Friday, May 17, 2013

Britain's New Tory Welfare Policy Blames The Poor

Poverty & Entitlements

Even today we don’t pay serious attention to the issue of poverty, because the powerful remain relatively untouched by it. Most people distance themselves from the issue by saying that if the poor worked harder, they wouldn't be poor.” 
Muhammad Yunus
Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending
and the Battle Against World Poverty

An article, by Ross McKibben, in The London Review of Books says that the Conservative government’s new welfare policy to help the poor will have essentially the opposite effect; Prime Minister Cameron’s policy is actually a cynical ploy to get more Tory voters than it is to actually help the poor. Cameron, in effect, is following similar policies of the most radical of British leaders, Margaret Thatcher.

McKibben writes:
What really drives this legislation is ideology and electoral calculation. Many Tories simply hate the welfare state and its beneficiaries, and as the party becomes increasingly right-wing so the determination to do away with the state system, or diminish it as much as can safely be done, becomes stronger. Over the last five years the Tories have succeeded, quite illegitimately, in presenting a crisis of the banks as a crisis of the state generally and the welfare state in particular. The new legislation has also to be seen in the context of the cuts to benefits already introduced by the coalition and the wholesale onslaught on the remaining public functions of the state. Many of its functions, of course, have already been privatised, with punitive consequences. Whether the disabled can work or not is, for instance, largely determined by a French firm famous for demonstrating that the halt and lame can, despite appearances, walk.
Underpinning the hostility to the welfare state is a relentless ideological stereotyping in which the Tory tabloids have played their usual role. Take the way the Daily Mail (and George Osborne) treated the deaths of the six Philpott children, insinuating that what happened was in some way the fault of the welfare state, that under a less generous system, one which forced people to work rather than allowed them to idle away their time, the deaths would have been avoided. (The reports tend to play down the fact that the women in Philpott’s life always worked, even if he didn’t, and that a substantial portion of the family’s income came from tax credits. The new cap on the total benefits that can be claimed by a single household will, however, make a big difference to the income of families like Philpott’s.)
The government and the tabloids have also done their best to drag immigrants into the row, depicting them as dole scroungers par excellence. That this is far from the truth is something you will not learn from the prime minister or the home secretary or the chancellor of the exchequer or the editor of the Sun or, probably, the leader of the opposition. That there are welfare scroungers and layabouts is true enough: there are layabouts and scroungers in any institution – see the MPs’ expenses scandal. What is not true is that scrounging is characteristic of welfare systems or that the unemployed lead the life of Riley.
As important as ideology is the electoral interest of the Conservative Party, though the two are intimately related, and here Cameron and Osborne are indeed Thatcher’s children. Osborne, the most political of ministers, seems to be the driving force here. He wishes to serve the interests of the rich, but has a very narrow conception of what those interests might be, which is why there is no Plan B. Osborne’s substitute for Plan B was to reduce the top rate of tax from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. Since Plan A is not very popular, and Osborne hasn’t put forward any alternative to it, policy has increasingly become a matter of trying to make potentially unpopular measures – like almost everything in last year’s budget – acceptable to the electorate. Here the changes to welfare legislation are indispensable.
Their function is to mobilise those perceived to be hardworking and striving—that is, most people—against the scroungers and skivers who spend the whole day in bed: to turn the not very well off but not really poor against the really poor, whose creature is, of course, the Labour Party. One casualty of this strategy is social housing. The lack of affordable housing is absolutely fundamental to Britain’s social and economic problems; and New Labour did no more to solve it than the Conservatives. Far from making housing available to those on low incomes, both parties have connived at a policy that rations housing and creates a private market in scarce houses at ever rising prices. In this year’s budget Osborne did his feeble best to ginger up this market. But for those who can’t get a foot on the ladder, or rent one of the ever decreasing number of council houses, the new welfare legislation means either bed and breakfast accommodation or homelessness. And the coalition seems determined to convince the rest of us that their homelessness is the fault of the homeless.
This is an excellent point that needs to be more well-known and better understood, notably by the shrinking middle-class. The radical right, along with their corporate masters, cannot readily accept that they are laying blame on the poor and down-trodden for the policies they themselves have created—including both increasing unemployment and low-paying jobs— and by allowing bankers to act recklessly and callously in how they operate.

That the “financial wizards” as a group are responsible for precipitating the 2008 economic meltdown that still plagues the world economy is undeniable, and yet the bankers have not faced any legal or judicial penalties for their selfish and thoughtless actions. Their malfeasance continues unabated much like swine at the trough they just can’t help, it seem, acting the way they do.

Blaming the poor and the unemployed is morally wrong, when the blame ought to go elsewhere—to the top of the pointed economic and political pyramid. Why should the sins of the wealthy be put on the backs of the poor? Britain’s new welfare state will solve nothing, since it is intentionally complicated to deny entitlements, while pretending to help; it won’t even add to the number of individuals who will vote Tory. Despite the claims and views of the Conservatives, who consider themselves arrogantly intelligent, they know very little to nothing about the Great Unwashed, which are increasing in numbers thanks to the policies of Margaret’s children.


You can read the rest of the article at [London Review]

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