We are told not to despise MPs because some of them didn't fiddle their expenses. They have continued to fiddle (e.g. they can't claim the cost of mortgages on their flats anymore so they swap them and claim rent that they pay to one another); in December 2011 they argued for an extra £20k in allowances; and in January 2013 they dumped their expenses regulators. In a survey of MPs done by IPSA and published in January 2013 "69% of MPs questioned think they are underpaid and, on average, they suggest a MPs’ salary should be £86,250.", a 32% payrise. Pompous MPs patiently manoeuvring for a big payday: not much of a surprise here.
With all this forgiveness for greedy bankers and grasping MPs, we are told it is necessary to punish the unemployed because while the rest of us trek to work of a morning the sofa-surfing-skivers are eating hot buttered toast dunked in cheap gin.
The debate about benefits cuts has been focussed on the "Strivers and Skivers". With the "Skivers" allegedly pocketing vast amounts of taxpayers' money to fund their skiving. The government has decided that by getting the money out of the skivers, they can afford to cut the top rate of tax (already done) and not impose a wealth tax (determinedly not imposed).
The lie is exposed by figures from the Office of National Statistics and the Department of Works and Pensions that show less than 1% of all benefits spending is paid to possible "Skivers". And yet it is the whipped up contempt for the skivers that is used as a smokescreen to attack all benefits and deflect the public's attention from handouts to the very wealthiest.
So, lets look at the figures:
a) Are the unemployed "Skivers"?
Answer: The Office of National Statistics figures on duration of unemployment shows that fewer than 1 in 5 claimants have been unemployed for more than 24 months. 7 in 10 have been unemployed for less than a year.
Duration of unemployment jumped after 2008, due to the banker induced crisis. Skiving among the unemployed no doubt happens. But no more than skiving among the rest of us. And at work we can have free cups of tea and colleagues to chat with.
b) Is Job Seeker's Allowance or is Incapacity Benefit a significant part of the overall benefits bill?
Answer: The Department of Works and Pensions figures show that Job Seeker's Allowance is about 3.5% and Incapacity Benefit is about 2% of the total expenditure on benefits in 2011/12.
So Incapacity Benefit plus Jobseeker's Allowance added together make up 5% of the benefits bill. And even making the ridiculous and offensive assumption that anyone unemployed for over 24 months is "skiving", even then just 1% of benefits go to pay "skivers" to be unemployed. And yet "skiving" is the incitement to justify cutting benefits. Pay for the deficit, created by reckless bankers, by making cuts to the poor. In the words of the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King:
"The price of this financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it…..Now is the period when the cost is being paid, I'm surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has."
Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, in evidence to the UK Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, March 2011.
The economic crisis is being used as a smokescreen to erode the economic position of the 99% increasing the share of the 1%. Employment rights; pension rights; right to free health and education; pay levels... The debt levels of this country are historically unremarkable. The debt could be paid off by a tax on the wealth that accrued to the 1% during the various booms.
(ONS data for "Breakdown of aggregate wealth" available here and here).
Austerity is a smokescreen to erode the share of the nation's wealth of all us ripped-off Britons.
With the attack on benefits the government is following the advice on eating whales: do it one bite at a time.