NO-ONE could accuse the the Tory government of half-heartedness in its determination to make the working class shoulder the burden of the private banking sector’s recklessness.
David Cameron flaunted his “delight” that all Tory MPs toed the line by refusing to back Labour’s critical motion on tax credits, even though several backbenchers had urged a rethink.
Smug Chancellor George Osborne was “comfortable” with removing £1,300 a year from low-paid workers with dependant families.
He told the Treasury committee that this decision was based on a simple judgement call — “Do you think our welfare system is too expensive?”
There is nothing simple about this issue. Responses depend on personal circumstances and what kind of society people would like to live in.
Osborne and Cameron are comfortable in many respects — not least as the result of benefiting from substantial inherited wealth.
Neither is likely to need the benefits provided as a safety net for the poorest families.
Nor indeed tax credits that make it worthwhile for people paid less than benefits levels to continue working or that provide support for individuals seeking to develop small businesses.
It is logical in an odd self-centred way for Osborne and Cameron to support the neoliberal concept of a slimmed-down state characterised by economic self-reliance, low direct taxation and a minimal social safety net.
Yet taxation is the means by which society pays for police to protect rich people’s wealth, finances infrastructure so that expensive vehicles aren’t damaged on pothole-pockmarked roads and provides a basic standard of living so that desperate people don’t resort to kidnapping for ransom the children of the rich.
It’s a simple question of whether people subscribe to concepts of social solidarity or prefer a dog-eat-dog society.
In any case, despite what hard-faced Tories imply, benefits are not payable solely to low-paid workers, the sick and the unemployed.
Corporate welfare, including capital allowances, regional aid, rates holidays, subsidised infrastructure and much more, tips the scales at around £93 billion every year.
Much of this may be viewed as investment to secure employment and economic development, but there is no reason for this expenditure to be ring-fenced when there is a free-for-all over benefits that affect the working poor.
Even if people answer “Yes” to Osborne’s question as to whether Britain’s welfare system is too expensive, this should not translate into backing for the Chancellor’s austerity agenda.
Many benefit payments find their way straight into private landlords’ pockets.
Official Department for Work and Pensions figures show that housing benefits have risen 13 per cent in the past five years in response to private landlords pushing up rents beyond the rate of inflation.
The government pays out around £30bn annually to private landlords, including over £9bn in direct payments from low-income tenants, more than £6bn in mortgage tax relief and over £9bn in untaxed annual average capital gains.
Tory ministers are silent on the scandal of the private rented sector gouging tenants and taxpayers, as they are on the tax subsidies allowed on private education enjoyed by 7 per cent of the population and paid by the rest of us.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have taken a giant step in turning Labour away from its austerity-lite acceptance of Tory policies.
The party’s tiny rump of serial abstainers, who haven’t reconciled themselves yet to the reality that their candidate and political approach was rejected by the membership, may continue to snipe.
But the real battle is on now between Tory austerity and its labour movement alternative.