...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 4043: Yes to Help for Low Earners, But We NEED to Help the No-Earners Too!


Today, Cap'n Clegg will be calling on Master Gideon to ACCELERATE the increases in personal allowance, giving lower and medium earners more of their money back SOONER (paid for by taking MORE tax from the better off).

This is a GOOD idea. It's giving money back to the people who are most likely to spend it, and more spending will help with the woes of a shrinking economy and falling high street sales.

But cutting taxes for people IN work DOESN'T help the growing numbers of people OUT of work. People we seem to be ATTACKING rather than HELPING.

Like many of my Liberal Democrat friends, I got an e-mail this morning from Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable, was by way of a TRAILER for Cap'n Clegg's speech, telling me he is PROUD of the Coalition's commitment to increasing the tax allowance to £10,000.

I WISH I could take PRIDE in this Coalition, but I'm afraid the best I can manage is a sort of NUMBING of the GNAWING HORROR that we are barely taking the edge off the Conservatories' aggressive right-wing agenda.

This sort of thing can't convince me we're doing the RIGHT thing; merely that we're trying to do the LEAST WRONG thing.

(Well that and that the ONLY thing WORSE would have been propping up the AUTHORITARIAN LUNACY of a discredited and economically illiterate HARD LABOUR Party!)

So while you are considering Mr Vince's e-mail, can I also direct your attention to THESE THOUGHTS written by our friend Mr Simon.

Now, I confess that my first reaction was DEFENSIVE – a LOT of my first reactions are defensive these days; I wonder if I'm developing STOCKHOLM SYNDROME – responding to a story about bullying Job Centre staff with the thought "well, would that REALLY have been any different under the LAST government?" In fact, I'm sure we can all get out the DVDs that show that this sort of thing has been in currency since the last Conservatory recession. In fact, probably since the one BEFORE THAT!

And with the increasingly CONTROVERSIAL Welfare Bill still actually in Parliament (and hence all over the news), surely we can't be blamed for how the Law stands just YET – this is still HARD LABOUR's law of demanding people get back to work because of Mr Frown's PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC, not the Conservatory law of, er, demanding people get back to work because of Mr Iain Drunken-Swerve's VICTORIAN VALUES.

But read on!

Because what Mr Simon has to say about MESSAGE and TONE is frightening and true. The messages that are spilling from the Conservatory part of the Coalition – aided and abetted by the frothing venom of the newspapers – are all about VICTIM BLAMING and a VILIFICATION of the NOT WELL OFF.

And so long as we continue to use the words "hard working families" we're SUPPORTING this TOO and that is WRONG with a capital WRONG.

It does not MATTER that Cap'n Clegg assures us that he means "hard-working" in a BROADER sense; it's still using the word WORKING. It implicitly says "and not working equals BAD".

There are two things to say to this:

FIRST: people who are out of work and looking for work – especially when there is NO WORK – do NOT need the extra grief of getting it in the neck all the time.

SECOND: people who are out of work and not looking for work – good luck to 'em. It is NOT the business of government to MAKE people live their lives any particular way and it is COMPLETELY HYPOCRITICAL of the Conservatories to laud as "bold entrepreneurs" the wunch of bankers who get government support while decrying as "scroungers" the bunch of people getting government support because they're not employed any more.

If you WANT help to get back to work then the government should give it, but if you DON'T and if you can live on sixty-seven squids a week then frankly you deserve a NOBEL PRIZE FOR ECONOMICS and not more rude words from people who couldn't get elected against the worst Labour government in History!

(And since I've been saying for AGES that I would support a flat Citizen's Income if only I could make the maths add up – the problem remains the disproportional effect of Housing Benefit in a housing market that is still massively over-inflated, which is why that's proving such a botherer in the current debate about a "cap" on benefits – and I would be the hypocrite to say anything else now.)

There is very little fraud in the Benefits system, and I bet that any there is is more than cancelled out by people doing THEMSELVES out of Benefits because the whole business is too darn complicated.

And because of that, the PLAN was a GOOD plan to SIMPLIFY the benefits into one, and to change the way benefits are taken away as you get into paid work, the so-called "taper", so that working does always pay.

But at a time of massive fiscal contraction that was always going to be difficult to do FAIRLY (and I THOUGHT Mr Drunken-Swerve had got extra money from the Treasury to make the transition more PAINLESS) and doing it at the same time as trying to cut projected benefit payments is WILDLY DODGY!

(Even though that's a not-increasing-the-total-payments-by-20%-like -wot-Labour-said-they-were-planning sort of "cut" i.e. a not cutting but not increasing either sort of cut – or a letting INFLATION inflict the PAIN for you sort of cut, if you prefer.)

But we DID win the fight to make Chancer Osborne increase benefits – not just pensions, but ALL the main benefits – in line with the 5.2% Inflation in September this year when he wanted to use a lower number. Which on the one fluffy foot is a GOOD THING because it's hard enough to live on benefits as it is; but on the other fluffy foot focuses the problem on cutting NUMBERS, because you can only cut the OVERALL Benefit bill by cutting the AMOUNT that people get OR the NUMBERS of people getting it.

Which gets us to the aggressive approach to job centre staffing.

The government spends something like three quarters of a TRILLION pounds and about a THIRD of it goes on the NHS and about another third goes on the benefit bill. If you've sworn not to cut the money to the NHS, then there really is NOWHERE ELSE to cut than the benefit bill. And THEN most of the benefits are actually PENSIONS. You can't cut THEM either – even if it weren't political suicide to piss off the "grey vote", EVERYONE hopes they're going to end up a pensioner one day. The great UNSAYABLE of British politics is to suggest a freeze in pensions or freeze of the NHS, 'cos that's where all the money REALLY goes.

But if you CAN'T freeze those, well, you can see how more and more of the cuts get focused on the segment called "in work benefits" which our Conservatory (AND Hard Labour!) masters appear to think should be called "ought to be in work" benefits.

Quite simply, there is NO WAY to make this add to fair treatment.

At the moment there is BIG BLAME BATTLE going on.

Hard Labour, for obviously self-serving reasons, have been pushing HARD – and with some success – the idea that it was gambling by bankers that trashed the economy.

(Though, of course, that's only HALF the story: what the bankers were gambling ON was that millions and millions of ordinary people would carry on borrowing to fund lifestyles in excess of what they were earning, egged on by a government that was borrowing to fund a lifestyle in excess of what the whole economy was earning.)

In return, the Conservatories (and us!) have with even greater success pinned a lot of the blame for the CRASH on Hard Labour. But the blame for the ONGOING pain... that's more difficult to explain.

(Particularly since a LOT of people are feeling the "double whammy" of the economy grinding to a halt at a time when they have huge debts. The answer "well that's your fault" not being very conducive to re-election.)

Inevitably, we turn to the very human way of excusing ourselves for the pain that we are causing. By BLAMING the very people on whom the burden falls heaviest.

And then BOTH sides take a pop at the IMMIGRANTS!

It's got to STOP.

We should make the benefit system simpler, that's a given.

We should make it more generous too, but we can't get the money.

(Sure, we could talk about mansion taxes and no corporation tax cut, but we won't get them past the Conservatories and we can't cut MORE from anywhere else! And borrowing is RIGHT OUT!)

So let's talk about what we CAN do which is change the LANGUAGE.

'Cos no one is a "scrounger". They are all future entrepreneurs. Or future artists. Or future teachers.

Mr Balloon needs reminding that his BIG SOCIETY depends on people who AREN'T GETTING PAID: volunteers, or carers. Or at the root of it, your basic parents.

So as Liberal Democrats let's make it a CAMPAIGN to talk POSITIVELY about the people who aren't working because they haven't got work or aren't able to work. We can start with thinking of better words than "unemployed" or "job seekers". I've come up with the phrase "free sector" (as opposed to the "waged sector"), but you might think of something better.

And perhaps "families doing their best" instead of the wretched "hard-working families".

Yes, it might sound like political correctness, but if political correctness didn't work, we'd still be using the N word and Conservatories wouldn't talk about "death taxes".

In summary: let people get on with rebuilding their lives and they might start to rebuild the economy.

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Malcolm Todd said...

Brilliant. Best post I've seen here (and yes, I do mean that as a compliment!). I may find myself obliged to quote you...

Unknown said...

There is very little fraud in the Benefits system, and I bet that any there is is more than cancelled out by people doing THEMSELVES out of Benefits because the whole business is too darn complicated.

This. I've been transitionally unemployed on three occasions: 2003 for two months over the Summer between finishing my PGCE and starting work as a teacher; 2004 for a month after being a teacher turned out to be a disastrous idea (forget the unruly kids, forget the pushy parents, forget government interference, my real problem was other teachers); 2009 for four months when, to be honest, I thought that selling ads seemed too much like hard work in the middle of a recession. On every occasion, I took one look at the hoops I'd have to jump through to claim less than £70 a week and thought: screw that, I can make more doing online surveys.

Jen said...

I like the idea of growing a term like "free sector". Or some similar turn of phrase.

It's what I mostly think of as "voluntary sector" but frustratingly that seems to blur into being about voluntary sector projects with sometimes quite extensive staffing (for example the LGBT voluntary sector where a lot of it isn't being hit by The Cuts cos it never had any money in the first place!)