Monday, 14 September 2015


I've lost count of how many TV programmes are currently showing fly-on-the wall reality shows like Benefit Street, Benefits by the Sea, Dogs on Benefits, Benefits 19 Kids and Counting, Benefits too fat to Work, Sick note skivers Exposed, to name but a few. This kind of mindless crap has become the 21st century equivalent of the Victorian freak show.

Needless to say, this kind of propaganda pumped out endlessly by TV stations and newspapers, dovetails nicely with the Tory government's ideologically driven austerity policies aimed at ending the welfare state as we know it. However, one unintended consequence, has been the way in which it has focused attention on middle-class scroungers and their far more lucrative rackets.

A recent report based on research carried out by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has shown that Peers in the House of Lords, who have never spoken once in the Lords in the past year, claimed almost £1.3m in expenses and allowances. Peers are entitled to claim a tax-free daily allowance of £300 even if they fail to speak, vote, submit written questions or answers, or attend committees. Last month, David Cameron announced another 45 new peers. Among these are a city banker who has donated millions to the Tory party and a C.E.O. of a company that was criticised for failing to pay the minimum wage. Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the ERS, described the findings as a national scandal and has called for reform of the Lords.

Journalists, such as George Monbiot, and Simon Jenkins, have written at length about what has been termed 'Wealthfare', the practice of giving state hand-outs to corporations and mega-rich individuals. In the financial year 2011-12, over £14bn in subsidies and grants was paid directly to businesses. In 2013, Amazon paid less in corporation tax to the UK than it received in government grants.

In July 2013, Cameron's  government imposed a £26,000 cap on the total benefits a household could receive. The recent welfare bill reduced this cap from £26,000 to £23,000 for people living in London and £20,000 for people living elsewhere. The bill also ended housing benefit for unemployed 18-to-21 year olds and limits child tax credits to two children. It also abolished child poverty targets.

Only 48 out of 232 Labour MPs voted against the bill. The rest including Tameside's three MPs, voted to abstain so the government could introduce its bill. Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, said that she was desperate to show that Labour had listended to the voters who said the party was soft on benefits.

In the same month that Cameron's government was imposing a cap on benefits (July 2013), Cameron was fighting tooth and nail to prevent the European Commission in Brussels from imposing a £260,000 cap that wealthy landowners and farmers, could receive in subsidies from the taxpayer. The former chairman of Northern Rock, Matt Ridley, a devout free marketeer, received £205,000 from the taxpayer in 2010 for owning the Blagdan estate. The cap is now discretionary and the government have decided not to apply the cap which gives 174 of the biggest landowners in England, £120m between them. 

Cameron, personally intervened to keep the cost of a gun license at £50 even though the police said it cost them £196 to carry out the background check. In April 2014, the government announced that it would be raising the taxpayer subsidy given to grouse moor owners from £30 per hectare to £56. Only 1% of the population own grouse moors. Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, was the only one of 27 EU finance ministers, to oppose a proposal to cap bankers' bonuses. He later backed down after a senior legal advisor at the European Court of Justice, rejected his arguments.

 As the Guardian journalist George Monbiot has pointed out, the deeply regressive system of council tax in England, ensures that the Ukrainian oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, who bought 'One Hyde Park' for £136m, pays less in tax for that property than do the owners of a £200,000 house in Blackburn.

Fellow Guardian journalist, Simon Jenkins, has argued that with such things as wind-farm subsidies (David Cameron's father in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, admitted that he had earned as much as £250,000 for eight wind turbines on his estate), agricultural subsidies, house-buying subsidies, art subsidies, subsidised school fees for government employees and relocation allowances, and quangos, we're all on the take and living on benefits street. The only difference in his view, is that some people are smarter at concealing it.

While the government through its Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), say that they are making work pay, some 40% of people working in Jobcentre's, qualify for the state benefit 'Universal Credit', because they are so low paid. Indeed, only one-in-eight people now on housing benefit, are unemployed. Although the Chancellor announced in his July budget that minimum pay rates for workers aged over 25, would rise to £9 by 2020, increasingly, more people in work, are relying on state benefits because of the low-wages they are receiving.

In his monumental book,  'Capital in the Twenty-First Century', French economist, Thomas Piketty, points out that the resurgence of inequality after 1980 is due largely to political shifts in regard to taxation and finance and the transfer of public wealth (national assets) into private hands. Picketty believes that the moderate rise in inequality we are seeing today, due to Neoliberalism, is set to gather pace in the 21st century, taking us back to Victorian levels by 2050. His prediction is based on the rationale, that if growth is low and the bargaining power of labour is  low, then it is more logical to sit on assets and speculate, rather than accumulate wealth by work, invention or entrepreneurial risk. 

Although the British public are led to believe that Benefit-Street-type scroungers take the lion's share of social security spending, only 3% of the social security bill is spent on the unemployed. Half of all social security spending goes to pensioners. 

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