Sunday, 28 July 2013
Iain Duncan Smith, what kind of man is he?
I’ve been shocked but not surprised by the BBC’s latest show of “we pay your benefits” carefully depicting benefit claimants and trying to push the government’s propaganda and ideology and it seems to be working as far as I can tell. Even in today’s Guardian IDS as some people have called him is claiming he is very pleased with his work on welfare and says we must do more though. “This government has embarked on one of the most aggressive programmes of welfare reform Britain has ever seen, and we already have a proud record of achievement. There is no doubt that changes to the welfare state are desperately needed. Our reforms will put an end to people being left on sickness benefits year after year; they will eradicate the trap that has left so many better off on benefits than in work; and they will ensure the benefits bill is sustainable over the longer term. Questions have been raised about whether the dramatic pace of our reforms is too difficult to implement. But these doubts ignore my department's proven track record of delivering change and show a lack of ambition from the people raising them. Look at what has already been achieved.” He may see it as a achivement in hammering the poor but I do not see it this way at this most brutal attack on the poorest in society in a generation. As Laurie Penny who I’m not always a fan of in her piece in the New Statesman today wrote “The camera may not lie but sometimes it tells truths you weren’t expecting. As the government’s flagship benefits cap is rolled out across the nation, amid protests from homelessness charities, women’s rights groups and food banks already overwhelmed by demand, the BBC is devoting hours of its prime-time schedule to pitting the underpaid against the unemployed. The spectacle of one single mother telling another in the tin-can aisle at the supermarket that she’s greedy because she wants her kids to have a hot meal says a great deal about modern Britain. It tells us whose suffering matters and whose children will never have their dinner dissected for our scorn on national television. The BBC1 programme Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits (11 and 18 July, 9pm), echoing the rhetoric of the Department for Work and Pensions, pits “taxpayers” against “shirkers” and asks how we can “make work pay”. Of these gristly little semantic nuggets of state propaganda, “making work pay” is the most noxious – a mantra that’s incanted by every jobsworth Tory in every debate, in line with the logic that if one repeats a lie for long enough it will function as truth. Taking away benefits will not “make work pay”. The reason why work doesn’t pay is not that benefits are too high. It is that wages are too low. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, with the rising cost of living, there have been 40 consecutive months of contraction in real wages in the UK. In many occupations, the basic pay is too low to cover rent, food and bills, especially in London and the south-east, where housing costs are out of control. This is why a large proportion of housing benefit is paid on behalf of those who are in work, straight into the pockets of private landlords. Then there’s “the taxpayer”, a phrase that is deliberately misused to imply that only those in waged work pay taxes. Everybody who buys a warm Cornish pasty puts pennies into the Treasury. Drawing an arbitrary distinction between “taxpayers” and “people on benefits” implies that those who rely on state support are taking money directly out of the pockets of workers, when they are being supported by a system to which we all contribute, which is there to help all of us should we find ourselves ill or unemployed. The anxiety to separate the interests of “taxpayers” from those of the unemployed falsely suggests that unemployment benefits are now the main drain on the state. Despite savage welfare cuts, state spending on unemployment remains high because unemployment remains high, for the simple reason that one cannot “incentivise” people into jobs that aren’t there. A far higher proportion of state spending goes on subsidising tax cuts for multinational corporations and arms dealers, maintaining our nuclear weapons programme and having a military presence abroad. “Taxpayers”, though, are not being invited into the homes of devastated Afghan families, taken on tours of the Trident base or shown around the mansions of offshore millionaires and asked to make judgements about how their taxes are being spent. The idea is preposterous. Poor people are supposed to make moral judgements about other poor people only. We can afford to offer Vodafone billions in tax breaks but God forbid some kids in Ipswich get a second-hand PlayStation. “