I’m in tune enough to know that government cuts under the banner of austerity aren’t truly cuts, they’re just a glacial slowdown in the rate of increase. The national debt is currently projected to have increased by £600bn over the coalitions time in power.That’s a lot.
I have trouble reconciling the everyday poverty I see and read about, whether it’s recently bereaved parents being written to and told they’ll need to pay the bedroom tax, terminally ill people told they’re fit for work or the rise of food banks, to the increase in spending over the last few years. For normal people, it seems like the belt has been tightened and the time of plenty is over, now it’s a struggle to keep heads above the water and dare to hope for a brighter tomorrow for us and our kids.
Ideology plays a huge part in this. The Citizens Advice Bureau points out that fraud costs the economy an estimated £73bn a year. That’s a lot but the UK government figures for 2012 estimate benefits overpaid due to fraud is £1.2bn and tax credit fraud is £380m. So just under £1.6 billion in total; less than 1% of the overall benefits and tax credits expenditure and critically much less than benefits underpaid and overpaid due to government error.
Those figures also mean that almost 98% of fraud is committed outside the benefits system. Why on earth isn’t massive resources being thrown at capturing the 98% or even sorting out the internal errors at HMRC? The hardship and grief that so many many people are suffering has been undertaken to try and reduce 2% of the fraud that happens in this country. Am I the only one that thinks that this is borderline insane? Yet we are doing it and I just don’t understand it.
Local authorities are having trouble surfacing roads, supplying core services, some are even selling off irreplaceable local heritage items to make ends meet and in many areas the “Big Society” lie has fooled people into volunteering for what should be skilled paid positions, making well trained professionals redundant in the process. Yet only today I read that Yorkshire council tax payers will be stumping up about £6m to bring two stages or the Tour de France to Yorkshire next year. They anticipate a £100m boost to the local economy apparently, none of which will be directly seen by the local authorities or the residents who have to deal with potholes and fortnightly bin collections.
I saw some chap representing A&E medics on the tellybox yesterday saying that they were all overworked. Small wonder, given how the government have instigated the closure of many A&E units and are systematically dismantling the NHS so we can have a privately owned replacement that will be more expensive and more inefficient to run. Social Investigations has also run a list of MPs and Lords with interest in private health care companies. I might not be Miss Marple but even I can see the link and I don’t understand how it’s allowed or how it’s not being shouted about on the BBC every single day.
We seem to be moving into an era of public subsidy of business and the well off by the state; the Tour de France example only being one of many, and this is brilliantly highlighted by this story on efinancialcareers.com about city bankers struggling on under £500k a year to afford the lifestyle they deserve. Fortunately Help to Buy will be coming to their rescue because it’s such a struggle to survive on £23,000 a month in your pocket. I should make it clear that this article isn’t on the Daily Mash or the Onion. It is not a satirical piece; the people who caused the banking crisis and plunged us into the deepest recession since the Great Depression are actually considering using Help to Buy to fund their millionaire lifestyles. While people are relying on foodbanks to live, some people are actively considering gaming a housing scheme meant to help people onto the property ladder so they can keep their kids in private schooling. I just don’t understand any more.
But I don’t even really blame the bankers for this, it’s their nature to find ways around laws and regulations, just like it is for tax advisers to do the same so some of the worlds largest companies pay next to no tax. They’ll even spout rubbish about the amounts of VAT and PAYE and National Insurance they pay over. With the exception of employers National Insurance, the rest are end user taxes ultimately suffered by the likes of you and me. They don’t pay them, they simply facilitate the rest of us paying them. Apple makes so much money, it now runs one of the worlds largest hedge funds, just to avoid paying tax.
Even the current shut down in America is endemic of the Them and Us approach- over half a million US government employees are on unpaid leave whilst the wrangling goes on. During that time, Congress have still been paid, as of midday 9 October, they’ve received $2.1m in pay. That’s 532 members of Congress (there are currently 3 open seats in the house) who earn at least $174,000 per year each.
How have we suddenly arrived at a situation like this? I don’t understand and I thank God my kids are too young to ask.