HUER'S CALL BY MIKE SAGAR-FENTON: Poor get to carry the can for all our economic woes
You take the car to work, pass the smiling reception desk, go up to the warm office where your secretary already has the coffee on. You're a people person, you like networking, talking, persuading, getting your own way. You own a house, have a family, take holidays. You're not rich but you do OK, you know how to duck and dive and make yourself visibly useful. In short, you're like thousands of other politicians, public servants, orderers of other people's lives. Not a bad life.
So the world of social desperation is something you only see on TV, or pass in the street with your eyes down. You don't want to be guilt-tripped. But you understand the maths, and they show quite clearly that taxes can't go on paying for the social services they have to cover. Something has to give. Hard decisions have to be made.
That's where it begins. Nice reasonable human beings using logic and mathematics to seek an equation that works.
What do they see? They don't see the creative side of finance, how to help the country to make more money for itself. Once upon a time the country actively involved itself in industry and business, but that was then, and now there's a concrete mindset which dictates that business should be left strictly to businessmen – in fact that everything possible should be left to businessmen.
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Sadly business is far too wily to stand in the headlights of the tax system any longer than it takes to find a way out. Business doesn't owe the country a living. It doesn't and shouldn't care about anyone but its shareholders, certainly not the poor and sick and dispossessed. So despite the occasional tough-guy speech to multinational non-taxpayers, the idea of trading ourselves out of trouble is too complicated for think-tanks and government advisers.
Instead of looking up, the probing minds look down. That's where the money goes, the health service, the benefit system, the constant battle to ensure the minimum standard of living that's a part of being British. Unlike business, they have a level of control there. It's the tipping point where humanity and practicality collide, where politics and ideologies split apart. And that's the problem.
There are still anomalies and abuses of the welfare state. There must be a limit to people's entitlement, a pressure to prod out those who rest too easily in the state's care. But trying to solve our obstinate sums exclusively at the bottom end means, whatever name you'd rather call it, bashing the poor. There's a price to pay for that, not in cash but in politics, humanity and conscience. Those in warm offices have to look at those in damp flats queuing up for food banks and loan sharks, point the finger and say: It's you who must pay. You must sort out the country's finances. You must carry the can for the money we let slip away.
And that's now our government's policy. It hides behind the useful cloak of Lib-Dem connivance, but it has quietly accepted that equality and fairness are luxuries we can no longer afford. We need the poor, and we need them to be a great deal poorer. That's why, for example, Mr Pickles will make people on housing benefit start paying council tax, while capping the councils' own ability to make up the difference. That's why public sector tenants will be thrown out of their homes if they don't fill every unused bedroom with strangers. That's why you can now convert office blocks nobody wants into sordid flats they were never designed to be. That's why we're getting Universal Credits to cover every benefit in one lump, a single monthly payment into bank accounts online to make their administration even cheaper and harder to penetrate. That's why the government is pushing regional pay – why pay those in poor areas like Cornwall proper wages? Once you start bashing the poor it's really quite addictive. You can always make it look fiscal and responsible. The poor are always with us, and it's time we stopped whining about it. Or as we sang so innocently, "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, He made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate." – even God approves.