understand here is that those who are in work and struggling to make ends meet are unlikely to be paying income tax. The income tax threshold is £11,000, anyone earning under 11 grand is not paying income tax, but along with their sisters and brothers on benefits, they are subject to all the other forms of taxation, like fuel duty and VAT, that everyone pays regardless of whether they are in work or not. A report by the Equality Trust in 2014 found that the poorest 10% pay 42.92% of their gross income in taxes as against the top 10% which pays 35.43%.
Here, however, is where we fall foul of the scrounger rhetoric so beloved of this government. What they appeal to is the feeble minded idea that benefits are not a legitimate income which the vast majority will contribute to over a life time. What the Tories do is freeze frame on benefits recipients as if they have never, do not now and will never, contribute into the tax system. We all contribute to the tax pot and the poorest most of all because all the income of poor people is dispersed back into the economy and not into saving accounts and off shore tax avoidance/evasion facilities. All the income of poor people is money that is working in and for the economy.
Poverty has increased dramatically under the Tories, the Office for National Statistics found, ‘Almost a third of the UK population fell below the official poverty line at some point between 2010 and 2013’. That is around 19.3 million people, imagine the effect that has on tax receipts. Small wonder that George Osborne couldn’t balance the books. The imposition of austerity effectively strangled the tax receipts from those whose rely on their entire income to survive, much of which feeds straight back into the tax system. Alleviating poverty feeds the tax pot. If companies were forced to pay an actual living wage, not only would that end the practice of subsidising businesses through in work benefits, 42.92% of those wages would go directly into the tax pot. Working tax credits cost around £30 billion in 2015. That’s one hell of a corporate subsidy. Imagine saving that and the extra that would be generated by a real, and generous, living wage.
Please note that Theresa May corrected herself from saying, ‘as people earn more’ to saying, ‘as people work more, they earn more’. Of course they should earn more if they work more, duh, but poverty wages are poverty wages and it is wages that need to increase, not hours, but May isn’t interested in increasing wages, she’d rather give charity to businesses which, I remind you, cost tax payers £30 billion in working tax credits in 2015.
May said that we value work, she said nothing about valuing income from work. She uses ‘fairness’ in just the same way Cameron did, divisively.
The way out of poverty is to pay more, a fair days pay for a fair days work and a benefit system commensurate with survival, which Universal Credit is not. They could not play the scrounger rhetoric if we lived in a more equal society, it is only because of extreme inequality that they can create such divisiveness amongst poor people and, of course, fuel hatred against ‘immigrants’. The struggling working family is the same as a family struggling to survive on benefits, they are both victims of the Tories driving poverty catastrophically upwards as a matter of policy.
What May wants, as has been the case since 2010 (in fact, decades), is low wages and even lower benefits. Poverty is very good for business and victim blaming, hating the ‘other’, is very good for keeping the masses distracted from demanding social justice. Distracting 19.3 million people from demanding social justice and keeping them in poverty takes a very good PR team and a complicit media and May’s performance in PMQ’s this week was nothing more than a lousy PR stunt. Her fairness is fairness most foul. What she wants is people in insecure work on poverty pay, what people want is decent money to live on.
No one, other than a complete arsehole, resents paying into a benefit system that pays well if everyone is getting decent pay on which they can actually live comfortably. Inequality fuels discontent and poverty is dismal whether in or out of work and more people in the UK are in poverty who are working than not. What is the government doing about that? Worse than nothing, they are driving people downwards and increasing poverty to catastrophic levels, driving people into despair and suicide. You won’t hear work and pensions secretary Damian Green calling that “monstrously unfair” as he called Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ which highlights the injustices in the benefit system which Green is in charge of, though he didn’t bother to actually see the film.
Wealth inequality is evil and poverty is a monstrous and unnecessary evil. Poverty serves no one, no, not even the super rich. No one wants to see homeless people on the streets; people reduced to abject beggary. We may disagree on why, for the well off it may upset their delicate sensibilities, for those who are homeless and for those who care it is heart breaking. Ending poverty and wealth inequality should be the number one priority in a rich industrial nation, instead it is pursued because it creates vast profits for the few at the expense of the many. Social justice is treated as the ravings of left wing, socialist, Trotskyite, Corbynista, dogs. The rabble, as we’ve been called. That way it can be safely ignored by those with a vested interest in promoting inequality for their own self serving ends and for those who just get off on hating others without the bother of waking a single conscious brain cell, including trolls who are paid to spread hate and issue death threats against those with a social conscience.
People fear to stick their heads above the so called parapet, but what is that parapet? Writ large in unseen writing upon it are the words, ‘Social Justice’. It means, to be brave enough to state an opinion that might upset someone, but some people deserve to be upset if they care nothing for their fellow humans and, indeed, all life.
As Florence Reece wrote in 1931, a song that reaches down the years to this day, ‘Which side are you on?’, a version of which by Billy Bragg is included in the final link below.
KOG 14 November 2016