appropriate that it should have been April Fools' Day) yesterday, we have - yet again - the patronising gimmick of asking a minister to live the life of a person in need. We've seen this before, seen it with homelessness, seen it as a TV show conceit, seen it to death, and it has done nothing to inform or enlighten the debate. These days, with the continued depressing debasement of any and all serious discussion, we are as far away from enlightenment as it is possible to be.
Regardless of facts, the crusade continues; savings or cuts, debt or deficit, tax or penalty. I have written about the Quiet Man before, and the facts of his life are there for all to see, but once again he is - incredibly - central to the way that this country operates. He talks in high-minded fashion about benefit dependency, and alludes to the moral duty of providing opportunities for people to escape from this trap. Iain Duncan Smith, personal wealth (mostly from public speaking engagements) estimated at £1,000,000, with an annual salary of £134,565, married to the daughter of 'The Commander' - Baron Cottesloe - moralises to the nation about a culture of entitlement and this vile hypocrisy is reduced to a stupid, pointless challenge to him to live for one week only on £53. What will this achieve? Sweet Fanny Adams. IDS is lucky to be where he is - in his rented cottage on the father-in-law's country estate, is lucky that his connections and a few cleverly crafted bits of misinformation on his CV allowed him to enter the echelons of privilege which make our scepter'd isle what it is. Just as the proverbial and apocryphal dole scrounger is unlucky to be wherever (s)he is, trying to make the best life they can while everything conspires to push their faces deeper into the mud.
But what of the facts? They are notoriously difficult to track down, because everyone puts their own gloss on the screeds of numbers pumped out each day, every vested interest finds one or other statistic to reinforce their agenda. What we do know is that the welfare bill is largely made up of payments to those of pension age, and that it is a huge number, growing all the time as we live longer and accrue more illnesses thanks to this ageing process and the lives we lead, the poisons we are fed (voluntarily and involuntarily) in the modern world, and the mountains of shit we belch and vomit into the environment every day. None of these inconvenient truths are mentioned by Mr Duncan Smith or his cohorts because many of the above-mentioned group are perceived to hold the power of election over them.
We also know that many of those in receipt of housing benefit are working, and that most of these people are also in receipt of tax credits to make up for the fact that the wages they are paid are not adequate to provide a living. Thus large companies are effectively supported by government money so that they can continue to pay wages below decent levels. Already we have a strong rebuttal to the general meaningless noise emitted by those in Whitehall: that there is some huge money sucking monstrosity of The Unemployed draining valuable resources in a time of general penury. This is clearly not true. However, IDS and others continue to peddle their egregious guff, ploughing on with no heed for the voices raised against them. Even more galling, the gulf between scum like him and the increasing numbers of poor people grows wider by the day, yet he has the nerve to preach about how everyone has a duty to work harder.
People in receipt of Income Support (how insidious is the use of language?) are now expected to pay towards their council tax, and in some cases this amounts to just over £1 a week. Not facts necessarily this time, but an educated guess: the cost of collecting these monies will easily outweigh the value of the sums collected - even in cases where people have both the ability and the will to pay. How much does it cost to calculate the required payment, how much to input the data on to a computer, and how much to print the sheets out before posting them to each claimant? If we factor in the guaranteed prosecutions for non-payment (remembering that such non-payment is a criminal, not civil offence) then the cost of administration will soar, making the whole process unworkable, meaningless and self-defeating. But who cares about shit like that?