Thursday, October 22, 2009

Questions, Strikes and Benefits: a Rullsenberg Rant

Three areas to exercise my political muscles this evening. The inevitable Question Time debacle; the current postal strike; and the think-tank proposals to scrap universal benefits.

Question Time
QT is many things but it is not a rational interrogative forum for unpicking political party policies, ideologies or public attitudes. It is an arena, not unlike the Coliseum for spectator sport mouthing-off by participants and audiences for the usually non-edification of the viewing public. A sense of legitimacy is lent to all manner of opinion in this faux-serious programme (as Neil Postman discussed, TV is never so dangerous as when it thinks it is being serious). More lightweight panelists are perhaps unlikely to take certain opinions to task enough, whilst simultaneously including more heavyweight participants would lend further legitimacy. Unless I feel happy at throwing things at my TV I suspect I will not be watching this evening, pretty much the same as any other week.

For latecomers to this discussion: a bunch of racist fascist exploiters of white-working class poverty are participating in Question Time. Support 'Hope not Hate'.

Postal Strikes
The UK is a small place. We need and benefit from a national postal system for letters and packages. The Post Office is a fine institution which knows it needs to update its structures, technology and processes.

Unfortunately, it is ostensibly owned by the government (we, the taxpayers) but systematic failures to defend it properly have left it and its employees ragged and bruised. Shifts are too long, involve too much work and place workers under enormous stress. Post Offices are closing, deemed to be economically unviable with little heed to their broader social purpose. One of the failings overseen by consecutive governments was the way in which the company was allowed to plunder its pension pot by reducing employer contributions during the 'good times'. Guess what? We now have 'bad times' and the pension pot is screwed.

I support the strikes, despite the impact it has on individuals because the workforce has been left with few other options. I wouldn't trust Adam Crozier to take care of a pet for 5 minutes for fear he'd be 'modernising' how it looks by losing a few limbs (hat tip to Steve Bell who nails this mentality).

Plus, courier services are SHITE. Whenever a mail-order supplier DOESN'T use Royal Mail, I get a note through saying the parcel is in a safe place. So far these have included in my bin (on a bin-day) and thrown over my garden gate. If you too have had crap service from Home Delivery Network Ltd then do write to them at Customer Services, Home Delivery Network Ltd, Phoenix House, Moorgate Road, Knowsley L33 7RX.

Universal benefits may not target those in greatest need, but they are easy to deliver for everyone involved. Means-testing places the responsibility to get what you are entitled to on the most vulnerable of society. It costs to decide whether people meet the criteria or do not. It depends on usually fairly arbitrary boundaries as to what marks a person out as poor enough to deserve the benefit. Sliding scales to avoid immediate loss of a benefit when they earn above a limit only succeed in making the system more complex and costly to operate. And anyway, since when has middle-class been just about income? (That's even before you get to the figures proposed as being a 'middle-class income').

I would argue for the abolition of all targeted benefits - universal or means tested. Instead let us have a guaranteed income, sufficient to cover the sorts of income benefits, housing benefits, child benefits etc etc, and set up alongside it a proper and rigorous tax system. There would be little to gain from 'fiddling' the benefits system - the figures scarcely acknowledge the millions that are not taken up from benefits by those who would probably need them most.

Additionally, any attempts to dodge paying tax on all income above the guaranteed income would be easily visible - loopholes would be highlighted more quickly (and it would be hoped could be closed more swiftly and diligently than any recent governments have attempted).

Think tanks such as Reform look at the cost savings, but I don't think they look enough at the big picture. At the social picture. At how we live alongside each other paying fair taxes on fair earnings. We need to stop ignoring the widening gap between the haves and have-nots and look at makes the situation more even-handed for all. More universality, not less.


Anonymous said...

We seem to see eye to eye on many things. But to tackle three subjects like these all in one blog post is ambitious!

JoeinVegas said...

My goodness Lisa (as if I had any), your posts are so intelligent in a haze of nothing blogs. thanks