Saturday, 28 January 2012

Reality behind a cap on benefits

You can always rely on the Sun newspaper to play the role of Tory mouthpiece.

Last week, as the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government launched its latest attack on the poor, the Sun branded benefits claimants as “scroungers”, and ran stories where ‘ordinary working people’ told how their sponging, scrounging, benefits-claiming neighbours lived the high life with 52” flat-screen plasma televisions, expensive cars and foreign holidays.  Not to forget the thousands of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who apparently live in multi-million-pound Mayfair mansions, with the rent paid thanks to Housing Benefit funded by hard-working, honest-to-goodness, salt-of-the-earth ordinary taxpayers.

The Sun’s vilification of people who claim benefits was part of a campaign run by right-wing English newspapers in support of Tory-Lib Dem plans to cap annual benefit claims at £26,000.  The Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and other papers that, frankly, should know better, echoed Government claims of public support for the cap: ‘Why should benefits scroungers get more money than someone who goes out to work for the average wage,’ screamed headlines.  It was a well-worn and typical tactic of the ‘divide and rule’ strategy.  Get the ‘ordinary working people’ to believe benefits claimants were getting something they are not; get the ‘ordinary working people’ to believe their taxes are funding a lavish lifestyle for the work-shy; get the ‘ordinary working people’ to believe payments of £26,000 are going into the pockets of benefits claimants, thereby stoking a sense of grievance and turning ‘ordinary working people’ against the already marginalised poor.

Let’s bring a few facts to the debate: if a family receives annual benefits payments of £26,000, it is because that is the amount deemed necessary to meet their basic needs.  Across the entire UK, there are 67,000 households receiving this sum, more than half of whom live in London.

Prior to the election of the Thatcher Tory Government in 1979, local councils built social housing and charged affordable rents.  Thatcher introduced ‘Right to Buy’ legislation, which saw a massive reduction in affordable local authority housing, and led to councils ending their involvement in house building.  Right to Buy meant councils were forced to sell properties with significant discounts despite the fact homes had been built using Public Loans Board funding spread over 60 years, which meant houses were sold cheaply while councils were still servicing the debt used to build them.

The Thatcher Government also removed rent controls in the private sector housing market.  Inevitably, this led to substantial rent increases for private accommodation.

So, as a result of decisions taken by Tory politicians, we then had a situation where there was, and remains, substantially-reduced availability of public sector housing and soaring rents in the private sector.  While families requiring housing have to wait on Council lists, sometimes for years, they are forced to rent privately.  If the adults in such families are out of work, they qualify for Housing Benefit to meet the inflated rent charged by private landlords, and that money is, more often than not, paid directly to the landlord.  The benefit claimant never sees it, yet it is classed as income by Tory and Lib Dem Ministers – and right-wing newspapers – and included in the calculation that leads to lurid headlines about ‘scroungers’ receiving £26,000 in benefit payments.

The real ‘scroungers’ living off ‘handouts’ from public finances are the private landlords who inflate rents for often sub-standard housing.  Of course, the Tories have other names for the landlords: they call them businessmen, entrepreneurs and Tory supporters.

It is also the case that Tory-Lib Dem Ministers, and right-wing newspapers, are not comparing like-for-like when they shriek outrage at £26,000 benefit payments.  That level of benefit would only be paid to a family, while any working couple with children, jointly earning £35,000 – taking home £26,000 after tax – would also qualify for state-funded assistance, such as Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit and possibly Working Tax Credit.  They would qualify for benefits because wages in this country are so low.  The reality is that the state – that’s the ‘ordinary working people’ – end up subsidising private sector employers who pay poverty wages, such as the big four supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s – who all post multi-million-pound profits.

What is happening with the Tory-Lib Dem proposal to cap benefits – a plan ‘not opposed’ by the Labour Party – is nothing more than an attack on the poorest members of our society.  This is what Tories always do.  It is designed to reduce public spending in order to redirect funds to cover the costs of bailing-out failed private banks, and to refloat the corrupt capitalist system.

If anyone thinks it is fair to place a cap on benefits, irrespective of a person’s identified need, consider how this might work if applied to other areas funded from the public purse.  What if a cap was applied to a person’s access to the health service?  Look at all those ‘health scroungers’ who receive dozens, maybe even hundreds of appointments for ailments.  Then there are those who use public resources having operations to cure illness and disease.  What about the ‘ordinary working people’ who fund the health service and have to watch as their benefit-claiming sick neighbours avail themselves of medical care?  Bloody scroungers!

The Tories and Liberal Democrats, supported by Labour, are attacking the most vulnerable people in society.  They are attempting to divide and rule the working class by using misinformation and lies to engender a culture of grievance and envy.  We must not let them.

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