‘You Poor People Are Not Working Enough’ According To Men Living In Mansions
September 8, 2013
by Martin Odoni
An observation for any reader who doesn’t have any money; the Conservative Party really hates you for being poor, doesn’t it? Sure, they’ll talk about you having bad manners, or being loud, or not having a ‘proper’ accent, or not being well-dressed, and, if they’re in the mood to try and sound more sophisticated, they may even invoke pseudo-economic arguments about you being non-productive and a burden on the state. But none of this quite detracts from the inescapable reality that it is your poverty itself that really gets up their noses. You are actually poor, and that really spoils the view for them. They especially can’t stand you if you’re out-of-work, no matter what the reason is for that, and they will go after you, lambaste you, demonise you and scapegoat you for every ill the nation suffers. They hate you for being poor so much, in fact, that, as a punishment, they will do everything they can to stop giving you even the tiny amounts of money you might receive every fortnight, even when that is the only money that will keep you alive. And if taking money away from you doesn’t bloody well teach you to stop being poor, well, what will it do? Well, it’ll make you even poorer of course, but that will only make them hate you even more, so don’t draw attention to it when it happens, will you?
But let’s not imagine for one moment that the poor only extend as far as the unemployed. There are many, many British people in work on low pay, especially the Minimum Wage, and such people are poor as well. Hardly surprising really, given how measly the Minimum Wage in the UK is – £6.19 per hour (going up to the giddy heights of £6.31 per hour as of October 1st. With current inflation at just under 3%, a rise in the Minimum Wage of 12p is effectively a very slight pay-cut – an inflation-beater would have been 13p or upwards). This is not enough in some parts of the country to live on, so there is no way for an individual on that rate to build capital, and so they are relentlessly broke. So they are poor. And the Tories have suddenly noticed this and have realised that they must hate them as well.
Hence the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith (or ‘Inept Drunken Sh*t’, as I am finding it increasingly difficult to resist calling him with every passing week) has been developing a new raft of policies to attack, not the unemployed, but people who are actually in work but not receiving enough money to not be poor. Hey, it’s the only way he can be consistent, isn’t it, bullying all poor people equally? Having spent so long aggressing against people for being out-of-work, the Tories have realised that the only thing they find more disgusting is people in work.
The logic of this programme in development goes like this.
Anyone who is earning less than £1,000 per month is probably not earning enough to meet the cost of living, and so will have to supplement their income through state-support, such as tax credits. This is clearly scrounging – there is no more obvious example of fecklessness than expecting to receive an adequate pay-packet for being in work after all – so it is time to cut the state-support. Therefore anyone on Tax Credits who is not earning more each month is now going to be compelled to get a higher-paying job, or a second job, or to work longer hours, or have their credits withdrawn. That sounds like a perfectly fair way to ease the pinch that all those unfortunate rich people are currently experiencing, right? And it will encourage greater aspiration from those on low pay to work harder and to move up the pay-scale, right? That will end the culture-of-entitlement, right?
So the official position of the Government will now become that someone on an extremely low wage is under-paid because he/she is ‘Not Working Enough’. The possibility that employers might be guilty of not offering a high enough wage just cannot be processed in Tory minds. The reality that the employer chooses the wage-rate (and neoliberal economics have created, over the last thirty-odd years, a situation in which it is almost impossible for a job candidate to negotiate a better deal), and the employee simply has to live with it, is also inadmissible in the Government’s thoughts. The built-in dead-ends of the hierarchical pyramid-structure of most companies barring the possibility of everybody being promoted is another stumbling block the Government will not allow itself to notice. The truly absurd concept that many people get paid more for a 35-hour week than some do for a 40-hour week, and yet it will only be the ones working 40 hours in this scenario who will be classed as ‘Not Working Enough’ is a paradox that again will escape the Government’s attention completely. The simple notion that one can force an increase of income for the entire bottom rung of the working ladder by simply, let’s say, raising the Minimum Wage some way above inflation is not just unthinkable to a Tory, it is an outright thoughtcrime (even though the much-needed increase in market demand that such a rise in income for the poor would generate means it would effectively pay for itself).
It goes without saying that these prospective ‘Not Working Enough’ policies are completely amoral. That is merely what is to be expected of the Conservative Party; to make a big show of ‘dealing with’ the problems of the country by hitting exactly the people who are least able to cope or fight back, instead of confronting those elements in society that cause the most serious problems in the first place e.g. banks, corporate interests, tax evaders etc. Morality is an irrelevance to Conservative thinking in almost all circumstances, and it only ever kicks in when the property of rich people is under threat of theft or vandalism. In any other circumstances, appeals to morality will never make the slightest impact.
But, as is so often the case with IDS – see segment 2 here – his ideas aren’t just cruel, they are bloody stupid. In fairness, given the inarticulate, ranting reactiveness of the average Tory supporter, arguments that appeal to intelligence are unlikely to have more effect on them than moral arguments. But seeing that Conservatives within the Party itself always pride themselves on being ‘sensible’, ‘sound’ and ‘level-headed’, while accusing arguments from the Left of always being ‘based on emotion’ and never on judgement, it is a lot harder for them to evade points that demonstrate how stupid their policies are.
So here is why this prospective programme is so stupid; –
Firstly, given that companies have an innate wish to cut their overheads, including their taxes, while maximising the amount of work they extract from their staff, it stands to reason that this policy is going to encourage them only to offer the lowest wage possible to employees. Why? Simple. If they know that their lowest-paid employees are not going to get benefits, on the basis of their take-home pay, unless they do extra work, the employers will keep offering the lowest amount of money, precisely because it will force their staff into doing the extra work. As a bonus, the cut in benefits may well result in fresh tax-cuts, but the main thing is, the amount of increased hours that staff are forced to do will mean more work output (the employers will imagine anyway – studies actually show that beyond forty hours per week, worker efficiency and output tend to decline due to sheer exhaustion).
Secondly, and this is the real killer to the idea, this is a ridiculous approach during a period of high unemployment. When people in work are suddenly forced to work extra hours, or even to get a secondary job to supplement their income, that means they are taking extra work away that could otherwise be offered to the unemployed. If the Government truly want to get people off benefits and into paid employment – and I have never been convinced that they do (again see here) nearly so much as they want to try and scapegoat jobless people to draw attention away from what they are really trying to do – what is required is far more work to become available. Instead, people who are already doing work are being pushed into doing what extra there is, and so there will be fewer jobs for the unemployed to apply for. Certainly an employer will always prefer to get someone who is already on the payroll to do extra work than to get in someone new, for various reasons of convenience and potential expense.
It’s a bit much for a man living rent-free in his multi-millionaire father-in-law’s mansion to bemoan the poor living in a ‘culture-of-entitlement’, especially when he once put a £39 breakfast bill on his Parliamentary expenses. But if that sounds like hypocrisy, again, what more do we expect from the Tories? The Conservative Party – and nowadays the UK Independence Party (‘UK Tea Party’? Possibly) – have made an entire way-of-life out of twisting the most basic thoughts that language can convey. They wish to hammer poor people, even those who are in work, for ‘not working enough’, while showering ever more money onto the rich. The rich, who as a rule never do half as much work as their underlings, are far better placed to cope with a hammering, should it ever come their way, but that will never happen because it might ‘harm the country’ by taking away the resources required to create jobs. Meanwhile, at IDS’ behest, Atos are effectively killing the most desperate and disadvantaged people in the country at a rate of over thirty per week, but this is ‘not harming the country’.
Given how gross the gap between rich and poor is in the United Kingdom – it is the widest in the EU and has been since the early-1990’s while continuing to grow year-on-year – it is pretty blatant that, if the hypothesis that throwing money at the rich to encourage more job-creation really is the solution to all the nation’s ills, the country would have run out of problems to worry about long before John Major was defeated in the 1997 General Election.
Since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010, the Conservatives have effectively been saying; –
Throwing more and more money at the rich for thirty years hasn’t worked, so we’re going to try and solve things by throwing more and more money at the rich.