The Plastic Hippo

October 4, 2010

Attention deficit

Filed under: Law,Media,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 7:02 pm

“And over there is where my school used to stand.”

A “ring of steel” has descended around the Tory conference venue on Broad Street and the good and the great of the Conservative Party will turn their powerful intellects and considerable attention to reducing the structural deficit in public borrowing. This single issue, according to Cameron and Mini Me Clegg, is the only reason we face earthquakes, terrorist threats, locusts, boils and the return of Strictly Come Dancing. Reforming the welfare system will, it seems, save the world.

To their universal credit, the Liberal Democrats have been proposing necessary reform of benefit payments for years but, now having taking the Tory shilling, the finger of blame for societal division and disadvantage will be pointed at them by their cunning Tory masters. In the black and white bipolar world that the coalition exists in, there are are only two categories of citizen. There are those that work, care for their families and pay tax and then there are those who refuse to work, endow a feral lifestyle to their children and sponge benefit hand outs from the rest of us. If only life were so simple.

Chancellor Osborne has announced the abolition of universal child benefit to “high income” tax payers and a cap on total benefits to the families who scrounge. On the surface, this seems quite reasonable in an economy, if Gideon is to be believed, that faces Armageddon, melt-down and Cheryl Cole on the X Factor. But, as with most cases of compulsive obsessive disorders, there is more to this than meets the eye. The relatively tiny numbers of the very wealthy who can afford private health care, a crooked accountant and a private education for their children will not notice or even miss the 20 quid a week for Gideon Junior or the 13 quid for baby Endellion. The relatively tiny numbers of work shy families who enjoy a lavish, state funded life style will now have to take some responsibility and choose between a catering size bag of oven chips, a 19p bottle of cola or starvation.

Gideon said that these “tough but fair” reforms prove that we “are all in this together” but a closer look at the maths suggests the amount saved by these cuts is a relatively tiny fraction of the deficit brought about by irresponsible banking speculation and subsequent bank bail-outs or the billions lost through tax evasion and avoidance. His announcement of “a new welfare state where it always pays to work” seems to be more of a headline than a viable economic policy. Being seen to bash the rich and simultaneously disadvantaging 1.2million middle income families will pave the way for the real blood letting when the comprehensive spending review is unleashed in just a few weeks time. We are all in this together but some of us will be deeper in it than others.

On Sunday, 7,000 trade unionists and, according to the press, “others” trudged through the rain swept streets of Birmingham to protest against public sector cuts. There were calls for strike action and public disobedience and a lot of hot air was expelled into the drizzle. The “ring of steel” prevented the chanted slogans from penetrating the perfect acoustics of Symphony Hall and the expensive police presence, estimated to equal the number of officers facing the chop, avoided any unpleasant egg, rotten tomato or size 10 Hush Puppy throwing. Thus order was preserved and the disgruntled banner wavers dispersed still wondering how they will be able to pay tax when they have had their employment taken away. In the coming months the “others” described in the press are likely to become “activists”, then “militants” and inevitably “terrorists” as universal compassion is eroded along with the number of front line police officers. Still, the overtime earned during the recent rave in Cofton Park and the current ICC lock-down should keep the remaining officers well stocked in oven chips until at least Christmas.

The Trade Unions have been credited with electing Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader when it seems that the parliamentary party preferred his brother David. The Conservatives, expressing outrage at this lack of democracy, instantly branded the victor “Red Ed” and wheeled out the ridiculous Baroness Warsi of Dewsbury, unelected life peer, Chairman of the Conservative Party and unelected cabinet minister without portfolio to claim that Labour is run by the unions. The Tory supporting press, clearly seeing “Red Ed” as a threat, set about the younger Miliband with some extraordinary personal attacks taking every opportunity to report that he is the son of a Jewish Marxist, has a child born out of wedlock and that his name does not appear on the birth certificate of his child. According to Ms Warsi, a strong opponent of “forced” marriage, this is not a man to be trusted. Strangely, the unelected peer who lost her only venture into democracy by 5000 votes in the 2005 general election, makes no comment regarding “arranged” marriage between cousins.

The Conservatives don’t like “Red Ed” and their hyperactivity might suggest that they hoped that the daughter-in-law of Rupert Murdoch was in charge of announcing the next Labour Top Model. In a week that saw tabloid headlines completely missing the point of a flawed report linking attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to genetic abnormality, the dopamine fuelled delegates swinging from the chandeliers of Symphony Hall might consider ordering a case or two of Ritalin to calm down some of their more excitable peers.

Let us hope that the Prime Minister, a descendent of William IV through an illegitimate line and his Chancellor, future Baronet Ballentaylor, enjoy their stay in the Midlands. The way things are going, the Midlands might not be here this time next year.

***** Update *****

24 hours after announcing the end of universal child benefit comes another announcement. After screaming into their chablis and capuchinos, middle englanders will now not be worse off under a Tory coalition after all. A hurriedly arranged tax break for married couples will more than adequately cover the loss of child benefit for the paupers earning more than £44k.

24 hours after announcing a benefits cap, Iain Duncan Smith announces that worklessness is not an option for claimants. After screaming into closed ears, child poverty, human rights and disabilty awareness groups and the people they represent will be worse off under a Tory coalition.

Fair enough?



  1. Good post, but I do have to pick on one small bit:

    Is anyone earning £44k a year really in need of child benefit, and going to have to choose the 19p Cola? 44k is well into the top 10% of earners (and a damned good wedge more than I earn, and I consider myself well off).

    [bitter childless person :-)]
    Lets not forget that having children is a choice for most people, not mandatory.
    [/bitter childless person :-)]

    I realise this is sounding (uncomfortably for me) right-wing and reactionary, maybe even comically so.

    I dislike the coalition government and many of their policies, but I’m really struggling to see what the problem is with not giving relatively well-off people cash just becuase they managed to breed- their children will remain as cared-for, nourished and educated as ever, because people in that income bracket are not in poverty.

    The benefit system needs to be focussed on those that need it, and I’ll defend that as long as I live. We’re about to see a wholesale dissasembly of the welfare state, but lets not let our hatred of that cloud things.

    Flame suit on, fire away.

    Comment by stymaster — October 4, 2010 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

  2. An erudite and pertinent observation good Stymaster.

    £44k is a lot of wonga and is way beyond what most consider to be a comfortable income. However, the whole idea of universal child benefit is that it treats all children equally and was intended to be an investment for the future by eradicating child poverty. Happy, healthy children grow up to be happy, healthy factory fodder.

    Some parents may spend the dosh on rusks and Pampers and others may prefer Scrumpy Jack or Dom Perignon. The point is that this basic equality has now gone and the future factory fodder are expected to pay the bills of this generation having had their childhood benefits, their healthcare and their education removed and have been left without a hope of meaningful employment.

    As an expert in the husbandry of swine, you may have noticed the succession of politicians squealing in the media today about the “tough choices” in deficit reduction. Many, speaking from a position of affluence, spoke of “tapering” measures to pay off the debt. That means the thin end of the wedge. Remove universality then remove benefits all together as the poorest cost the most.

    Whatever next? Workhouses and children up chimneys perhaps?

    Comment by theplastichippo — October 4, 2010 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  3. I hadn’t realised that was the premise of child benefit. To my (perhaps oversimplifying) mind, the welfare state should set a guaranteed minimum: everyone should have food, shelter, clothing, education (etc) of an acceptable level. Everyone should have healthcare. No-one should be in poverty. I’m personally quite happy paying my taxes to help those that need it: that is why we have income tax and NI and is the price of living in a (allegedly) civilised society. I’m a bit less comfortable with it going on fags, as an ex-colleague cheerfully admitted to me from behind the wheel of her Alfa-Romeo :-/.

    So, what do we do with the state benfit system? This is something I genuinely think about a lot. There doubtless are scroungers spending it on booze and fags, and there are also people genuinely struggling to have a decent existence. How should it be best engineered to work at it’s best?

    Interestingly, workhouses were the answer to what was seen as a “scrounging class” that cost too much back at that time, though I suspect you know that.

    Comment by stymaster — October 4, 2010 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

  4. Indeed, Stymaster, but the Poor Laws and their subsequent reforms by the likes of Booth and Rowntree were motivated by philanthropic obligation and religious guilt. In this godless age can we expect compassion for those in need from those motivated by greed? The cider and fags minority on the streets are no different from the brandy and cigar minority in government. Dickens and Orwell documented this stuff years ago.

    Comment by theplastichippo — October 4, 2010 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

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