The New Poor Law – 2010 Version

Three decades of unregulated market capitalism where individual self-interest ruled supreme has turned Britain into a divided, unsympathetic, selfish society. That may sound harsh, but unfortunately it’s true.

Those who have been in a position to benefit from this era of unbridled self-enrichment have developed some very unattractive characteristics. They include an unquestioning sense of entitlement and a feeling of superiority based on possessions and status: a hard and unsympathetic attitude to those without, and a presumption that the poor have only themselves to blame.

There is no sense of fraternity or recognition of the collective public and social contribution made by the whole of society which has provided the fortunate few with a secure base on which to generate their wealth. No sense of responsibility for the less fortunate.   

The corrosiveness of these attitudes has made our society more unequal and accentuated the division between rich and poor.

For want of proper attention, our welfare system is now so costly that there is a growing resentment from the unsympathetic ‘haves’ towards those who need support. Years of tinkering by politicians eager to buy electoral advantage, but who have not had the courage to implement necessary and timely reform, has resulted in a system that has distorted our society and created a problem that only fundamental root and branch reform can solve.

But it needs to go further than reform. What is required is a ‘re-thinking’ of the state. We need to redefine our collective self-interest, deal with the inequalities of wealth and opportunity, promote proportionality, reform our political institutions, and find ways of preventing privilege and money from corrupting our democracy…there is much to do. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have a government that has the wit, the courage or the imagination to do what is necessary.

There has been an attempt to make change, but the so-called reforms that have been proposed by the coalition don’t go far enough. They’re piecemeal changes rather than fundamental reforms. They are designed to save money and as such will cause more problems than they’ll solve. They’re also careless because they are ill-thought through, and are already causing distress and disruption to the vulnerable.

 As in war, you have to plan for what comes afterwards, and this has not been done. Instead welfare recipients have been characterised as scroungers and cheats, which in some perverse way the coalition believes justifies their ‘hard choices’ and lack of compassion. The human and financial cost of this carelessness will be considerable.

What is alarming is that politicians appear to be under the illusion that poverty is confined to people who don’t work. This is not true. More than 22 per cent of the population – that’s 13 million people – live on less that 60 percent of the average wage, and that’s with one parent working. Of these 5.8 million are living in ‘deep poverty’ and they survive on 40 percent of the average wage. It has never been as bad as this, but it seems that our friendly coalition are intent on making things worse for them.

Why do we continue to tax these people into poverty? Does it make any sense for someone earning 60 percent of the average wage to pay income tax and NI? Of course not! Why do we insist that companies pay NI at all? What is the point in making labour expensive? There are other less harmful, more intelligent ways of raising revenue.

The New Poor Law of 1834 meant people had to choose between work at any wage or the workhouse. The New Poor Law of 2010 taxes people into poverty, exports jobs by making labour expensive and reduces welfare payments to the needy.  We should be ashamed.

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