No-one forgets that the poll tax was the trigger that brought down Thatcher. Then a Tory government was pushing its ideology to extremes – a flat-rate tax system, a brutal destruction of manufacturing industry, defenestration of the trade unions, a blindness to community and altruism in favour of selfishness and individualism, a deliberate huge wedge driven into the abyss between rich and poor.
Today there is an uncanny resemblance to that scorched earth policy. Privatisation is now being pushed to the point of the virtual elimination of the public sector, the banks are let off scot-free while the 99% victims are made to pay the price, the ‘big society’ is used as Rowan Williams has said as a cover for the phasing out of the Welafre State, and the wealth-poverty gap has ballooned. Yet Cameron last night, kamikaze-like, has aggressively asserted his determination to go further still. The Tories are like an occupying army laying waste to the foundations which will continue till they are stopped in their tracks. An explosion is waiting to happen.
The latest attack along a wide front is now directed at housing benefit. It has grown because hardly any houses are being built (lowest number last year since 1923) yet demand is rising so that rents are constantly pushed up and therefore housing benefit, 40% of which goes automatically to landlords. Rather than tackling the real cause behind the increase in this benefit expenditure, Cameron proposes to end most of the £1.8bn being paid to the under-25s (roughly £90 a week per person) to force them to support themselves or go back to live with their parents – as though the jobs are available (with 7 persons on average now chasing every job) or their parents, often hard-hit themselves, willing and able to take them back.
Pandering to right-wing vilification (the Mail again), he has threatened to stop the £65 a week for unemployed persons who allegedly are not looking hard enough for a job, as though the jobs were available. Housing benefit is also being cut below local rent levels, forcing over 100,000 families, 82,000 of them in London, to move to somewhere else far away which is significantly cheaper – a social cleansing exercise against the low-paid. Housing benefit is also being docked where it is claimed (arbitrarily) that a household has more rooms than it needs.
Thus £42bn a year goes uncollected from banks, big companies and hyper-rich individuals through tax avoidance or evasion while housing benefit at £19bn a year is shredded by lowering it far below local rent levels, withdrawing it from 18-25s, and ending it for anyone judged not to be looking hard enough for a job when there are nowhere near enough jobs available (thank you, George Osborne).