Another reason to dispense with Jeremy Hunt and his pal Iain Duncan Smith is their ill-informed prejudice against the poor. Hunt argued before the general election that long-term claimants had to “take responsibility’ for the number of children they had, adding that the state would no longer fund large workless families. But it is all based on myths. Just 3.4 per cent of families in long-term receipt of benefits have four children or more.
The Tories transformed a crisis of capitalism into a crisis of public spending, and determined that the most vulnerable would make the biggest sacrifices. But taking away support from the disabled, the unemployed and the working poor is not straightforward. It can only be achieved by a campaign of demonisation – to crush any potential sympathy. Benefit recipients must only appear as feckless, workshy scroungers, living in opulent quasi-mansions with wall-to-wall widescreen TVs, rampaging around the Canary Islands courtesy of handouts from the squeezed taxpayer. Benefit fraud does exist – according to Government estimates, it is worth less than 1 per cent of welfare spending – but the most extreme examples are passed off as representative, or as the “tip of the iceberg”. The reality of struggle and strife is all but airbrushed out of existence.
That is for two reasons: the first is that it simply makes us uncomfortable to think of the abject misery perhaps no more than a stone’s throw from our own homes. The second is that we too, in the middle class are struggling and afraid: our real incomes have diminished steadily since the late 1970’s. We need someone to blame for our growing discomfort. It is too threatening to blame those wealthier and higher up the status ladder than we are: they might fire us or crush us or otherwise disturb our complacency. So we pick on the poor, the weak, the immigrants, the defenceless and create campaigns like those of the Pub Bore Richard Littlejohn in the Mail.
Next, comes fascism and joining together to take measures to punish the feckless scroungers among us. Your unemployed neighbour next year. You the year after?