The feral underclass, tomorrow.
In the wake of David Cameron’s recent kite-flying statement about cutting off housing benefit for everyone under 25, the whole subject of welfare reform – and the demonisation of welfare recipients – has reared its head again. Displaying his usual stunning lack of empathy in his determination to ‘Con-Dem’ the ‘scroungers’ so berated by Iain Duncan Smith, our glorious leader chooses once again to conveniently ignore a few facts:
- The vast majority of those claiming housing benefit are actually in work. The paltry minimum wage (£6.08 per hour, fact fans) isn’t enough to live on in many places even if you’re working full time.
- A large proportion of the benefit bill is composed of working tax credits, claimed, again, by those who already have the jobs IDS is exhorting claimants to go out and get.
- Removing housing benefit from young people would massively reduce their ability to move to other areas where they could get jobs, even while IDS echoes Norman Tebbit’s “get on your bike” refrain.
- Forcing them to move back in with their parents would be difficult if their parents have been forced to ‘downsize’ their accommodation (as recommended by that self same government).
- The artificially (and politically motivated) inflated house prices make it virtually impossible for even those on a decent wage to buy a house, while buy-to-let landlords, free of any kind of regulation, are able to raise already exorbitant rents as high as they like, knowing tenants have no other choice.
- And finally, the £10bn Cameron’s seeking to save on the welfare bill is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of unclaimed tax that wealthy individuals and corporations are allowed to get away with not paying. Vodafone alone could pay for more than half that saving if it paid what it actually owed, but has been allowed to ‘negotiate’ with HMRC to pay a fraction of what is due (under Labour, who are every bit as culpable). And that’s just one company.
Cameron and his cronies have this propaganda approach of picking the tiny minority of extreme cases of ‘welfare entitlement’ then somehow managing to tar the majority with the same brush. Anyone who’s been in the position of being unemployed is aware that there isn’t a vast army of ‘entitled scroungers’ who ‘don’t want to work’ and choose benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this view is correct, and there’s a huge ‘feral underclass’ thumbing its nose at the taxpayer while using their hard-earned cash to go on holidays and drive BMWs.
Even if this IS the case, then is simply removing all their income the best way to deal with it? Assuming you favour the ‘stick’ approach of "they deserve all they get" or "they’ll have to get jobs then", you’re ignoring the fact that, according to the ONS, there are only one sixth as many job vacancies as unemployed people.
So the actual effect of cutting off all income from these ‘scrounging parasites’ is to throw them out on the streets to starve. Now, some rightwingers are callous enough about their fellow humans as to say that’s no more than what they deserve. "Survival of the fittest", etc.
But if you can’t appeal to a sense of caring for the vulnerable in society, it’s worth taking a pragmatic look at what effect this would have on them, those ‘hard-working taxpayers who’ve had enough of supporting the ‘idle’. Said ‘idle’ classes will now be starving on the streets, complete with that army of kids you say they’ve had just to get more benefits. Local authorities can’t afford to house them – shouldn’t, by your arguments. So what will this ragged army of former ‘parasites’ now living in boxes under railway arches do?
Well, those least equipped to cope may well simply die – of starvation, cold, exhaustion, all the things that currently ravage the homeless population all the time. Look forward to the possibility of discovering rotting corpses lying unburied hither and yon throughout city centres. At least it’ll create job opportunities in the funerary market, I suppose.
Some might turn to selling themselves sexually – look forward to a vast increase in those street corner prostitutes of both genders, many probably underage. I’m guessing those ‘hard-working taxpayers’ wouldn’t be too happy about that; most of those who espouse such views probably already hate the ‘immorality culture.’
But if the rightwingers are right about the type of ‘entitled’ person that makes up this ‘army of scroungers’ what most of them would do on finding themselves destitute would be to turn to crime. Burglary, mugging, car theft, drug dealing, public disorder – all would increase many times over from their current rates, as the only options left for these ‘nasty parasites’ would be CRIME or DEATH. City police forces, already starved of budgets and resources, would be unable to cope, and even if they could catch any significant amount of this new army of criminals, it would be impossible to squeeze them into an under-resourced, privatised prison system that’s already bursting at the seams for lack of investment.
So, even if you genuinely believe there’s an army of entitled parasites living the high life at the expense of the hard-working taxpayer (which is, of course, bollocks), be careful what you wish for. If these people are the feral, lawless, troglodytes you believe them to be, your fervent desire to cut off their only income could only lead to city centres being besieged by armies of homeless, barbaric, criminal thugs, intent on robbing, raping and selling their bodies to the highest bidder. It would be, effectively, the kind of dystopia the Daily Mail seems to have a disturbing fetish about.
And while I hate to bring Godwin’s Law into this, I find it all too easy to imagine what the rightwingers would do if confronted with this dystopia of their own making. “Round them all up”, would be the cry. Followed, inevitably, by a lack of caring as to where they went, as long as it wasn’t ‘here’. With prisons already too full, swathes of land would have to be adapted into makeshift ‘camps’ like those already crammed full of asylum seekers and refugees. But you couldn’t deport your ‘feral underclass’ if they’re British citizens, and you couldn’t release such scum back into society. So what would you do with them? At this point, you begin to hear the sound of ovens being fired up…
Yes, I know this is all exaggerated dystopian hyperbole. More moderate Conservatives certainly don’t want it to come to this. But the particularly extreme, rabid rightwingers who insist on the complete dismantlement of the Welfare State and the abolition of all workers’ rights and protections, clearly haven’t thought through the impact this would have on them.
Fortunately, the majority of benefit claimants aren’t a combination of extras from Shameless and Mad Max, but decent, law-abiding people, many of them actually in work, trying their best to honestly pay their way in a society where inflation and income inequality have made it impossible to do so without state help. Meanwhile, that same state is giving concession after concession to the real ‘entitled parasites’ – corporations and individuals so wealthy that they can afford to shirk their fair share of paying for the country they live in. Tax breaks, HMRC negotiations and non-dom status are of course condemned by Cameron and Osbourne – but only in the case of certain people. Jimmy Carr might be “morally wrong”, but strangely the same judgement doesn’t apply to the Conservative front bench and their friends in the City.
Contrary to the fevered beliefs of many on the left, Conservatives aren’t actually ‘evil’. Nobody sees themselves in that way. They honestly believe they’re doing the right thing, and that by removing state intervention and allowing ‘the market’ to dictate terms they can sort out society’s problems. To some extent, they may even be right. The problem for me is that, even if it works, they’re ignoring the inevitable human suffering and carnage it will cause before it does.
Of course, Cameron’s draconian welfare proposals aren’t actually policy. At least, not yet. The obvious political motivation was to throw a few bones in the direction of his party’s more extreme back benchers, ahead of what’s liable to be a fraught debate about Lords reform this week. Reading the news articles about this, even the right wing press don’t seem to think it’s a good idea – the below the line comments on even the Telegraph and the Mail seem to be generally damning of it. But there’s always a few free market, state-dismantling fanatics who advocate the complete abdication of any responsibility to society as a whole. To them I say – read the above (or perhaps HG Wells’ The Time Machine) – and be careful what you wish for. Because (HYPERBOLE ALERT) treat the poor badly enough and they will eat you.