Monday, 28 January 2013

Redistributing wealth the Tory way!

It's said that politically, government's can get away with murder in England. There may be many reasons for this -  the English education system or even something they put in the water. But it may also be due to the fact that the English are by and large, a politically passive nation of people who dislike politics and  also distrust politicians. In comparison, French and Spanish workers are far more militant and politically aware.  The English also seem to suffer from a kind of atrophy of the will, which leads to a feeling of powerlessness and alienation that makes many believe, that they are powerless to influence events or unable to stop them. More astute observers of English society than me, have pointed to other reasons. When he was once asked what the population of England was, the Scottish historian, Thomas Carlyle, replied: "Thirty millions, mostly fools." The eminent English writer, William Makepeace Thackeray, also thought that the English were essentially stupid people.

When one considers what the present government are getting away with, it does make you think that both these writers have a point. While Britain's MPs get gold plated pensions, twenty weeks paid vacation a year and unlimited paid sick days, the rest of us, are told we will have to work longer and for less. If this isn't taking the piss, than I don't know what is.

The government welfare bill which was passed by the House of  Commons earlier this month, will limit rises in working-age benefits to 1% for the next 3 years in order to save £3.1 bn by 2016. More than 60% of those who will be hit by the benefit and tax credit cap, are people who are in work. Indeed, 93% of new housing benefit claims are from people who are in work but who cannot afford to pay their rent because their pay is so low.  The Cameron government say that they cannot afford the high cost of welfare but have nevertheless, given a £3bn-a-year tax cut to some of the highest income earners in this country. Just 8,000 millionaires, are now due to receive an average tax cut of over £107,000.

As the government cuts taxes for the rich, it increases taxes on the poor and those in work, and cuts state benefits and public services. It's not the rich or the bankers who are paying for the financial crisis but people on state benefits and those working within the public sector who have lost their jobs as public services have been cut and closed. Though some people do  protest about the injustice of all this, you've got to hand it to the Conservatives, they certainly know how to look after their own - the wealthy and privileged.  But what would you expect from a government of multi-millionaires and a party who according to the economist and philosopher F.V. Hayek, are the "defenders of established privilege."

While British attitude surveys have shown a  marked decline in support for redistribution since the mid-1980s, the Cameron government are certainly in favour of redistribution for their aristocratic friends and wealthy chums. Many public bodies are now packed with capitalist cronies who make substantial donations to the Conservative Party and many MP's of all parties, now hold lucrative positions on their boards. The management consultants KPMG and McKinsey have been awarded lucrative contracts from NHS reforms and did draft many of the proposals in the government Health and Social Care Bill. Since being appointed Chancellor, George Osborne has signed off over 61 PFI deals that ultimately will cost the British taxpayer around £35bn.

Another nice little earner for wealthy landowners and Conservative supporters is the payments they receive from the E.U. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), under the 'single payments scheme'(SPS). The SPS is an award for owning land and the more you own, the more you receive. Although the Cameron government have lobbied unsuccessfully for a substantial cut in the CAP budget - which swallows 43% of the EU budget -  they have demanded that the E.U. drop a proposal to limit the amount that a landowner can receive.

Many British people will be under the impression that the main beneficiaries of this scheme, are French rustic farmers with smallholdings. But this is not the case. According to a government database, the entire budget is shared between 16,000 people or businesses and this includes some of the richest landowners in the country such as Cameron's father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield. In 2010, the former Chairman of Northern Rock, Matt Ridley, received £205,000 from the taxpayer for owning the Blagdon estate. The Duke of Westminster, received £820,000. Every household in the UK is paying an average of £245 to some of the richest men and women in this country and the government is now trying to get the EU to restore 'headage payments', which were phased out in 2003. These are payments which a farmer receives for the number of animals in his fields. The Cameron government have justified these claims on the grounds that it would help to protect the environment and encourage the 'consolidation' of landownings. Yet 69% of the land in the UK is owned by just 0.6% of the population which means Britain has one of the highest concentrations of land ownership on earth.

Today, due to the policies adopted by both Labour and Conservative governments over the last 30 years, Britain is less equal in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time since the 1920s and British children's achievements is more closely linked to parental status than in most developed countries. For many people in  this country, capitalism has failed to deliver jobs and decent wages and welfare has been the prop that has been used to augment poverty pay.

Last month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), disclosed that the top 10% of households were now 850 times wealthier than the bottom 10% of people in the UK. According to the figures, the richest 10% of households in this country, own 44% of the national assets. The report also disclosed that half of UK households have just £400 in net cash at hand, compared with the £123,200 in cash balances held by the top 10% of households.

At a time when the richest people in this country are getting richer, we are seeing falling wages, increased unemployment and debt and a rise in food banks, which are helping to feed people in need, including families with adults in work, and increases in child poverty. In Manchester, 42% of the city's under 18s are according to the Manchester Evening News (MEN) living in poverty.

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