As the Welfare Reform Bill passes into law, it seems welfare has become a dirty word, something to be ashamed of. Unless you’re rich, that is.
There are numerous examples of how extremely wealthy people and companies benefit from various government schemes and subsidies. When it comes to getting ‘something for nothing’, it is not benefit claimants but the landed and titled who have got it off to a fine art: the difference being that their affairs remain private and they are treated with respect, whereas benefit claimants are publicly denigrated at every opportunity.
Take Conservative MP Richard Benyon, who is a Minister in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Mr. Benyon’s family trust has received over £2million in farm subsidies on his 20,000 acre estate in the Home Counties, though his own Department has tried to keep this information out of the public domain .
And Mr Benyon is far from being unusual: John Vidal of the Guardian has suggested one in five Tory MPs is believed to receive farm subsidies .
Or take Samantha Cameron’s father, Sir Reginald Sheffield, 8th Baronet. He owns two large country estates, and has graciously allowed a wind farm to be built on one of them. He has dismissed the suggestion that this brings in a lot of money, protesting that he only receives a ‘modest income’ of around £35,000 per year from it .
This may only be a modest income to the Baronet, a tiny fraction of his total income, but it is £9,000 a year more than the maximum a family on Benefits will be allowed to receive under his son-in-law’s new rules.
In recent days the government has portrayed itself as tough on tax because it tackled ‘aggressive tax avoidance’ by Barclays bank. But Barclays was not just avoiding paying tax, it was playing the system ‘to manufacture tax credits i.e. claim tax back, even though no tax was being paid in the first place .’
One must welcome the fact that Barclays is being forced to pay £500m back to the public purse, but it seems that nobody will be punished for their attempt to take money from it.
Meanwhile, every week local newspapers across the country run stories of poor, often vulnerable people, often leading miserable lives, who are feeling the full force of the law because they didn’t inform the authorities that a partner had moved in with them, or they had obtained a few hours low paid work.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is a regular contributor to Ekklesia.