New Internationalist

Britain has gone to war – and the poor are in the firing line


Cost of living is going up three times as much as benefits. Photo: Images_of_Money, under a CC License.

Shameless is too honest a word to describe the decision, voted through Parliament on Tuesday 8 January, to cap benefit rises to just one per cent over the next three years, although the cost of living is going up by almost three times as much.

Vicious more accurately sums up this latest volley in the campaign against people that this cabinet of millionaires has decided are ‘scroungers’ and ‘shirkers’.

Sadly, the mythology that welfare recipients are at the root of our economic ills has traction in a mainstream media that is shockingly lax when it comes to truth-telling. And that affects public opinion. According to a recent poll, people think 27 per cent of welfare is claimed fraudulently. The government’s own estimates put it at just 0.7 per cent – or just one seventieth of the amount the treasury loses through tax avoidance and evasion.

And, as repeatedly pointed out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and other reputable bodies, 60 per cent of those who will be affected by the raft of new measures affecting welfare and child tax credits are actually in work.

They are claiming benefits because wages are too low and rents are too high. The publicly funded welfare system has been used to bolster companies that drive down workers’ wages while ramping up senior executive pay to obscene levels. It’s putting money in the pockets of greedy landlords and property speculators.

As US billionaire Warren Buffet famously remarked: ‘There’s a class war all right. And it’s my class, the rich, who are waging it.’

There’s a reason that governments like Britain’s are targeting the poor and recruiting mainly middle-earning ‘strivers’ to their cause: it’s so that we do not look too hard at what the rich are up to. That is, feeding off economic crisis and getting ever richer as they let money make money and behaving, well,  like ‘scroungers and shirkers’, to coin a phrase…

It’s time to turn the tables we argue in the January/February issue of New Internationalist entitled ‘The Feral Rich – how can we stop them?’

Only when we focus on the real problem will start finding the real solutions.

You can buy the January/February issue of New Internationalist, read the Feral Rich keynote, or, to get stories like this one through your door every month, subscribe.

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  1. #1 Bar de Ness 15 Jan 13

    I agree that the language employed to describe those on benefits is highly inappropriate and divisive. Yet under thirteen years of New Labour, they had ample time to build social housing, which if kept apace would have restrained the greedy, opportunist landlords with their exorbitant rents. And lets not forget that the irresponsible open door policy on immigration has helped fuel the demand. You surely do not advocate a status quo which requires £200 billion pounds a year to maintain an ever growing and over-burdened welfare bill? It's easy to knock the toffs and the rich - by all means feel free to do so - I have no love lost for them - but in fairness you should analyse the circumstances of how the UK got into this position in the first place. Your socialist views have conveniently forgot about the Blair/Brown years, a spend-thrift regime which actively encouraged borrowing, without regulation, and left office with nothing but an apple core in the Chancellor of Exchequer's cupboard.

  2. #2 Vanessa 18 Jan 13

    I agree with Bar de Ness that New Labour wasted an opportunity to build social housing. Antoher of their big mistakes was to continue 'light touch' regulation of the City. This gave bankers and speculative financiers free rein to create the financial crisis that remains the prime cause of today's economic crisis. The great myth of our times is that public spending, and in particular the welfare bill, is somehow reponsible for this finance-generated crisis.
    I agree that it's not desireable to have a huge welfare bill. But the reason we have got it is because unions have been crushed and workers' wages pushed down so that they have not risen in line with the cost of living, while senior executive pay has been allowed to spiral out of control. By all means let's cut the welfare bill but let's do it by paying decent wages and creating affordable public housing. That way working people will be able to manage without having to rely on an array of extra benefits that act as support for low income.

  3. #3 Pat 20 Apr 13

    Human rights standards are easily dismissed when economic rights of a social safety net are left out of the global equation. Padding the top can't help the bottom no matter what ism it is called by, and may be the most likely to produce revolutions of sorts.

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About the author

Vanessa Baird a New Internationalist contributor

Vanessa Baird lived and worked as a journalist in Peru during the tumultuous mid-1980s, and she maintains a passionate interest in South America. She joined New Internationalist as a co-editor in 1986 and since then has written on everything from migration, money, religion and equality to indigenous activism, climate change, feminism and global LGBT rights. She also edits the Mixed Media, arts and culture section of the magazine.

Vanessa’s books include The No-Nonsense Guide to World Population (2011), Sex, Love and Homophobia (2004), The Little Book of Big Ideas (2009) and, People First Economics (2010). In 2012 she won a prestigious Amnesty International Human Rights Media award.

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