A few days ago, I referred to Lord Lawson and his decision to seek formal confirmation of his right to live in France, noting that the opposition of Brexiteers to freedom of movement â€“ insofar as theyâ€™re really opposed to it at all â€“ was targeted at â€˜otherâ€™ people, not at themselves. And particularly at the poorest.
Thereâ€™s another aspect to this, which is more general in application. Itâ€™s a classic example of the way in which a ruling elite divide and rule. Itâ€™s never the rulers that cause the problems, itâ€™s always others amongst the ruled. Turning some groups of the disadvantaged against other groups of disadvantaged â€“ and usually those even more disadvantaged than themselves â€“ is a neat way of diverting attention away from where the real inequality in society is lurking.
So, immigrants, those on benefits, the sick and the disabled â€“ all are turned into targets, and all are blamed for the lack of jobs, poor education systems, and a failing health service. Those with the most highly-paid jobs, who buy the best education for their children, and pay for the best health care for themselves and their families tell those on average incomes, with access to average schools, and an average health service that the problems are all being caused by those on the lowest incomes, in the catchment areas of the worst schools, in areas which struggle to attract the personnel to provide an acceptable health service.
Among the latest targets are the old, who are apparently a burden on the state because they (perhaps I should now say ‘we’!) are using a disproportionate level of resources from the NHS, and not contributing enough in taxes to pay for it. One of the lowest state pension levels in the EU is presented as â€˜unaffordableâ€™, and there are calls for increasing taxation and reducing benefits for the elderly. Recently, one celebrity called for those in receipt of the winter fuel allowance to be â€˜allowedâ€™ to contribute the sum to the NHS instead. (As an aside, Iâ€™m not a fan of the winter fuel allowance at all â€“ it is and always has been more of a political gimmick than a serious attempt to reduce fuel poverty amongst pensioners. It would be better just to pay a proper level of state pension in the first place than to complicate it with gimmicky extras. I feel much the same way about free TV licences and the Christmas bonus for older people â€“ more gimmicks delivered instead of increases in the basic pension.)
And itâ€™s true, of course, that the call has been for people to â€˜voluntarilyâ€™ give up their fuel allowance (and there have been similar calls in the past in relation to the TV licence), but an appeal to people to â€˜volunteerâ€™ is in some ways even worse than an enforced change. As many charities will confirm, the less well-off are often willing to give proportionately more of their incomes; a â€˜voluntaryâ€™ system of taxes (for that is what we are in effect talking about here) benefits the most well-off rather than the poorest. And that brings me back to the underlying point here. The problem is never that the wealthiest do not pay enough tax, it is always that the least well-off receive too many benefits. And attempting to create divisions between groups in society, including between young and old, is a classic strategy of divide and rule which diverts attention away from the real overall beneficiaries of the UKâ€™s tax and benefit system.