First of all, apologies that my blog has been quiet this week. I’ve been battling a combination of a big work deadline and an episode of what I suspect was actual flu (I hate being ill, so I really don’t do ‘man-flu’!). So, I’ve been a little out of the loop and am now playing catch-up. One thing you can guarantee with this government is that it’s never going to leave its opponents with a shortage of things to be outraged about, or of ammunition to use against it.
So there’s plenty to catch up on – but the first I’m going to write about is Iain Duncan Smith’s outrageous announcement that he’s planning to cap child benefit and child tax credits at two children.
There’s a reason for this. The measure – part of the Tories’ aim of cutting yet another £10 billion from the country’s welfare bill – demonstrates very clearly the Tories’ callousness, stupidity, dishonesty and their desire to divide and rule. But those – though well worth looking at and exposing again – are already very plain to anyone who bothers to look.
What makes this latest announcement especially worthy of attention is that it doesn’t just demonstrate how the Tories hate and despise the so-called ‘lower-classes’ and especially the unemployed, because they only value people monetarily. It also demonstrates their fear. I’ll address that presently, but first we’ll look briefly at the ‘usual suspects’ – that callousness, stupidity, dishonesty and divisiveness.
IDS and his Tory mates love to present their measures as being ultimately for the good of the people they’re depriving. They’ll speak of people being ‘trapped’ in unemployment, stuck in cycles of worklessness, as if they’re just in need of a little ‘tough love’ to give them a jump-start into doing better, as if being out of work is just a lifestyle choice that needs to be made less attractive. About his latest measure, Duncan Smith said:
“It’s not about hurting. It’s about saying we have accepted far too long in this country that it is possible just to stay on benefits, that we write them off, and we work only with those who get up in the morning and go to work. And that’s simply not acceptable. It’s not acceptable because it destroys their lives… This is not just about the money. It’s also about those children growing up in workless households. Their lives are destroyed by this. They need also to learn that it’s the right thing for parents to go to work.“
If IDS is to be believed, taking benefits away from unemployed people is all about helping them – a ‘this is going to hurt me far more than it will hurt you’, tough-but-fair discipline that’s for the victim’s good in the end.
If the UK was in a full-employment situation, where everyone who wanted a job could have one, that might just hold water. But of course, we’re not even remotely close to that situation: there are more than 5 unemployed people in the UK for every available job - only 475,000 vacancies for 2.528 million unemployed, according to the latest ONS employment stats.
More than 2 million people unemployed, with no hope of getting a job however much they want one, because there just isn’t one for them. I don’t have statistics to show how many of those 2 million people have more than 2 children, but even if only 1 in 5 of them do, then that’s at least 1.2 million children (more if some of them have more that 3 children) who are in families already struggling, and whom the government is happy to push even further into poverty by paying child benefit and child tax credit only for 2 children.
Callous indeed. But then, Duncan Smith has already shown that he’s prepared to push hundreds of thousands of disabled people below the poverty threshold for the sake of a saving and an ideological aim, so it’s no surprise.
This one is easy. In its attack on pensions and its drive to force us to work until we’re 68 and even older, the government’s justification has been that Britain has an ageing population and won’t have enough younger people working to be able to cover the cost of pensions for those who have retired.
Yet the Tories are now planning a measure that will discourage people from having children – lowering the birthrate and worsening the problem of covering pension costs.
Come to think of it, this means that either this latest measure is stupid, or else the Tories were never genuine about their reasons for their retirement measures in the first place, and it was just a tactic to get one measure pushed through, and they need a different tactic for the child benefit changes, so they’re hoping we’ve forgotten the retirement ploy. Stupid or liars – take your pick. Or pick both, since the Tories are definitely…
The Tories love to say that their attacks on benefit claimants are about ‘making work pay’. But they never, ever touch on the fact that, for many people, work doesn’t pay. If you really want to make work pay, the solution is exceedingly simple: make work pay. Unemployment benefits do not offer a cushy life, in spite of how the Tories try to imply that they do. £71 a week, the basic level of unemployment benefit, is a pittance.
If the Tories were serious about making it pay more to work than to be on benefits, they would make employers pay a living wage. David Cameron even campaigned on the issue, stating that a living wage was a very desirable thing and an idea whose time had come – and then with staggering hypocrisy he ‘forgot’ all this once he was in a position to do something about it.
A living wage would make work feasible for unemployed people – and simultaneously stop taxpayers making a massive subsidy to corporate profits in the form of income support benefits to the millions of working people whose employers don’t pay them enough to live on. But to listen to the dishonest, weasel Tories, the only way to make work pay is to turn being a benefit claimant into penury. That’s because they want to…
Divide and rule
As further justification for his new measure, IDS said:
“It also destroys the lives of taxpayers who have to pick up that bill to pay for them. It’s no surprise that we are in massive debt and huge deficit because we are not paying our way. All of that is the consequence of years of simply saying it’s too difficult, these people should be left as they are and the rest will do all the work.”
“Should families expect never-ending amounts of money for every child when working households must make tough choices about what they can afford?“
Again and again, the Tories frame the benefits issue as being ‘skivers v strivers’, the lazy against those who ‘work hard and do the right thing’, ‘it’s not right that those who work…. while those who don’t…’
And yet – as already stated – child benefit and child tax credit are not unemployment benefits. They have nothing to do with whether you’re in work or not. The government’s own page on Child Tax Credit shows that you can earn up to £55,000 a year and still be eligible for a small benefit – but that the benefit is heavily (and rightly) weighted toward working but low-earning parents. Unemployed people can claim – but they only receive the same level of credit as those working and earning up to £14,999.
If the benefits aren’t only for the unemployed, why does the government insist on casting its statements as if they are? Simple: divide and rule. The government wants working people to think ‘Hey, I’m working and not getting it, so why should those lazy ******s get it?’ It doesn’t want us to realise that it’s just trying to divide people against each other so that we don’t unite against the Tories and resist. For more on this, please see this post and this one.
And now for what I promised at the top of this article…
What we say about something can often give away far more than we mean it to. In attacking the right of the unemployed and low-paid (though of course he doesn’t mention the low-paid for the reasons just outlined!), Iain Duncan Smith is revealing a classic fear of the rich, ‘ruling’ class: we are many, many more than they are.
When I wrote about the 20 October TUC march in London recently, I used a very eloquent cartoon to illustrate this very point:
In ancient Rome, plans were made to make slaves immediately identifiable by making them wear special garments. The Senate quashed the plan because it feared (I think it was Seneca who raised the point) that if the slaves knew how massively they outnumbered their owners, they would revolt and slaughter their supposed masters. In British sugar plantations, any disobedience by a slave was punished with draconian ferocity, because the owners knew that they were weak and few compared to their slaves.
So it is now. In expressing – albeit in a shaded way – his desire to curb the birthrate of the poor and disadvantaged, IDS is revealing that same fear. The Occupy movement and many others speak of ‘the 99%’, the ordinary people as opposed to the rich ‘elite’ – which, like any elite, is by definition smaller than ‘the rest’.
The Tories know that we already outnumber them by far – and they’d love to stop the growth. The desire to stop the poor from ‘breeding like rats’ is like a nervous tic – and like any nervous tic it reveals what the person twitching is desperately trying to hide.
This particular tic, if we read it properly, speaks very eloquently of something important: the Tories are more aware than most of us of just how weak they are. That’s why they need to employ these tactics – lying, dividing, obscuring – because they know that if we all wake up to what they’re doing and unite, they have no chance. If we even just wake up and all vote, they will be consigned to the electoral and political obscurity they deserve, and they’ll be powerless to prevent it. If we’ll just refuse to fall for the lies.
They’re afraid. Very afraid. And they should be.