Despite the radical change in perceptions of the state of the country in the eyes of supporters and opponents of the current Government, very little has actually changed and, when all is said and done very little will have changed by the time they leave.
We will still be a nation fighting amongst ourselves over who gets the money and who has to pay – the sight of students acting as self-righteous citizen tax collectors demanding enough money from Vodafone to subsidise their own tuition fees illustrates this with depressing clarity.
The machinery of Britain’s surveillance state remains in place, the civil liberties we lost under Labour haven’t been restored and judging by the hideous exercise in double-think that the new Control Order system has turned out to be it would be unwise to expect much, if anything, from this particular Government.
We’re still a heavily taxed, heavily regulated country dominated by vested interests. That’s certainly not going to change under the Coalition.
And, most importantly, the majority of people seem to believe that if something’s worth having, the Government should pay for it. Dependence, we’re told, is not a sign of failure. There’s no shame, it is said, in relying on your fellow man.
Well, I think this is wrong.
Whilst it’s true that the vast majority of people will not really notice much difference between the state of the country at the end of this term of Government and the end of the last term, a small minority – the losers in the current reallocation of resources – will feel some quite striking changes in their own lives. There’s always winners and losers when Governments change hands and the winners of today are tomorrow’s losers
One group who’ll feel it most sharply are those who’ll have to move home as a result of Housing Benefit caps. Moving home is always a stressful, unpleasant experience and to combine that with the humiliation of having to leave a house because the taxpayer is no longer willing to pay such a steep rent (with the implication that the tenant has been greedy and inconsiderate of the taxpayer in choosing their current home)… well it’s safe to say I have some sympathy. I’m not entirely inhuman, it turns out, but that doesn’t mean to say I’m against the housing benefit caps or that this should be stopped.
Instead I’m going to use this as an example to illustrate that “there’s nothing wrong with being dependant on others” is as disgusting a lie as ever there was.
Living in a house on Housing Benefit is not, and never could be, a like for like substitute for owning your own home.
By asking someone else to pay your rent, you surrender control. You live in property that costs no more than the person paying is willing to pay, or you make up the difference yourself. You can’t hold the person paying to a guarantee to pay indefinitely. You lose, automatically, the ability to control how long you live in a particular property because you have placed such matters in the hands of someone else. You are, literally, at their mercy.
This is, by its very nature, is not a very attractive state of affairs to find yourself in – having been through it myself several times I know it to be utterly degrading, humiliating and destructive to what little self-esteem I have… but it is the price of getting for free what others have to work to pay for. You trade your dignity and your autonomy for it, and you hope and pray that the person in control isn’t a sadist who takes pleasure in abusing those who have no choice but to suffer whatever is inflicted.
In a polite, civilised society we prefer to leave this reality unspoken. We understand that there are people who have no choice but to take whatever they can get in order simply to survive, and it seems callous and cruel to compound the simple fact of having to live this way with reminding them that it is so.
By asking them to move somewhere cheaper, however, the Government has indeed reminded us all that it is so. Their cruelty is in exposing the lie that people who get to live in posh parts of London that normal people couldn’t hope to afford are somehow ‘lucky’. They are not.
This, they say, is the evil of Capitalism, this edge case of what happens to people who don’t have the means to support the lifestyle they’re actually living without charity from others.
Yet the alternative proposed is that the right to use money to take control and achieve autonomy is removed from all, to throw all of humanity into collectively owned housing with rent being a matter of what one can afford to pay, entirely disconnected from how much a particular property – or more likely room within a property – is worth, and where one lives becomes a matter of where you’re told to live and how much influence you have with the people who make such decisions. This is what the abolition of private property actually means.
Then we’d be equal? Then it’d be better? I think not.
It’s quite one thing to live in a society that grants people who live on welfare a certain measure of dignity and chooses – yes, chooses – not to be wilfully cruel or sadistic. It’s quite another to assume this means that there’s no difference between dependence and independence.