Across Edinburgh yesterday, hundreds, maybe thousands, of our fellow citizens woke up knowing that they were facing a new existence in which they were being targeted by the British government precisely because they are poor.
In what must be seen as some sort of grotesque April foolery, citizens will see their income reduced because of an invidious and thoroughly inhumane Westminster measure which is rightly called the bedroom tax.
The fact that poor people – if you are on housing benefit, by definition you are poor – can have that benefit reduced by up to a quarter because their home is deemed too big for them is crossing a bridge too far, even for this demented, incompetent and very, very nasty coalition.
I will go further. The reduction in housing benefit for those people too poor to own their homes is the nearest thing to evil that I have seen from any government in my lifetime, except when the Conservatives ordered the Trident nuclear weapons system back in 1981 – that truly was evil, and Britain’s possession of a system of mass destruction is proof that this is not a moral state.
I do not use the words good and evil lightly, for having studied the concepts on a philosophy course many years ago, I know how complex the issues surrounding their usage are. But in contemplating the bedroom tax, I genuinely have to ask whether at any time did the coalition government’s leadership ask themselves a simple question – is what we are doing good or evil, is it morally right or morally wrong? Surely any measure which takes money off poor people is wrong. Indeed, that is the very definition of a bad thing.
The coalition calls the action “welfare reform” but we all know what that really means – benefit reduction. And those who support the bedroom tax say that it isn’t a tax at all because people are merely losing money, not having to pay more – the same sort of people no doubt called the poll tax the community charge long after the rest of us realised it was nothing to do with community and everything to do with the rich staying rich and the poor getting poorer.
In Britain, we live in a massively divided society because we live in a quite immoral society. Our political and religious leaders have lost their moral compass to such an extent that they are off the map of morality and the mass of the people barely pay attention to them any more.
Oh, sure, the government will claim it has right on its side, and that it is trying to do good, but its notions of rightness and goodness do not accord with those you will find in the Bible or in the hearts and souls of the ordinary people of this disunited kingdom.
Look at the madness around you – the government has done nothing to deal with the profoundly wrong system of bankers’ bonuses. The whole bonus system is both bad and illogical – pay people extra millions for doing their jobs? Crazily wrong, especially while the government claws back money from those who don’t have it.
The justification by Iain “Ratbag” Duncan Smith and his cohorts is that the bedroom tax will force people to either downsize or use their spare rooms for lodgers in a bid to solve the housing crisis which, after all, is the result of inaction by several governments.
Instead of attacking people with disabilities – many of those who will pay the bedroom tax are in houses adapted to their physical needs as disabled people – the government should be taxing those who can afford to pay more and who directly cause the housing crisis, like people with second homes.
If every owner of a second home was to pay a little extra for the privilege, I don’t suspect many of them would miss the money. Those that would find such an additional tax reprehensible have a straightforward choice – they can pay the tax or sell their second home.
That’s wrong? That’s immoral? Well, how much more wrong is it to take money off people who have no choice and no ability to pay anything extra at all.
If you think the bedroom tax is bad, wait till universal credit comes in. I have spoken to many people who work with the unemployed and those on low incomes, and they are unanimous in saying that it will be disastrous and may well cause the sort of riots that will make the 2011 conflagrations look like a garden bonfire.
Don’t think it can’t happen here in Edinburgh – there are parts of this city and many other areas in Scotland where people are in such grinding poverty that they no longer care about such things as the law of the land.
Margaret Thatcher famously said there is no such thing as society. She was fundamentally wrong, but I understood her point. She was admitting that her view of society was that some people would get rich and some would stay or become poor, and hang the consequences.
Her pseudo-philosophy runs through the coalition like a bright blue vein. This “society” is about to pay the consequences of the immoral approach by the government, and I fear for the safety of the populace at large.