Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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We are being cheated about benefit cheats

Clamping down of benefit cheats, those who fraudulently claim government benefits, has been a oft-repeated mantra of the political right in Britain. By ‘right’, I include the neoliberal New Labour project. Much of the mainstream media, not just the usual hard-right press, have merrily chimed in without needing too much encouragement. The usual news item focuses on some benefit claimant who is holidaying on a luxury yacht, or some other eye-catching headline. This follows the usual methodology of the populist right, use an individual story, even hearsay, to illustrate your point.

There have been various government strategies to encourage us to ‘shop the scroungers’, and now the ConDem government will be entrusting the credit-rating agency Experian with tracking down benefit cheats — all performance and profit led.

However, David Osler has posted on the statistics show that benefit fraud amounts to less than 1% of all benefit payments. So, the greater fraud is that perpetrated by politicians and journalists who have vastly exaggerated the problem. In absolute terms, that 1% translates into £1 billion, but even then, as Dave points out, the bank bailout was £850 billion.

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A budget both unnecessary and vicious

The Liberal Democrats are doing most of the talking on this week’s budget, in an apparent attempt to convince themselves about it. My MP, Vince Cable, has been writing in the local rag about how we all knew that a tough budget was needed, that it will hurt, but is totally necessary. It is clear from various media vox pops that a number of people are being taken in by this ‘tough but fair’ line.

The only thing that is obvious is that there is a deficit in government finances. The threat that is wafted before us is that of Greece, but the UK’s credit rating is in a far better state than that of Greece. And the assumption is that the markets trump all other needs in our society. This is a deeply offensive attitude towards the people of this country, and demonstrates the hateful ideology behind this budget.

Vince Cable has been all over the TV trying to drum up support for this budget. However, when all its viciousness against families, disabled people, those on housing benefit and anyone who buys anything is listed, he defended the budget by pointing out the positives: all for business. So, the Con Dems are not only putting markets before people, but also business before people. They may retort that helping business creates jobs, and reduces unemployment, and thus is better for the general population. However, we have plenty of evidence that helping business mostly benefits upper management, and there is no ‘trickle down’.

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The horror of the slasher budget

Today, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced his budget. Variously named an emergency budget or an austerity budget, it is clearly more a slasher horror.

We already knew that the Tories were going to be savage with the public purse, but we are beginning to see a Liberal Democrat Party beholden to a liberal economic theory, and the sidelining of that party’s social democratic wing in the name of coalition government.

As everyone predicted, the new budget is a screw-the-poor budget: child benefit frozen for three years (huge impact on low-income families), housing benefit capped (those on low incomes will be forced out of some areas), SureStart maternity grant limited to first child (affects most families), tests for disability allowance to get tougher (fairly degrading to many claimants, costs to administer and will likely find fewer ‘bogus’ claimants than the Daily Mail expects)  and VAT to increase to 20% (massively affecting the spending power of the poorest in society).

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