Friday, 11 January 2013

The unemployed are not our enemy



Last week’s one-percent ‘uplift’ in benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance and Working Tax Credit was actually a real-terms cut in the income of the poorest people in society.

With inflation running at twice the rate of the ‘uplift’ – and with food and fuel inflation even higher than the overall figure – the poorest will be made even poorer. Against that reality, the UK Government has slashed the level at which the richest in the country are taxed – someone on a salary of £1m will be an average of £107,000 better-off.

In attempting to defend their most recent attack on the poor, Tories (and their Liberal Democrat lapdogs) have reverted to the ‘divide and rule’ tactic used in the 1980s by their ideological mentor Margaret Thatcher. Once again Government Ministers talk of ‘strivers’ against ‘shirkers’ or ‘scroungers’. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne sought to generate a split in the working class by telling those with a job that their unemployed neighbours were lying in bed all day, behind closed curtains. During the House of Commons debate on benefits levels last week, one Tory MP disparagingly referred to those who expected to live on ‘handouts’ provided by others, which is a wilful misrepresentation of the safety-net provided by social welfare.

The mainstream media, mostly owned by multi-millionaires, has been quick to take-up the government line. News reports on television have shown working class people saying it is perfectly right that those who don’t work should not get a rise in their income. One man – a Scot interviewed by the BBC in Luton – went as far as saying benefits for the unemployed should be scrapped, which he appeared to think was just the incentive the apparently work-shy needed to get them off their backsides and into employment. Interestingly, the same media outlets failed to report the findings of a YouGov poll, published ahead of the Commons vote on benefits, which showed that those who know least about the welfare system are also the most hostile towards claimants.

I don’t know anyone who would choose a life on benefits over the dignity that comes through having a job, earning a living and being able to look after your family. Obviously a person’s individual circumstances determine their level of benefits so, as an example, let’s look at the most easily-defined category: a single adult on Jobseekers Allowance currently receives £71.00 per week – just over £10.00 per day.

Of course, that single person will receive other welfare support – Housing and Council Tax benefits – but the sums involved pass straight to landlords and local authorities. The unemployed do not receive assistance in meeting charges for water, electricity and gas, all of which have to be paid from the £10.00 per day Jobseekers Allowance. Out of that £10.00 per day our out-of-work friend also has to pay for things like clothes, shoes and travel (including attending the Jobcentre to sign-on). If a washing machine or vacuum cleaner breaks-down, replacing them is way beyond the means of someone on £10.00 per day, unless they are prepared to get themselves into high-interest debt.

Tories, Liberal Democrats and ill-informed members of the public will say, “Ah but, what about the unemployed who have plasma televisions and can afford fags and booze?” For plasma televisions read high-interest debt, and if they are spending money on the ‘luxuries’ of cigarettes and alcohol, they are going without essentials such as food and heating.

You don’t have a life when your income derives from state benefits, you merely exist. You exist between benefit payments, then you buy food and pay bills.

The unemployed did not create their unemployment: benefit recipients are not skivers or scroungers, they are people who desperately want to work, who desperately want a life again, people who desperately want to be ‘normal’ members of society.

In North Ayrshire we have the highest unemployment and some of the worst deprivation in Scotland. We also have thousands of people sitting for years on housing waiting lists. To build houses requires brickies, joiners, electricians, plasterers and labourers. Embarking on a large-scale programme of social house-building would reduce both unemployment and waiting times for a house. Paying workers the living wage of £7.20 an hour would also reduce the amount paid in benefits – currently low wages paid by private employers are subsidised by the state through Working Tax Credits – and would increase the level of taxation paid to the Treasury.

Ending the flawed dependency on global capitalism would result in goods once again being manufactured in places like Scotland – particularly when we structure our economy to produce what the people need, as opposed to what makes the most profit for company bosses and share-holders.

We don’t have to condemn so many of our fellow citizens to a life of poverty on state benefits but so long as we stick with the failed capitalist economic system, that is exactly what is going to happen.

It’s worth remembering we are in the worst recession since the 1930s because of the actions taken by spivs and speculators in private banks and financial institutions. Capitalism caused this crisis. The Labour Government, followed by the current Tory-Lib Dem coalition, has used £1.2trillion of public money (and borrowings) to bail-out the failed, privately-owned, capitalist banks. Contrary to another line spun by politicians, we did not spend more than we could afford and now we have to pay it back. What ‘we’ did was save private companies, and now we are refinancing the corrupt capitalist system.

However, the biggest lie told by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne (and by Labour politicians in the administration led by Gordon Brown) is that we are all in this together.

While the spivs and speculators have received trillions-of-pounds in bail-outs, while the richest people in the country have seen their tax levels reduced and while the wealthiest 1,000 individuals in Britain have a combined fortune of £414billion, the rest of us now have the lowest disposable household income since 1921. Meanwhile, the ‘official’ unemployment figure – that’s the one fiddled by the government to give an artificially low number – is nearing three-million.

The unemployed are not our enemy, they are our brothers and sisters. We should not be fooled by the Tories’ ‘divide and rule’ tactic. It’s time we fought back against those who created the situation that is impoverishing millions of working class men, women and children.

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