Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues
It is enlightening to read about the Great Depression and the struggle of the working classes in Britain to first win the vote and then use that vote to help themselves. The arguments that people put against them, first in the aftermath of the crisis where millions were put out of work and then later, against the very idea of a welfare state and the creation of an NHS is striking.
It’s striking because some of the language is nearly identical, from ‘scroungers’, the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving poor’, from ‘work-shy’ and ‘feckless’ men on the dole to even people saying ‘they have it so good with their radios and canteens.’ The fact we’re hearing such rhetoric now, again, is really quite astonishing.
Astonishing indeed and tragically disheartening. After all that struggle, after all those sacrifices we’re steadily going backwards. We might not have children down mines anymore, but how many people are using food banks? How many people have become mired in vicious circles and bureaucratic nightmares through simply looking for work? How many Job Seekers are getting welfare sanctions for the smallest offence or misunderstanding of the rules at the Job Centre?
We were sold a lie in 79. I’ll say it again, we were sold a lie in 79. We were told, we were promised that unleashing the banks, companies and corporations, that deregulating the economy, that stripping the protections of the workers would create a huge glut of growth and in the resulting swell, all boats, from the dilapidated wooden rafts of the poor to the floating luxury liners of the rich, would rise together and achieve more equality and better standard of life.
The truth is that the huge swell and rise in productivity sunk many boats and started spilling over the sides of most. The only ones that have benefited have been those at the very top, far from trickle-down economics we’ve seen a torrent of wealth gushing in the opposite direction. With real wages in steady and continual decline with massive hikes in the cost of living, we’re really much worse off.
Now I know the criticism, we’ve heard time and time again about the 1% this and the 1% that. The very core of the argument is this. Are we a society that rewards hard work? If we do, how on earth can we continue to justify our current system? If you’re one of those lucky few, I have no doubt that you work hard, that you invest your time and effort into your business and you really earn your money. But are you really worth over three thousand times more than the cleaners?
You can answer yes and maybe you are. Maybe you have the mind of Einstein and the instincts of Ali in your area and good for you. But in what world can we ask someone to break their back for us in a minimum-wage job and then tell that person that they absolutely aren’t working hard enough, that the gap between their earnings and their bills is their fault alone?
Clearly there’s a systematic fault. Amazon and Walmart who have fine-tuned their clever exploitation of the system to make sure that they can pay their workers below a living-wage and impose the harshest of working conditions and then use the state to top-up the wages to make sure those workers have the money to eat at the end of the week.
Now we’ve all heard about making our workers more competitive in this global market. But the fact is we can’t compete. The differences in wages are so vast that we’d have to drop back to wages that were common place before 1900 to even attempt to compete. Or we hear about enticing companies to bring their business here, as if the attraction of pure profit wasn’t enough, we as the tax-payer end up subsidizing corporate profits either through continual tax-cuts or ‘investment grants.’
Surely things have gone far enough? It’s becoming increasingly hard for children from poor backgrounds to raise themselves up through hard work alone. We hear all the talk about working harder but there comes a point where you simply cannot work any harder. Also, with increased automation coming in we’ve got a big problem ahead.
We need to start making decisions now. Do we want an NHS? Do we want a safety-net that makes sure that if we are unfortunate or if something bad happens, we’re not going to starve or be left homeless? Do we want to have protections in the work place?
These things cost money and that requires tax. Taxation is such a contentious issue, everyone thinks they’re paying too much, but without it nothing functions and we’re all much worse off. And when media channels and this current government endorse and enflame public anger toward people on the lower-end of the welfare scale, I get so irritated.
We assign so much effort, so much emotion toward these people. But the amount of money they account for is minute in terms of the budget. The level of fraud is at less than 1%. That’s phenomenal. The level of vitriol and damage from the government towards those on benefits, especially the vulnerable and disabled has been utterly and totally disproportionate compared with the way it behaves towards large tax-dodging corporations. Yes, we should always seek to be more efficient, but we shouldn’t attack people for needing a helping hand.
This is the problem, tax evasion and tax avoidance are priced at least 30bn each annually. That’s a lot of money missing from our coffers that doesn’t come back into the economy. That’s money that goes out and never comes back. We’ve begun to see it as a necessary evil, we don’t see the problem of it but it’s that money that’s the reason everyone else has to pay more, it’s that money that means our schools crumble or our roads don’t get fixed properly.
At the end of the day, we need to get serious about tackling inequality. Inequality remains and even burgeons with outdated laissez faire policies that assume business will provide a caring yet profitable working-society instead of seeking their own profit and trampling upon the rights and integrity of workers. As the last 30 years have shown, this assumption is false. Workers’ rights and peoples’ integrity continues to be down-trodden. We can’t go on like this.
Faizal Patel, (2015)