Pope to World: The Systems Fucked

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

I’m not religious, and have always generally assumed Pope’s and the Catholic Church to thrive off the economic inequality that created the beauty of the Vatican, but Pope Francis spoke the words above. If the Occupy movement and famous people, like Russell Brand and Matt Damon, preaching change and revolution aren’t enough for you, now the most famous man on the planet is behind them (if only on an economic level). Famous people are perhaps not better placed to examine economic disparity, but they sure are better at telling people about it. Unfortunately, it can be vague and confusing, and could lead some people decided that abstaining from voting (and therefore becoming even more voiceless) is more effective than spoiling your ballad (which also happens to be a good days entertainment). So before we get all anarchist like our Pope provocateur, lets look at some facts.

Who Benefits?

With the recession and all that jazz, we’ve been told, not just by the tabloids but also by actual politicians like David Cameron, that it’s those pesky ‘shirkers’ living on the bottom line who are using all of this wonderful tax to sit on their arses smoking weed and playing video games. This is a helpful angle for the Conservatives (/Coalition apparently) government, as they can blame unemployment and ‘increased’ welfare spending on the Labour government that preceded them. The fact that Labour also tightened the reigns on disability and unemployment benefits by implementing the Employment and Support Allowance (stricter than the previous Incapacity Benefit, and based on the oft derided Work Capacity Assessment) is unlikely to prevent the righteous indignation being incited against them for enabling ‘shirkers’ once the propaganda train is in motion. It’s ideal for whichever party’s in power, as they can blame the opposing party, and it shifts attention from bigger holes in our economic bucket.

It transpires then that all three of the major parties have something to gain from appearing to minimize the numbers of people on benefits. It’s so nice for them to agree, what moral crusaders they must be!

They even amended the WCA in 2011 with the intention of finding 350,000 more people fit for work, and introduced the Welfare Reform Bill, which puts a one-year time limit on ESA for some claimants, a move intended to shift a further 300,000 off ESA. Straight into the arms of gainful employment, right?

Job vacancies in the first quarter of 2011 were below 500,000, while 2.5 million ‘able’ people were unemployed, so where the newly ‘fit’ will work now is questionable. Half of the previous claimants will skip straight over to Job Seekers Allowance – so they will still be claiming, but these benefits will be less and poorly suited to their needs. Those who fail to meet the new criteria for ESA will in many cases be subject to new reforms putting the onus on the disabled or unemployed, such as the bedroom tax. Many people with dialysis machines and other cumbersome medical equipment to store at home will not just have lost their benefits (and the switch over can leave someone with no benefits at all for up to 2 months), but will also be paying extra tax (something which takes surprisingly less time for the powers that be to put in place).

Now this is all necessary, right? We’re hemorrhaging money, and all the stern faced people in suits have assured us this is the answer. Well, this and cutting funding for the NHS and education, leading such institutions to outsource to less effective private companies (see Chartwell’s for an example, who often have difficultly paying living wage, tax and upholding moral working conditions).

Where else do you expect to get this money?

Trident?

According to the BASIC think tank, cancelling the program would save the budget over £83bn over the next 50 years, but Mutually Assured Destruction is the most logical ‘solution’ to not being bombed we’ve come up with so far, right?

Renewing Trident creates some problems regarding Britain’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament argues that if some states renew their arms it encourages proliferation elsewhere. But you don’t want us to be left out, do you? We could lose our independence!

Oh, but Trident doesn’t really operate independently… British Trident missiles are looked after at a port in Georgia, USA. The same USA who manufactures our warhead components, contributing to widespread belief that we are too technically dependent on the US to deploy Trident independently.

Oops. Maybe it was just the lucrative contracts being distributed that made it look so appealing?

Landlords?

An analysis of official statistics for Labour MP Karen Buck found that between 2011-12 and 2014-15 £35bn of housing benefit would be spent on private landlords. Landlords have been known to fill in housing benefits claims for their tenants, claiming their excess straight out of the benefits cache for housing they would have to rent cheaper on the open market. However, seeing as 2012 research showed a quarter of Tory MP’s, 12.5% of Labour, and 15% of Lib Dem MP’s were private landlords, and this doesn’t even begin to reveal the number who may have interests in the profit of private landlords, I guess this one’s impractical too.

 

We the people?

We may already be a little tight on this. I mean, we all want to pitch in and be part of the Big Society and all that, but we already seem to be paying a fair amount, aren’t we?
The consumer pays VAT on certain ‘luxury’ purchases. You know the ones, condoms, maternity pads, and tampons… heating, water, gas and electricity… insulation, solar panels and holiday caravans, to name a few. As these taxes are on our side, large companies who deal in many of these products do not have to worry. Maybe this is why our two highest grossing companies in the UK are invariably Shell and BP?

Businesses who deal with your money also don’t have to pay tax on transactions, and neither do businesses which persuade you to give them your money, such as online gambling sites, bingo etc.

So buying a military aircraft is not a luxury, but stemming the flow of blood from your vagina is, just to be clear.

Big Business?

We rank around 25th in the world, 6th in Europe, on the rate of Capital Gains Tax we charge corporations. This is exclusively for those that reside in the UK, unlike Phillip Green’s empire, or Lynton Crosby (Cameron’s election guru)’s firm Rutland, or most big UK businesses that can afford to hide their tax offshore. So, failing the closure of loopholes, which allow individuals and companies to avoid tax, we could adopt the Green Party’s policy to increase Capital Gains Tax by a negligible percentage (say to become 4th in Europe). Not enough to scare off corporations, a threat the government constantly wields, quaking in their boots, but just enough to increase the 7% of government revenue[1] (roughly £43bn[2]) that capital gains tax currently brings in, closer to the >£100bn revenue created by VAT, or the excess of £150bn[3] created by personal income tax (if you’re not rich enough to hide it offshore).

If we were to go a step further and put more restrictions in place to prevent tax haven loopholes, we could continue the welfare state at its previous efficiency without any punishment for those ‘shirkers’. Here is where Pope Francis’ grasp of the failure of trickle down economics clashes with our government’s ethos. The powers that be in the Coalition must constantly argue otherwise to protect low capital gains tax, free market…and their own interests.

There are countless more lucrative areas the government could find its subsidiaries other than those outlined above, and other than those currently in place. So why does the British government continue to hit ‘the excluded’ the hardest to protect the interests ‘those wielding economic power’.

It’s easier.

To focus on rearranging the welfare state works well politically, particularly for Conservatives; it’s the classic blame shifter.

It’s also preferable to the solutions outlined here, from an MP’s perspective, as restrictions on landlords, big business and tax are likely to hurt many MP’s pockets personally, and also could lead to being knocked off the guest list for a fair few cosy, beneficial, private dinners. Not useful if you’re hoping for an illustrious career of overpaid speeches in the footsteps of that paragon of virtue, Tony Blair, after your term in government.

Scrapping Trident is one of those reforms that you need balls of steel to try and push through, it would anger those invested, and the public, who assume to sometimes. This is due to the money which has already been poured in, and more would balk at the termination of that many lucrative military contracts. The Lib Dem’s want it ‘slimmed down’, but given the success of their campaign promises I wouldn’t invest too heavily in their claims.

The voices of the over 1.7 million households currently waiting for social housing are less likely to accost MP’s over reform bills in parliament, neither are those of the 40% who would have gone to university in 2010, but have now been priced out, according to OFFA’s latest annual report. The 9 in 10 disabled people currently cutting back on food and bills to pay bedroom tax (2013 study by Papworth Trust and backed by the National Housing Federation), or the single mums who can’t work or subsist on current allowances; they won’t be sat next to Members of the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MP’s (who wish to cap benefits at £20, 000 a year) at a state dinner any time soon.

You know who might be though? Rupert Murdoch’s a good friend of David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt’s, among others, so the News International magnate (who loves a good ‘shirker’ story) could be. Other owners of big UK businesses, landlords, military officials, media moguls and MP’S are also more likely to be on the guest list than the average UK tax payer or benefits claimant. Their views could feasibly be compromised by their positions, power and pockets, yet their voices are more likely to be heard, and echoed through questionable press tactics.

This is why a Pope pointing out that it may be time we lose our ‘naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power’, is particularly poignant. For most people in England the trust left long ago, but through this worldwide growth of awareness of reasons behind disparities of wealth, maybe we can move towards a more fair system. It will take more than a Pope to effect a government set in its ways, so shit on your vote slip, hold a banner in a march, scream at anyone parroting ‘shirker’ paranoia, boycott immoral businesses, and feel free to tell any nearby Christians that this is specifically endorsed by their don. If you keep shouting loud enough, someone will listen.

[1] http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/gb2013/GB2013_Ch10.pdf

[2] http://www.nao.org.uk/highlights/whole-of-government-accounts/

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/apr/25/tax-receipts-1963

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