Thursday, 19 May 2011

Uppal's crocodile tears

My errant MP is dispensing further pearls of wisdom, this time on poverty (being a multimillionaire, he's an expert of course - these people always are):

If this Public Bill Committee is genuine in its aspiration for people to escape from poverty, an essential part of the Bill and the principle we are talking about is that people should live within their means. I appreciate the points that he has made about the message we send out about the welfare system and how it works. However, if we are genuine in our aspiration not just to make work always pay, but to enable people to escape poverty, that is an essential message we should send out in the Bill.

What tired, hackneyed rubbish. I could produce hundreds of identical speeches… from the Victorian period. These are the origins of this line of thinking: the moral division of the working classes into the 'deserving poor' and the 'undeserving poor'. To such commentators, economic poverty is a function of your individual and spiritual poverty. If you're poor, it's because you're feckless, lazy and degenerate.

Back in the real world, economics and sociology have revealed a number of points which really shouldn't need exposition. But I'll do it anyway because I'm a teacher and Mr Uppal seriously needs some remedial classes.

Poverty isn't an individual choice. It's structural. All our governments recently - New Labour as well as Tory - have opted for a low-wage economy for the masses and a high-wage economy for the golden circle. Basically, they've accepted big business demands that the workforce be screwed in the name of higher profit margins. Labour, to be fair, squared the circle by providing welfare, tax credits and state services to some extent because they understood that their system built poverty into the economic structure. The Tories - because they genuinely do not care about the poor and view them as atomised scroungers - want to abolish state provision of anything except tax breaks.

This Bill isn't a scheme to help the poor escape some imaginary poverty trap: it's a scheme to help the government escape its duties towards its citizens, dressed up as a noble crusade to liberate those trapped by the bonds of welfare dependence (see also Reagan's America). They're cutting unemployment support, and massively cutting housing benefit, which will clear swathes of London and other cities of families who may have been living there for generation, destroying family and community cohesion and shifting insecure, unhappy people into unfamiliar and deprived places leading to more misery.

It's all very well pontificating about 'living within your means' if you're a millionaire speculator, but it doesn't work in the real world. Consider London's working poor: millions of people on the minimum wage (£5.93 if you're over 21): the actual minimum living wage needed to stay afloat in London is £8.30 per hour, or £7.20 elsewhere. Raising this would actually help the economy: workers with money spend it. Those without, don't (doh!). Paying the poor more and the Captains of Industry (or rather Finance) less would actually be very good for the economy.

Uppal is, to be blunt, a liar. The UK economy is deliberately organised so that those at the bottom are kept poor, while those at the top ascend into the stratosphere. Paying people nothing and shifting the burden to the state (while avoiding paying the taxes which fund services) is the capitalist way: and now Uppal and his friends want to remove even this prop.

What happens next? If they get their way, displacement, resentment and (hopefully) civil unrest. Or, a descent into banana republic oppression.

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