It seems as though it is fast becoming a commonly accepted fact within modern Britain that deliberate discrimination against the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled is a perfectly acceptable attitude to adopt, whether you happen to be an elected political representative, charged with safeguarding the rights of all of our citizens, or you're an everyday tax paying worker, who honestly believes that the country is being dragged to financial ruin by an unknown numbers of unemployed skivers and shirkers, who are happy to benefit from the diligence of those other millions who do, do the right thing and go out to work to pay their way.
Lost in the heat of the argument over welfare, Winston Churchill once observed that "you can measure the degree of civilisation within a society, by how it treats its weakest members", although quite whether the great man was referring to a specific group of weakest members, or just had the poor, the disadvantaged or the disabled in mind is unclear. Either way though, it is a sentiment that one would imagine any grown-up, civilised society would try to aspire to, although given the blatant, almost hysterical, anti-welfare newspaper campaigns waged by a number of Britain's daily tabloids, along with one or two of the supposedly better informed broadsheets, it is hard to imagine that Churchill's observation would find many supporters in modern day Britain.
Perhaps this apparently rabid intolerance of the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled is just simply symptomatic of where our country is at this present moment in time, with large numbers of genuinely hardworking people struggling to pay their way, only to be fed the idea by a malignant media that an entire class of people, this often imaginary army of scroungers and skivers are getting everything for nothing, without having to lift a solitary finger to pull themselves out of poverty and want.
Of course, it's a highly simplistic argument, with equally simplistic solutions. How many people in this country one wonders will celebrate the fact that an estimated 13.5 million citizens of the UK, or some 21% of the population, live below the governments own official poverty line, with a significant number surviving on little more than £3000 per year. How many of us would be content to know that our country now ranks third (3rd) in the list of the most unequal countries in the world, with rates of inequality greater than those of the United States, with all of its inherent socio-economic problems; and yet we still come out worse than them! Who else would be happy to know that despite all of the lies, the propaganda, the fabrications put about by the British media, benefit fraud in the UK, only accounts for around £1 billion per year of public money. One billion pounds is a sizeable chunk of change no doubt, but contrast that to the monies lost to the country through tax fraud, an estimated £15 billion per year; or the money unclaimed by entitled citizens every year, monies to which many thousands of people are entitled, which amounts to some £17 billion; or perhaps contrast that £1 billion of benefit fraud, with the estimated £22 billion that the coalition government of David Cameron is proposing to cut from the benefits of the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled. Does that make you proud? Is that something for us to celebrate; that on the basis of £1 billion being illegally gained by a bunch of crooked claimants, we're happy to penalise genuinely needy people to the tune of £22 billion?
This data is taken from a report issued by the Campaign For a Fairer Society; and was produced by Dr Simon Duffy, from the Centre For Welfare Reform, who was asked to look at the potential effects of the Coalition's proposed Comprehensive Spending Review carried out just after the coalition government came into office in May 2010.
According to Dr Duffy, the coalition initially intended to make budget cuts of around £63.4 billion by 2015, which would have been the equivalent of about 10.8% of the government's total spending on public services during their period of office. However, when the specific budget cuts were analysed, it very quickly became evident that not all areas of public spending were likely to experience budget cuts, as apart from the NHS and Pensions, several other government departments were spared the financial axe, including Foreign Aid, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and a number of government Quangos, all of which saw real increases in their departmental budgets.
Where the NHS and Pensions spending was protected by inflation matching increases, thereby ensuring no loss, no gain, elsewhere Dr Duffy calculated that by the time all of the various government monies were properly calculated, in reality, rather than representing total budget cuts of £63.4 billion, the figure was more likely to be in the region of £75.2 billion having been lost from the public spending budget, an increase of about £11.8 billion on the already planned level of cuts.
And of these £75.2 billion's worth of cuts, Dr Duffy anticipated that approximately 50%, or £37 billion's worth would come from reductions in Local Government spending and the Welfare Benefits bill, even though these two areas between them only account for 27% of government expenditure, not only making it disproportionately unfair to those adults and children affected by the cuts, but also suggesting that the Coalition was purposefully targeting these groups as part of its wider austerity agenda. In his own expert opinion, Dr Duffy believes that the most disadvantaged in society, are now even more so, given that they now face the real possibility of being hit by additional cuts to Social Care, Welfare Benefits, Housing Benefits, as well as regressive tax increases.
In order to confirm and underpin these conclusions, the Centre For Welfare Reform has carried out its own analysis into the Coalition government's proposed cuts; and found out that by 2015, in England alone, that Local Government and Housing budgets will be slashed by around £16.2 billion, a real terms reduction in their budgets of 41.9%, despite the fact that social care for the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled, as well as children, accounts for 60% of all Local Authority spending. Social care spending had already been reduced by £4 billion, a figure that is expected to double to £8 billion, or a 33.3% cut in the budget, by the time the Coalition government goes to the country in 2015. At the same time and over the same period, Welfare payments for the poor and the disabled are expected to have been reduced by a further £18 billion, representing a fall of some 20% during the lifetime of this government.
When these figures are put into some sort of perspective, it quickly emerges that the 21% of the population who are living in poverty, according to the government's own official guidelines, the 13.5 million people previously mentioned, are being asked to bear around 39% of the Coalition's budget cuts. Those who are disabled, despite only representing a mere 8% of the general population, are being asked to bear 29% of the Coalition's savings, whilst those suffering from the severest levels of disability, representing a miniscule 2% of the entire population, are being asked to shoulder 15% of the proposed cuts. To what degree is civilisation a mark of our own modern society with percentages such as that?
In more specific terms, where an average able-bodied citizen is expected to bear budget cuts amounting to a loss of around £467, a person living in poverty would expect to lose about £2195; and a disabled person around £4410, over nine times more than their able-bodied counterpart. Those citizens with the most severe disabilities suffer even more, losing an estimated £8832, some nineteen times that of their able-bodied counterpart, twice their less disabled fellow and four times that suffered by their neighbour living in poverty. These losses arise through cuts made to Social Care budgets, Welfare Benefit payments, Housing benefits and tax increases, resulting in nearly one million families facing the prospect of losing the best part of £9000 per year, by some of the neediest families in the country.
Obviously, for two-dimensional thinkers, like many of our modern day politicians, simply cutting budgets automatically saves public money, little realising that often money saved in one vital area, just means more money being spent elsewhere, the law of unintended consequences if you will. Although the Coalition might choose to believe that they are successfully saving money in exactly the right places, in reality their budget cuts are likely to cost the country more money, not less, in the long run. As the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled increasingly struggle to cope on a much smaller budget, or far less vital services, so it is more likely that they will be pushed into a medical, social or financial crisis, forcing them to become an additional burden on their GP's, the NHS, or Social Services, all of which are a lot more expensive to access, both for that particular individual and for the country as a whole.
Of course, the Coalition vehemently refutes any suggestion that their budget cuts are targeted towards specific groups of citizens, but rather argue that they are a necessary measure in light of the financial deficit bequeathed by the previous Labour government. But consider this, if that were true, why is it that at a time of national budgetary constraints, where Welfare and Local Government funds are being squeezed, why have the budgets for the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and various Quangos been increased by 241%, Foreign Aid by 20.7% and the NHS and Pensions budgets maintained at the cost of a 12.6% inflationary stabiliser?
If the Coalition are not deliberately targeting the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled, then why is the department suffering the greatest level of cuts in terms of cash, the Benefits Department? According to Dr Duffy's report, between them, the Local Government budget and the Benefits budget account for some 50.8% of all of the Coalition's proposed cuts, even though between them they only represent around 26.8% of total government expenditure.
Bearing in mind the publics often misinformed antagonism towards the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled and even the unemployed, it is easy to understand the Coalition's budgetary decision making, in that cutting benefits to those who are purportedly workshy, indigent or feckless, or even criminally lazy, is a great deal more populist than attacking those who are just generally struggling to get along. Interestingly though, it has been calculated that in real terms, the actual cost of benefits in the UK is estimated to be £25 billion, around 3% of the UK's Gross Domestic Product, simply because many calculations fail to take into account the percentage of tax each and every benefit claimant pays back to the government, when they spend their welfare payments, approximately 47p in the £1. So in a funny sort of way, by reducing benefit payments to claimants, not only do the government reduce economic activity, because people have less money to spend, but inevitably the government also automatically reduce their tax receipts as a result.
Even though it might appear to be a highly popular policy to target individual groups within society, in order to achieve their long term ideological objectives, the Coalition run the risk of further dividing an already fragile citizenry in pursuit of their own narrow political and fiscal aims. It is already well accepted that poverty, indebtedness, social disadvantage are key reasons for family abuse, violence, isolation, exclusion, increased hospital admissions, drug use, alcoholism, illness, increased institutionalisation, family breakdowns and imprisonment, which all bring with them additional social and economic costs to the wider community and to the country at large. More police, ambulances, nurses, doctors, hospital beds, prison warders, psychologists, advisers, counsellors, etc. do not come for free; and represent an added burden to the exchequer, often at many times the cost of the original problem.
If the Coalition government, ministers, politicians, the media and the people of Britain don't stop and think about the way in which they so easily demonise the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled, then their indifference to the plight of their not-so-successful fellow citizens could well come back to bite them!