The power of the right-wing media – and the reason why it needs to be cut back to provide a democracy with a framework of balanced reporting – has again been put on show by its persistent fusillade of vilifying propaganda against the jobless and low-paid to assist their Tory government allies in pinning the blame and the burden for deficit reduction on the most vulnerable families in society. The one argument used by Tory MPs to shore up the unalloyed nastiness of Tuesday’s Benefits Bill – the first to cut benefits in real terms for nearly a century – was that it was wrong for benefits for the unemployed to have risen by 20% since the financial crash while wages for those in work have only risen by 10%. But people don’t buy things in shops with percentages; they buy them with money. And in money terms 20% of the £71 a week JSA is £14, whilst even for the lowest-paid in work 10% of the national minimum wage is £23 a week . So actually even those with the lowest wages are £9 a week better off than those on benefit.
But of course the sole Tory argument isn’t just wrong, it distracts from what’s really going on in society. Unemployment benefit has already been halved in value relative to average wages over the last 30 years, and now JSA claimants on £10 a day (how many Tory Ministers have tried living on that?) are set to have a further £1 a day taken off them. At the same time some 8,000 millionaires, including many in the Cabinet, are about to receive a tidy handout of over £2,000 a week from the repeal of the 50% income tax rate. Even that is dwarfed by the staggering gains over the last 3 years of austerity of the 1,000 mega-richest in the country totalling £155bn according to the Rich List.
This bill has nothing to do with deficit reduction. Its real purpose is very different. It is intended to demonise the jobless as shirkers, even though there are today only enough job vacancies for 1 in 8 of those chasing them, and to tarnish Labour as a friend of ‘scroungers’ (though the 1% pay cap will apply to hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers and soldiers). It is intended to end the century-long commitment of all political parties, till now, to ensuring that those forced to depend on benefit should not be made to suffer a real terms cut in living standards. And it is intended to vilify Labour, in rightly voting against the bill, as the party in denial of the need for deficit reduction (so why doesn’t Labour spell out the jobs and growth strategy which it supports and which is the only real answer to large-scale budget deficits?).