Sunday, 10 April 2011

Slash and Burn!

Some of you may remember The Sun has actually gone as far as to claim that the unemployed are to blame, that New Labour was too soft and gave too much to the jobless. And this is the reason for the cuts according to the toilet-paper press. This is the only kind of representation for people on benefits in this country, these people have no voice and are easy targets for little Eichmanns in the right-wing media. Supposedly the reason we need cuts is because Labour gave too much to benefit scroungers and we can tell because newspapers say so. The real reason is that there was a financial crisis in 2008, the culmination of an unregulated banking sector which ran on recklessness, as a result the banks had to bailed out in order to prevent an economic depression. A recession could not be overted as the Crash had sent shockwaves throughout the economy, many businesses went bust and thousands became unemployed. This led to a fall in tax-revenues to the Treasury, which meant that spending that would normally be sustainable became unsustainable.

In other words a banker, a Daily Mail reader and a benefit claimant are sitting at a table sharing 12 biscuits. The banker takes 10 tells the Daily Mail reader "Watch out for the benefit claimant, he wants your biscuit!" The right-wing newspapers and tabloids distract the public from serious problems, playing the poor against one another with lies and exaggerations about benefits and immigrants. The issues that are agreed upon are marginalised from the public discourse so a harmless narrative can be continued. The alternatives to public spending cuts are not even acknowledged, but there's plenty of talk about benefits, immigration and overseas aid. The only exceptions are when the BBC let's an alternative view slip through only to dismiss it. All the while the richest 10% of Brits own £4 trillion in wealth and could contribute £800 billion to the Treasury from a one-off wealth tax of 20%. This proposal was one of the few to be briefly acknowledged by the BBC, but only to dismiss it as a "crazy idea". Still you will rarely, if ever, read of the cost of tax-avoidance and evasion in this country which could be as high as £125 billion.

Instead of a wealth tax we're looking at a systematic programme of deep cuts and market reforms for public services and the welfare state. The Con-Dem Coalition has set strict targets to job centres which incentivise sanctions, with the aim of driving claimants into the workforce. The target: sanction three people a week so that benefits can be cut off for a period of time, which ranges from a week to six months. This leaves claimants to survive on hardship payments which are half the normal payment from the social. Sanctions are meant to be used to punish claimants who have refused employment or are not trying hard enough to get a job. But as there is a high level of subjectivity involved, if you don't apply for a job that could lead to you being sanctioned for six months. Since the Coalition was formed in May the number of claimants deprived of benefits have sky-rocketed and had reached 75,000 by October 2010. This is only the beginning of the cuts and it has only been mentioned in the pinkish end of media.

There is such a thing as benefit fraud, it accounts for £500 million and about £3 billion is spent on "over-payments" all of which falls far short of the £18 billion reduction being pursued by Iain Duncan-Smith. This means that the vast majority of people penalised by this government will be those who either can't work or can't find work. As for the big idea Iain Duncan-Smith had for benefits, it was an investment banker David Freud, appointed by New Labour, who recommended that the crumbs thrown to the poor - housing benefit, incapacity benefit, disability allowance etc. - be replaced with a single payment that will function as an "incentive" to work. The constant attempts to drive the jobless, particularly single-parents, into the work force is regularly cheered on in the press. Yet there is no mention that the cut in national insurance effectively subsidises businesses to hire unemployed labour at the bare minimum wage. The fact that this could drive down wages across the workforce is also conspicuously absent in the media.

The rest of the cuts programme is best summed up in the words of a Conservative MP, to quote Greg Barker "We're making cuts that Margaret Thatcher, back in the 1980s, could only have dreamt of." Barker cheered on the slashing of government departments by up to 30% and the way in which the welfare state is being undermined. As the deficit is reduced, taxes for business are going to be slashed along with regulations. The core mission of the coalition government, according to Barker, is to "get government off of the backs" of business. This is a government of business and not of the people. Just from the established links with banking and Rupert Murdoch we might conclude that the Coalition is acting in the interests of business. From the words of Greg Barker we can tell, what we already knew, that the Coalition is rolling back the state for the benefit of business. Note that this is virtually ignored in the mainstream media.

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