On Tuesday the coalition voted to install a below-inflation cap of 1% on benefits rises. 30% of UK households are now set to experience a real-time contraction in income. This comes alongside news that 13 million people are currently living below the poverty line.
The government has accepted that poor households are likely to be the hardest hit by this legislation. Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Sick Pay, Maternity Pay, Paternity Pay, Adoption Pay, maternity allowance and some housing benefits will all be capped. At the same time people earning over £1 million a year are set to receive a £107,000 tax cut. The coalition’s priorities, privileging the rich and victimising the poor, are the reverse of what they should be.
The coalition has attempted to justify its actions as a ‘shirkers and strivers’ tax, a move to encourage benefits claimants into work by bringing the increase in benefits payment in line with the lower rate of increase in individual income. It is absurd that the coalition is attempting to tackle unemployment by reducing unemployment support, rather than increasing work programmes and fostering employment in a jobless landscape. This is, partly, a distraction, as the government realises itself to be incapable of formulating adequate solutions. Indeed, its logic is undermined by the fact that most benefit recipients are also in some form of employment. The coalition is operating a vicious economic policy and is crafting the language of ‘divide and rule’ to try and get away with it.
The government’s economic dogma ultimately boils down to a belief that, if you leave the rich alone, they will create wealth for the rest of us. This means that the full weight of cutting public spending – if you believe that it’s a good idea to take a hatchet to the national infrastructure right now – must rest on the shoulders of the poor. The poor are the people who put far less into the economy, supposedly, and poor people can hardly move their headquarters to Switzerland. In the eyes of the coalition, poor people are worth nothing. They are unlikely to vote for the Conservatives or Lib Dems and they are, essentially, the most eligible candidates for bearing the brunt of their draconian economic policy. But the poor can’t take it.
The use of food banks has sky-rocketed, increasing six-fold, with 3 new centres opening every week. 61% of London teachers recently admitted to feeding hungry students from their own pockets. 13 million people live below the poverty line. 32 people are dying each week after being pushed off disabled benefit, as I mentioned in my last blog. These statistics attest a political logic that takes no account of human suffering, deprivation and starvation. In the 21st century easing poverty, whatever the economic climate, should be the government’s central ambition. The economic model that justifies its existence, so as to avoid greater poverty by privileging the rich, is deeply flawed. Child poverty alone costs the UK economy £106 billion in reduced productivity. Poverty isn’t cheap.
The coalition’s economic logic falls apart when it is made known that the wealth of the wealthy, the privilege that is meant to power our economy, doesn’t really reach the government’s coffers. Each year tax fraud costs the taxpayer £3.3 billion – tax avoidance costs £69.9 billion. Starbucks has not paid tax in two years, Facebook paid only £195,890 last year – less than it pays any one of its 90 UK employees. Since the 1970’s the top 1% of the population has doubled its share of income and are now raking in 14.3%. In the last 40 years income inequality has increased in the UK more rapidly than in any other rich country. It is clear that the rich are not as benevolent as the coalition would hope, and their wealth does not ‘trickle down’. What is the use of privileging the rich when the result is that so much of the wealth in the economy bubbles up to the top, leaving the poor and vulnerable to suffocate?
The coalition’s approach to economics is ludicrous. It is based on a blind faith in the willingness of the people that it puts on top of the economic pile to share their wealth – a faith that is not borne out by facts. Even worse, the coalition’s approach takes no account of the human suffering caused by poverty. By perpetuating the myth of the benefit scrounger, the coalition is seeking to make a person’s poverty his or her own fault. In an economy that it has geared towards privileging the rich at the expense of the poor, this is a purposeful and unacceptable lie.