Here’s a little story for you.
Once upon a time there was a small island in the middle of the North Sea. On this island lived many different people from many different cultures and and many different backgrounds; some were old and some were young, some were very rich and some were very poor, some had power and some were powerless. Much of the time, most of the islanders got on well enough with each other and tried to help those in need when they could – even during sad times, when there was not much money to go round.
However, there was one group of islanders who were determined to cause trouble. This strange and terrible group were called the ConDems, and they were very rich and very powerful. They saw that there was not much money to go round for most of the islanders and they saw that some particularly naughty people had been breaking important money rules, so they determined to do something about this because they thought it could be to their advantage…
And that’s where it all went badly pear-shaped. You see, the ConDems chose the wrong set of naughty people to target. It’s all too easy for politicians – who have posh houses and nice cars and plenty of money – to point the finger at and financially penalise those at the bottom end of society who are either just scraping by on a low wage or who have been forced to fall back on the welfare state in order to have any income at all.
Why is that?
Well, so-called ‘benefit cheats’ and the long-term sick/disabled (two groups who are always lumped in together by politicians and tabloid journalists, despite the fact that there is only the most minute crossover between them, and that there are actually far fewer ‘benefit cheats’ than is generally assumed) are basically the easiest and most convenient scapegoat for every single one of society’s financial ills – hence the ‘swingeing’ cuts to the welfare system recently announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne.
And it is equally conveniently assumed that many in these groups are so disenfranchised, disillusioned and poverty-stricken that they are unlikely to complain, let alone resist being scapegoated and further impoverished by a government who don’t care and have never been in touch with reality.
Yes, this is the government who, just like the last one, have no idea of and no interest in the ordinary lives of the ordinary people in this country. This is a government whose members were mostly born into privilege and expensively educated, and who have no inkling as to what life can really be like for people on benefits – I doubt any of the current cabinet, even as students, have ever had to budget literally down to the last penny or have had to buy from the ‘economy’ ranges in supermarkets through necessity, for example. But, of course, it’s the ordinary people who always have to pay for other, richer people’s mistakes.
However, were this government to attempt a slightly different economic strategy and try to claw back some of the billions upon billions of pounds in unpaid taxes which have been quite blatantly avoided in this country over the years by any number of hugely wealthy multinational corporations (such as… ooh, I dunno… Vodafone, perhaps?); well, you can imagine the irate press releases and expensively embarrassing court cases that would undoubtedly result from such a course of action.
The way things are these days, that course of action would be highly unlikely ever to happen. Why? Because corporate and banking interests have this government neatly tucked in their pockets, just as they had the last one. Grand political gestures like Osborne’s spending review are designed to placate these interests, to reassure them that the government will leave them and their money alone – but the government still has to justify these corporatist actions to the mass of the electorate, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.
The trick is to find yourself a scapegoat who is unlikely to answer back, and shriek so loudly about its alleged failings that no-one actually notices your own public, moral failings going on in the background, basically. You know the sort of thing; moral failings like turning a blind eye to corporate and political greed and its associated corruption – like letting the super-rich likes of Vodafone and Rupert Murdoch get away with what amounts to fiddling their taxes, when a desperate benefit claimant would get hauled over the coals and taken to court for even accidentally over-claiming the tiniest fraction of what these multinationals owe.
How can I put this officially-sanctioned hypocrisy any clearer?
Like this, I guess: on an annual basis, corporate and individual tax abuse costs this country far, far more than ‘benefit fraud’ does – and, although there will always be some people who try to game the welfare system, the vast majority of those who claim means-tested benefits do so because they genuinely have no other option. Yet it is only benefit claimants who are targeted again and again by government cost-cutters and constantly told by the media that they’re all scamming the system.
Maybe I’m naive in thinking that we had moved away from such denigrating and disgraceful historical concepts as the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and the less-eligibility of the workhouse. I thought we might just conceivably have moved on from targeting the most vulnerable in our society and forcing them to carry the can for the financial failings of the rich, the arrogant, the powerful. Clearly not.
And – please – don’t even get me started on the gleefully blatant dishonesty of the banks…