By Rab Bruce’s Spider

We all know that the UK Establishment, actively supported by the bulk of the mainstream media, has long vilified Benefits claimants or, as those of us who are old enough to remember used to call them, people reliant on Social Security.

Part of the reason this mindset has widespread popular support is that many young people who have been lucky enough to obtain full time employment experience jealous anger when they see some of their contemporaries living on Benefits and earning almost as much as they are themselves. When you are slogging your guts out in a demanding job and earning the minimum wage, it is natural that you should feel aggrieved at people who, on the face of it, can’t be bothered to earn a living for themselves and instead live off your taxes.

This is an emotion most of us have experienced at some time in our lives and, indeed, it is often difficult to justify why some people should enjoy any of the comforts of modern living when they apparently have no intentions of contributing to society. Let’s face it, most of us have come across people like that.

The problem with this sort of attitude is that it ignores some wider social issues. For one thing, the majority of people who claim Benefits would rather be in meaningful, well paid employment; it’s just that the media highlights those who they deem scroungers.

Secondly, and very importantly, the gap between the incomes of those who are working and those who rely on Social Security is narrow not because Benefit payments are so high but because income from employment is generally so low. So low, in fact, that a great many people who are in full time employment still need to claim Benefits in order to keep their families at even a fairly modest standard of living. This is a shocking indictment of Westminster policies which, despite the continuing claims of aspirations to “Make Work Pay", instead seem to concentrate most of their efforts on reducing Social Security payments rather than raising incomes to more than a basic subsistence level.

This is the worst feature of the UK employment model. Corporations are pandered to and encouraged by the tax regime and the profit motive to keep wages low. They get away with this because of the low level of the minimum wage and the reluctance of Westminster to enact any legislation which will seriously impact on profits. Even the recent modest increase in the minimum wage has seen some employers make people redundant, citing the minimum wage as the reason. All this does, of course, is pass a further burden onto the State which, because Corporations so often avoid paying tax, means that the majority of working people bear the brunt of the cost through their own taxes.

What no UK Government wishes to acknowledge is that this model is not working. This is because the alternative, compelling employers to pay much higher wages and accept lower profits as well as paying all their taxes, is unpalatable to big business, which means it is unpalatable to Westminster MPs because it is big business which makes the largest Party donations.

Yet, if people were able to earn more, they would pay more income tax. Higher earnings would give individuals more spending power which would boost the economy, and would also reduce the need for the State to top up earnings with the various Tax Credit schemes. As far as the Government was concerned, the combination of higher tax receipts and lower Tax Credit payments would also reduce the burden on the State. It would also mean that those who still rely on Social Security would be earning less than those in work while still being awarded enough to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

But this model is never going to become a reality as long as the neo-liberal consensus governs the minds of those in power. Instead, they know that the working people must be kept divided and this is why those on benefits are so often vilified in the Press. It is classic Divide and Rule.

The other major social factor to bear in mind is that any civilised society ought to have some system in place to help those who, for one reason or another, are unable to help themselves. People doo have disabilities and need extra help; some people become too ill to work; some lose their jobs through no fault of their own; some young people need to leave home or are left destitute for a variety of reasons. If something like that happened to you, wouldn’t you want the State to help you? Of course you would.

So why hate people who are in that situation? Because any system is open to some abuse and, humans being what they are, there will always be some who are able to take advantage. Look, for example, at MPs’ Expenses. The system was abused and only refined when it became public knowledge yet MPs’ Expenses claims are now running at a higher level than they were when the scandal broke.

Look at Offshore Tax Havens and how the rich elite are avoiding tax through these legal but immoral loopholes in the system. Yet we simply shrug and accept this as normal while we take out our frustrations on the people next door who are apparently living off the State while we are working hard to keep food on the table and a roof over our families’ heads.

There isn’t an easy answer to this and certainly no quick fix. It requires a major shift in public awareness and attitudes and this will be almost impossible to achieve while the Right Wing consensus remains in charge at Westminster and the media reflects a Right Wing viewpoint. That doesn’t mean we should give up, only that the argument needs to be made often and clearly. What we need to aim for is a society where we are not jealous of people who rely on Social Security but are thankful that the State is there to help anyone who is in need. If that means putting up with a few individuals who exploit the system, it is still far better than seeing the poor banished to workhouses or left in the streets to starve.