Sometimes I am puzzled, are the intelligent people on my television screen lying or are they really much less clever than I think? Last week two politicians with good degrees from elite universities both made a nonsensical statements about welfare spending, which either they knew to be untrue and in which they both displayed an incredible degree of cynicism and contempt for the electorate. Or more incredible still they believed in what they were saying.
George Osborne stated that he will impose a financial cap on welfare spending. Later Ed Balls for the opposition intimated that Labour would support the proposal. Whatever both really thought, it is impossible to guess. It is difficult to believe that either could think that they could predict welfare spending with any certainty in the future. A more sensible approach would be to commit to limiting welfare spending to reasonable levels, without committing to a fixed cash sum. Unfortunately a reasonable rational approach to political decision making makes bad headlines.
If both politicians believe that they can limit welfare spending to a particular figure; they are assuming that little will change in Britain in the five years following the election. They both must be claiming to know what demands there will be on the welfare system in the years 2015 – 20, which is impossible. There are a number of possible events that could occur which would make it impossible to keep within the cap.
There is some evidence that the British economy is running into one of its periodic periods of decline. The most obvious manifestation of this is the growing disparity between earned incomes and housing costs, either rent or purchase price. A recent article I read suggested that a young nurse who lived in Central London would have to pay 75% of their income in rent. Even Islington the former desired choice of home for metropolitan professionals is now being rapidly divested of them as they seek more affordable tenancies in other areas. House purchase in London now prices average £600,000 must be impossible to all but a privileged minority. The UK housing crisis is one of the lack of affordable housing, either for the young, median income families, the disabled, or increasingly the new elderly suffering from draconian cuts to their pensions. Whatever the government does it cannot avoid a spiralling housing benefit bill from the increasing large numbers of people unable to afford the costs of even modest housing.
The government has succeeded in selling a cap on housing benefit, (together with the bedroom tax) as a means of limiting the costs of housing benefit to the nation and eliminating the dependency culture prevalent amongst the work shy. However the line cannot be held as increasing numbers particularly in the South East and London will need help with housing costs, who will obviously not the the work shy inhabitants of the dependency culture. At present an inhumane policy toward benefit claimants has worked, by depicting them as several varieties of scrounger. There will be a time when the hostility towards these claimants abates. It is not inconceivable that this will happen when in the near future the majority of families in London will be claiming help with housing costs. Then it will be no longer an option to put families on the street, as these will be the ‘hard working families’ so beloved of the government. Even the most hard hearted of politicians will be forced to make concessions in face of the popular reaction against the mean spirited housing policy of today.
There is an alternative, governments in the past took action to control house price and rents. However that occurred in the despised 1960’s and none of the current generation of politicians would wish to go back to the time of social democracy.
What could be an endless list of events that could break the welfare cap will be limited to one more, climate change. This year the Thames barrier has had to be raised a record number of times preventing the carrying out of essential maintenance, making a possible failure of the barrier in future likely. The welfare costs of a flood that devastated London would be huge. While the government could afford to be complacent about flooding in the far away North or Somerset. The hysterical reaction of the media and politicians when it was possible that flooding in the Thames valley, threatened both their homes and constituencies demonstrates that there would be no limit to the welfare spending to help distressed Londoners.
One writer whose name I forget (probably Samuel Johnson) said that ‘all politicians are either fools or rogues’ understood all to well the nature of politicians. They either cynically propose solutions which that they know that of no relevance to the numerous crises at hand but which suit their political agenda or seem unable to comprehend their seriousness of these crisis’s and go along with any plausible solution made by their leaders or the media. How many of the political opponents of climate change are paid advocates of the energy industry, who will do anything for money and who are really flat earth proponents it is hard to know. All one can say is that as never before the political classes are overwhelmingly made up of cynical liars and the fools.