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Welfare is a right for those who need it

This post is by @KayRollison

This has been a black week for those on welfare in Britain. We can’t let the same thing happen in Australia.

The British Conservative government is demolishing the welfare state, brick by brick. A series of changes, scarcely reported here, make it even harder for people who are poor, unemployed or have a disability. They include a bedroom tax – I kid you not – that public housing tenants have to pay if they have a spare room. Many will be forced out of houses they have lived in for years. There’s an arbitrary cap on benefits, reduction of the Council tax benefit and a host of other cuts like no legal aid for civil cases – you can read more of the details here. And by the way, there’s a tax cut for the rich. As far as I know, none of these specific changes figured in the Conservative’s election campaign. The policies are accompanied by flagrant attacks in the mainstream media on people living on welfare; apparently welfare is to blame for the horrific death of six children at the hands of their father. Welfare is a ‘lifestyle choice’, according to the Daily Mail.

What we see here is the almost inevitable result of neo-liberal ideology at work. You can’t tax the rich – indeed they need tax cuts – because they are supposed to be creating the wealth which pays for the safety net for the poor whom the system (inevitably) disadvantages. Only they aren’t creating wealth – there’s a recession. So there’s a vicious circle, with less revenue to pay for the safety net, which is increasingly expensive, and less and less affordable … unless you tax the rich, which is ruled out by definition.

One of the saddest features of this debacle is that the British Labour Party doesn’t seem willing or able to oppose these cruel changes. Guardian journalist George Monbiot describes the Labour Party’s position as ‘low-alcohol conservatism’, a hangover from the ineffective ‘third way’ policies of Tony Blair, who also wanted to relieve the state of its duty to minimise inequality, and promoted ‘personal responsibility’. The economy is in recession, but it’s still your fault if you can’t find a job.

Monbiot suggests that too many people in Britain still suffer from feelings of deference. He says:

‘They lived in great and justified fear of authority, and the fear has persisted, passed down across the five or six generations that separate us and reinforced now by renewed insecurity, snowballing inequality, partisan policing.’

The only antidote he sees is hope, engendered by ‘the power of a transformative idea’ that can change the way people think about equality and inequality. He suggests a ‘basic income’, paid for by a ‘land value tax’.

These ideas may have merit. But here in Australia, we don’t need them. I don’t want to get into a debate about national character, but I don’t think Monbiot’s characterisation of the British as still somehow accepting the rightness of inequality or feeling powerless to oppose it, applies here. We have a strong belief that more equality of opportunity is better than less, though this belief shouldn’t be taken for granted. Certainly the anti-welfare messages all too frequently espoused by the mainstream media probably do have an effect – welfare cheats, lazy unemployed, and shirkers claiming disability are core business for programs like A Current Affair. But while trust in governments’ ability to improve people’s circumstances has declined, people still look to them for assistance when things go wrong. The conservative ‘big government is the problem’ mantra doesn’t work terribly well here.

And surely our Labor Party is not the spineless body that British Labour seems to have become. Yes, it did undertake a massive retreat from government ownership of public enterprises. Yes, there are – and should be – debates about how to avoid welfare traps. But it has never retreated from the associated need to provide a proper safety net. You can read a discussion of what the Prime Minister says and does about equality (admittedly not always the same thing) here.

So at least in theory, we have a culture that approves of a society with greater rather than less equality, and a party in government that still espouses more equal sharing of wealth. Polls continue to show the voters want the ALP to represent workers and traditional Labour values. Essential Polling concludes that

‘Labor’s woes aren’t due to pitting the classes against each other, but rather a failure to fulfil their mandate to represent working people’.

What better narrative does the ALP need? It’s time to be bold. No more nonsense about struggling on $250,000. You can look at the real situation here. Forget about the accusations of ‘class war’. The only class war in Australia is of the rich vested interests versus the poor and weak. Welfare is a right for those who need it. The measure of their need is the level of their inequality. This is the simple message the ALP needs to shout from the rooftops. (After all, the mainstream media won’t publish it.)

And I fear they are going to need to shout it. Should the LNP win the election in September, they will be faced with a version of what the Conservatives have in Britain – declining revenue and growing welfare costs as the population ages. And their solution will be the same. Australia may not be in recession, but the Liberal mantra of balancing the budget, alongside their many expensive commitments to middle class welfare will mean they will cut spending in other welfare areas, no doubt playing the dole bludger card as they have in the past. But don’t expect to see any of this before the election; this is what we can expect from the post budget audit commission. ‘Labor’s budget black hole’. It’s all so predictable.

Where Monbiot is certainly right is in calling on hope as a motive force to oppose such attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable. Labor in Australia must never be ‘Liberal Lite’. It must reassert its traditional left of centre values.

By Kay Rollison


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  1. Mark Hyde

    It’s not the sane and reasonable restructuring of welfare that tools and empower individuals to know their place and sense of community so they can properly participate in it that I detest necessarily.
    It’s this constant ideological obsession with scapegoating those affected by economic change for that economic change that truly fills me with rage. It further alienates and entrenches apathy and devalues any kind of community participation.
    Sickening in the UK and I will fight it if it comes en masse to this country. It’s not a snee of entitlement to be affected through no fault of your own when economic circumstances around you change so rapidly. The sense of entitlement comes from those who expect to able to make mileage out of them through extra tax breaks when the state plays trickle down with the wealthy….PERIOD.

    Great piece Victoria.

  2. Jim Dennis

    I agree with your analysis of conservative ambitions. But how do we alert the population at large? Most ‘average’ people seem quite content to believe the MSM spin and don’t seem to worry about the lack of policy from the Coalition. Only a miracle can save our precious democracy from these pillaging pagans.

  3. khtagh

    Old rule, disenfranchise the majority for the minority, results in many people with nothing to lose = revolution. We are heading for one mother of a social upheaval world wide, perpetrated by the Murdoch lead Lieberal bunch. I call on everyone to take their money out of the banks after Sept 14 (if the Whinging Wingnut wins) & watch the excrement hit the blades, even if was just the left that did it it would cause a run on the banks(their worst nightmare). It is the only ace we have left to play, play it while it is still your money, before it becomes their money. Remember the power the rich wield is money OUR money, remove it & the system collapses FAST.

  4. captain51

    After all Rabid did go to UK to do important things for Australia

  5. Joy Cooper

    Excellent piece Victoria & it is a huge wake up call for Australia.

    I totally agree with Mark & Jim, it is a terrible shame that a large portion of the voting population gets all their “opinions” & alleged news from the MSM. The rest, shamefully, just don’t seem to care.

    Tony Abbott is a devoted follower of Cameron, Osborne & Hague & will not hesitate to copy what they have done in the UK. The worst thing about what is happening in the UK is that I did read (somewhere) that the finances of Great Britain were nowhere near as bad a shape as the Tories said they were before they started to implement their “much needed belt-tightening”. (Only for the poorer people of course). This report said that the Tories actually increased the problems, they said they needed to correct, with the measures they brought in earlier.

    This is what could happen here with the demonising of the poor & unnecessary “belt-tightening”. Not for the wealthy, of course.

  6. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a

    the rich have an endless supply of lawyers and accountants to show them how to minimize paying taxes.

    The middle class may find a few breaks if they are lucky.

    The poor have no chance, if they get found out trying to get a few bucks more out of the system they are labeled cheats and criminals.

    They have no one to defend them and no support.

  7. Jeremy Michaels

    Yes this tax is vile but what you miss mentioning is if UK Labour hadn’t trashed their treasury and pushed their debt up to 90% of the GDP (It was once 30% once upon a time for the ALP debt apologists) the conservatives wouldn’t be desperate to fix things up like this or have any excuse to do so whatsoever.

  8. Möbius Ecko

    Crud Jeremy because they are not fixing it whatsoever, they are in fact creating more debt and problems because they are taking money out of the economy by shifting it to the rich who aren’t putting it back in.

    The real welfare state are the middle to upper class, and on any measure they are the largest drain on the state. You only need look at the figures to see that, but that is the one area that is sacrosanct, and much more than that they demand more than they are already getting and the government gives it to them at the cost of the less well off.

    The previous Labor governments got into huge debt because they turned conservative, Blair’s third way, and handed out large sums of public money to the well off. It failed miserably and the current UK government punishing the poor because of a problem caused by the wealthy is unfair in the extreme.

  9. Jeremy Michaels

    It’s not crud, they are raising revenue any way they can and using the debt handed to them by Labour as the justification! If there was no debt they wouldn’t dare pull a stunt like this. And welfare is also upperclass, many of them are scroungers, I often refer to politicians that way but your last comment is ridiculous, they got into huge debt because tLabour turned conservative? They got into debt because left wing governments raise debt and spend recklessly and make sure they and their mates benefit otherwise using your measure QLD, NSW and Federal ALP are Australia’s most conservative ever while Howard was really in the working mans party.

  10. Sandra Searle (@SandraSearle)

    Trickle down economics does not work. All it does is the Rich get Richer & the Poor get the Picture.

    These are not necessarily my words, but they do reflect what most of the working people of this country have to live with.

    Jeremy, you talk as if the government were a household. It isn’t and its economics doesn’t even come within a bulls roar of what you have tried to elude to. Howard was never the working mans’ party, he just sold everything that was owned by the people to those who were rich enough to buy up big. This will happen to the rest of what WE THE PEOPLE of this country own, that is Medicare, ABC, NBN and whatever else there is that isn’t tied down.

    Victoria, once again, well written article.

  11. Sandra Searle (@SandraSearle)

    My apologies to you Kay, read the article, saw Vics photo.

  12. Joy Cooper

    Oops same here, Kay. I apologise also. The rest of my post still stands including the :Excellent piece” comment. 🙂

  13. sulphurcrested

    The repetitive pushing of the ‘welfare bludgers’ and ‘dole cheats’ lines from the lying rodents’ years are still fresh. There is only all good people standing between us and a rabid right assault in Australia.

    khtagh “… take their money out of the banks after Sept 14 (if the Whinging Wingnut wins)…” I intend to do that anyway b/c of Cyprus. The neocon’s here may not facilitate such a move so quickly, and it depends how long they are in power (if they get into power) but I couldn’t trust them for any length of time.

  14. Alison White

    I’d take my money out of the bank too – if only I had any.

    I’m one of those welfare mums, on a carers pension supporting myself and 4 young people on a combined ‘income’ of $1200 per fortnight. I’m sick to death of being painted as a bludger. While I cannot work full time, as my daughter has mulitiple disabilities, I do volunteer 3 days a week and I take odd jobs when they are offered.

    I’m made to feel like shit by the media because people are jealous of the little money welfare takes from their taxes. Well, f*ck them – take away the way I buy food for my children and I’ll come to your Toorak or Brighton mansions and steal from your bloody fridge and I’ll siphon petrol from your mercedes!

    It’s high time for a revolution – I’ll be blowed if I’m going to take the MSM’s sh*t any longer…to the barricades.

    If we have to go back to the Feudal days you rich c*nts will have to drag me kicking and screaming.

    Oh – that’s better – nothing more satisfying than a Sunday rant 🙂 LOL

  15. xiaoecho

    Class War??? Bring it on! There are more of us than them!

    “They only call it class war when we fight back”

  16. Joy Cooper

    This so very true, xiaoecho & is something that is frequently overlooked.

    Wait until the politically lethargic finally stir, especially when they actually come to realise their comfy life won’t be so comfy for long.

  17. Jeremy Michaels

    Sandra Searle, you obviously have not read my full comment, reread it and you will see my comments were a response to a ludicrous statement. And also ignored is what I say about left wing governments handing conservative governments the very excuse they need to justify massive cuts. Left wing governments hand that excuse over on a platter but it is ignored by the supporters of the Left

  18. Ken Brown

    Another great read Victoria/ Kay. Last time I looked the Federal Govts total debts to GDP ratio was lower than most of the developed World. Unfortunately we are all too used to the rubbish that comes out of Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott and the MSM (mainsream media).

  19. Bill Morris

    Nicely put Alice, a revolution is just what we need to redirect Australia’s mineral wealth equitably (bloodless of course) and add to our cultural identity. ALW could do a musical and call it Miserable Bastards.
    And great stuff Victoria, although possibly a bit more KISS for the less articulate of us.

  20. Benj

    LVT is exactly the same as your Mineral Resource Rent Tax. ie an equal share of the Common Wealth.

    Or, perhaps you don’t think your Government should have a MRRT? What do you think would happen if they just let the mining companies keep all the monopoly profits?

  21. R Wells

    Jeremy Michaels that is bu***hit. You don’t know what you are talking about. The reason my Country is in a mess is because the bankers trashed the economy, the Conservatives are constantly harping on about Labour wrecking our economy when if you go back in time it was actually left by the hideous Thatcher and her Government. So butt out!!!

  22. VoterBentleigh

    The MSM have already started the propaganda here with claims that asylum seekers are getting assistance above what others have. When I heard the news about the spare room subsidy, I wondered if anyone in Britain was asking if the Royals were going to downsize or have a reduction in their subsidy, since it costs the British public over forty million pounds a year to support the Royal family and they certainly have plenty of spare rooms which could be rented out, but I guess the Murdoch propagandists would claim that this it would be invoking class warfare.

  23. jane

    Great post, Kay, telling it like it is.

    “The worst thing about what is happening in the UK is that I did read (somewhere) that the finances of Great Britain were nowhere near as bad a shape as the Tories said they were before they started to implement their “much needed belt-tightening”

    Oh I am surprised, Joy Cooper. It’s the same crap we were fed for the 11½years of the Rodentochracy. That and the constant utter nonsense about the great god SUR PLUS.

    Jeremy, that is complete nonsense. The reason the UK is going down the gurgler is that idiot David Cameron’s slash and burn economics.

    Throwing countless thousands out of work and cutting tax to the rich is senseless. And please don’t try the old trickle down economics furphy, or the old wealthy are the job creators crap.

    The wealthy don’t create or maintain jobs, the middle and low income earners and the poor keep people in jobs, because they spend the money which keeps the economy going, not those bludgers, the rich.

    As for Cameron’s bedroom tax, it is outrageous, just like the revolting Thatcher’s poll tax, aimed squarely at the poor and disadvantaged.

    And after all, who is responsible for the GFC? It certainly wasn’t the poor or low and middle income earners, but they’re paying the price.

    “They only call it class war when we fight back”

    How very true, xiaoecho.

    Alison White, I take my hat off to you. It’s so easy for the ignorant to blame single mums and others having to live on welfare for their imagined woes.

    You’re doing a very valuable job for the country; bringing up the next generation and looking after a child with disabilities on your own. Rest assured that not everyone thinks you’re a bludger.

  24. dariancase

    Reblogged this on dariancase.

  25. rwthorne

    “They got into debt because left wing governments raise debt and spend recklessly and make sure they and their mates benefit”
    I was going to write an earnest response to that comment Jeremy Michaels and explain a few things to you but then I realised that pointing out to you that a recent worldwide study found that the Howard Government was one of the most profligate governments ever would probably be pointless.

  26. direct current

    I have only just read this article and the replies that were generated, sorry. I totally agree with ‘class warfare’ only being when we fight back. I have a quote from JFK, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” While visiting the US I was taken to a ‘gated community’. The very wealthy had walled themselves in and hired armed guards to man the barricades to keep out the undesirables. These armed guards were paid minimum wage ($7.40 per hour) and not offered health insurance. I guess I’m just paranoid, but I don’t think I would sleep well in that situation, would you?

  27. Joy Cooper

    Neither would, nor could, I, direct current. With many of the Liberals having views, similar to the Tea Party, I fear this is what they want for Australia to appease their big business backers.

    It is disgraceful.

  28. Pingback: So far so bad | The Australian Independent Media Network

  29. Jeremy Michaels

    R Wells, under Thatcher it was strong, then Labour came along and borrowed lots of money, then they kept borrowing more. Jane, again, Labour borrowed lots of money. They made no attempt to pay it back or fix any messes they supposedly inherited, they just borrowed more money.

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