Lavish handouts, rich bankers and Mick Philpott

By Savi Hensman
April 6, 2013

Hundreds of millionaire bankers will enjoy an extra £54,000 on average each year from 6 April 2013, thanks to a cut in the top UK tax rate (assuming they pay taxes here and opposition calculations are correct). A massive state bailout previously saved many banks, after their sector triggered an economic crisis in which numerous taxpayers suffered. By coincidence, Mick Philpott – whose crimes are being exploited by the Chancellor and Prime Minister to undermine the principle of social security – also apparently received £54,000 a year from public funds.

After domestic abuser Philpott was convicted of manslaughter after killing six of his 17 children in a fire, Chancellor George Osborne tried to link this with the “welfare state” and Prime Minister David Cameron joined in, claiming that living on benefits should not be a “lifestyle choice”. Sections of the media joined in, ignoring the fact that most of those struggling to survive with the help of benefits have next to nothing in common with this killer.

Those on meagre incomes include many who have worked hard and paid taxes only to lose their jobs or be forced into low-paid work in a crisis caused by the rich and powerful, and made worse by the government’s mismanagement of the economy. They also include disabled people and carers suffering because of cuts in public funding, especially for social care.

By vilifying the poor, top politicians have sought to justify further slashing social security alongside public services, allowing rich individuals and highly profitable corporations to benefit from lower tax rates. Attempts to exploit the children’s deaths for this purpose have caused tensions even in the ruling Coalition. Yet it is likely that such attempts to stir up prejudice, even hatred, against those in need, however illogically, will continue.

During the banking crisis, giant UK bank HSBC received billions of US taxpayers’ dollars via insurance firm American International Group. UK taxpayers also helped to prop it up through means such as low-interest loans. Banks had already profited hugely from states’ failure to regulate them properly. In November 2008, a millionaire HSBC banker brutally killed his wife and was later convicted of manslaughter. The two facts are completely separate.

While the global finance system is destructive and corrupting, the vast majority of wealthy bankers do not go around individually killing family members, while crimes of violence happen in all sections of society. It is as unreasonable to link the “welfare state” with the Philpott killings as it would be to link the bankers’ bailout with the 2008 killing in London.

And if top politicians really believe that £54,000 extra a year has such a devastating effect on people’s personal morality, surely they should be somewhat less generous with the super-rich. In fact, what poorer households receive in tax credits, child benefit, housing benefit and other social security payments is often minimal, and sometimes less than they continue to pay in taxes of various kinds, quite apart from the other ways in which they contribute to their communities.

It is time for the government to drop the smear campaign against those on low incomes, and for those who care about justice to work harder to combat prejudice and untruth.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate.

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