Those who care to protect social rights are aware there is a full scale neo-liberal assault on the welfare state. Chunks of it are being privatised by stealth and small print overlooked. Scotland has side-stepped the worst cuts. but not for long. The UK treasury is reducing Scotland’s allowance bit by bit.
The SNP blocked £7 billion of cuts sent as a gift to Scotland for voting No.
Westminster politicians tell us welfare needs reform; we are too skint to afford a welfare state that is top heavy in payments to an overwhelming aging population. Within that term they mean free prescriptions, visits by doctors to your home, dentist charges, vehicles for the non-ambulant, and so on, and so forth.
The message hammered home is a contradiction: the United Kingdom is broke but simultaneously the wealthiest country on the block. We are still powerful, a world player, but a bit stung for cash. It isn’t the first time we have had an assault on our integrity.
After the Second World War there was an upsurge in support for greater democratic mechanisms in Britain. The Labour government brought in radically progressive policies but the power elite mounted a savage attack on the tide of social unity that met its apogee in Thatcher’s regime. In those days ‘welfare’, that is, unemployment benefit, and housing benefit, was better known as social security.
When a right-wing politician talks of reform he doesn’t mean alter. He means remove.
We sense the political powers are softening us up with a constant battery of propaganda. They hope we’re susceptible to the false argument that there are too many old, decrepit people to support, and far too many scroungers cheating a fast depleting welfare fund. Lazy television pundits repeat the mantra endlessly to sound informed.
Politicians don’t dare voice the hope the old die before their time and save on pensions. You half-think they’ll will, and mollify the elderly by pointing out they won’t have to go to work next day.
We’re told debt will be vanquished if only we stop spending taxes on anything humane.
It crosses our mind that we seem to have limitless funds to conduct endless wars, wealth galore to squander on renewing weapons of annihilation and billion pound submarines to sling shot them at non-Brits, in addition to any amount of welfare largess to prop up corrupt banks.
Moreover, we allow huge corporations to avoid tax, whopping tax bills that somehow shrink to a few thousand pounds paid by companies with a registered office in UK-owned Cayman Islands. Politicians pay lip service to ‘disciplining our financial institutions’ but banks do almost as they did in the past.
We don’t talk anymore of a bonus culture though it is still with us, encouraging the worst in human nature.
The Tories at work.
Conservatives plan to privatise as much of the English welfare system as possible, which is certain to have a detrimental affect on Scotland’s ability to cushion the blows imposed on our vulnerable and our unemployed.
The Conservatives have conceived a design to reduce welfare costs. Chancellor George Osborne suggests private contractors do the checking. He states: “We should seriously consider a bold “no-win, no-fee” approach to getting people off benefits. Prime contractors, be they companies or charities, would be paid primarily if they get people back into work, and keep them there – in other words payment by results.”
There’s a glaring fault with that idea. Impose brutal austerity, withdraw investment in society’s infrastructure, and the result is obvious … there are no damn jobs!
The last time I saw that model it was slave masters in Egypt building pyramids.
Conservative neo-con doctrine goes further. They want greater pressure placed on those on employment related benefits. Tougher sanctions (than hitherto) will be introduced against “those who can work but refuse to take steps to get back into the labour market.”
There must exist a minority of people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to take on salaried jobs. They have other types of work they want, or indeed, feel applicable to their skill. Or they want to opt out of society’s rules as far as possible.
Opting out of society can take many forms, being a street musician, studying art in Spain, writing in a garret, living in woods to build a log house and grow your own food, becoming a shepherd and live in the wilds of Scotland, and so on, and so forth.
Some unemployed are too old to get a decent job again, or too infirm. Standing in a supermarket check-out packing shopping bags is impossibly arduous for a bad back or poor health.
A few people are plain indolent, but we can forget about them.
Should the state support the sick, the poor, and the unemployed?
My answer is, yes it should, but not in any sort of luxury. The exception to that is those who have young children. Destitute families, and one parent families need state support. They are the next generation. What money they receive they put back into the community in food purchases, clothing, and services.
Unless viciously authoritarian, society has to have a loopholes for a few of us to adopt a different life style than a nine to five office job. You see it all over America, people who live in modest trailers, and put what money they earn by odd jobbing into a truck or car. Any system ought to have opt out clauses that do not sanction free will, but nevertheless offer greater incentive to stay in and contribute to society.
Cracking a whip is no incentive. (See Egyptian slave drivers comment above.) Indeed, the get back to work or else attitude assumes the society created by the state is benign, one everybody admires as the best of all possible worlds.
Welfare is only for the poor, correct?
Let’s be absolutely honest and accurate. We are talking about public funds set aside from everybody’s taxes to assist poor people. That’s what we know and recognise as welfare. They’re not funds to be harnessed by the power elite to use for other things.
Money that goes to the rich is not called welfare. But in fact, that too is welfare. A cursory study of the welfare that goes to the rich vastly exceeds anything we are aware of that goes to the poor and the needy. I’ve touched on this comparison before, and I am by no means the first to point out the obvious.
The industries it props up, rightly, mean owners, bosses, and shareholders get our taxes in welfare payments to keep those companies employing workers. And I’ve not touched on the enormous wealth held in trust as fiscal benefits for companies and corporations, nor the Royal family and the millions it is given.
The state apparatus is designed in the interest of the wealthy and the powerful.
Personally, I’ve never been on welfare payments, unemployment benefit, but not welfare although I was eligible to apply. The system I encountered was highly antagonistic towards applicants. There was one official sympathetic, but it wasn’t enough to make collecting your rightful benefit a pleasant experience.
I doubt my experience is exceptional. I think it is a growing attitude officially encouraged. The British welfare system as dispensed from the Treasury has always been one of grudging, mean-spirited social protection. I recall only one bright, progressive moment when application forms were divested of their bureaucratic gobbledygook.
That aside, the future of welfare under Labour as well as Tory administrations is bleak.
What do private companies get out of supervising welfare?
The system is the same for other privatisation schemes: companies will bid for contracts. There will be lots of flaky promises about competition, but before long big companies will swallow up small ones, until the taxes we pay to them flow in one direction, some multi-national conglomerate registered in … you’ve guessed, the Cayman Islands.
The Exchequer will applaud the reforms reasoning it saves public taxes, but in reality privatisation increases public taxes. More money is needed to pay for the reforms and keep private enterprise ticking. Our taxes go into their pockets. And the private sector will get supported by the banks who live off our welfare taxes that saved their bacon.
Tory think tanks are quite open about this process. They foresee it as an annual multi-billion pound market. The creation of regional monopolies, “would attract major players from around the world”. That alone, they argue, is a compelling case for putting welfare in the hands of the wealthy. “The fiscal prize is considerable.” The nation state becomes a market state. Public services become indistinguishable from private business and profits.
So, when you hear right-wing ideologues proselytising about welfare reform, remember under that rubric a tiny fraction of welfare actually applies to those that really need it, to the sick, the disabled, and the poor. The political elite won’t cut back on the vast amounts given to the rich and powerful. They are their emissaries, after all.
So, why bother to reform welfare?
You reform it – that is, withdraw much of it from the poor – to control society. The compulsion to force applicants to perform in return for a meagre subsistence robs people of pride, autonomy, and free will. They must do as the state tells them or the state will make them poorer. The Labour party, keen to be seen the business party, has already taken up the chant, calling it the ‘something for nothing’ society.
We’re now described as a welfare ‘culture’, the implication being we’re addicted to benefits, unlike the wealthy who manage on the very little savings they have.
Since when did benefits, paid in taxes from the sweat of our brows to be used for pensions and welfare, become something for nothing?
The blip that is an aging population will alter within a decade or two. Our senior citizens have a right to a pension and medical aid. Then what? The young are already caught up in the neo-liberal system of units, burdened by a privatised higher education system, loading them with debt. We pay for births, education, hospitals, and welfare benefits twice. Private companies get our taxes in huge grants, and then we pay a second time at the point of need. Neo-liberal dogma is justified – the circle is closed. The market triumphs.
The only risk in reducing available welfare comprehensively across the board, is if enough people rise up in protest. We need to do that. We need to do more than inveigh against greed; we need to rethink how our financial systems serve us. We can put it on the agenda.
We are up against enormous concentrations of power, but as previous examples tell us, sustained protest can be successful. In that case, politicians will ensure riot police are well paid, with lots of welfare benefits, perks of the job.