What really lay behind the refusal of some to countenance that the average public sector worker needs to make a contribution to our recovery after the Great Recession wiped off 10% of our overall wealth as a society (see yesterday’s piece and “Defending the Public Sector isn’t Defending the Poor“) was the common lack of solidarity towards poorer people. This is far from unique to public sector workers – but in the same way that it is often church goers who are most uncharitable, it is often the “Left” who are most unwilling to countenance doing anything themselves or making any sacrifice to help the poor in a meaningful way.
This takes us back to a truth which underlies this entire blog is this: we don’t care about the poor (we really don’t), in the same way, as I wrote last week, we don’t actually care about democracy. We only care about what suits us.
Sure, we like to think we care about others. We talk a good game. But we really don’t. In fact, inherently, we think they deserve it – as one correspondent put it in defence of public sector pensions: “Sure, why should a barman be as well paid as me?”
Just look at the raft of policies which have gone through Stormont, or been pursued by parties claiming to care about the poor:
- Rates caps – the working poor person struggling to get by in a house valued at 120k pays 100% of their rates, but someone living in a house valued at 800k pays only 50%;
- Prescription charges – the working poor person now has to look on as health services are cut to pay for the medicines of high earners and wealthy who could easily afford a tenner to pay for their own;
- Water charges – the working poor person has to accept that water infrastructure is paid from the taxes they struggle to pay (i.e. from cuts to other public services), whereas wealthier home owners who would be paying directly for that infrastructure elsewhere in the UK get away without spreading the cost on to poorer people here;
- Selection – the working poor person has no chance of paying for coaching for the transfer test, and thus their children are at an inherent advantage from age 9 to those whose parents can afford coaching (in practice paying for it, when you can, is almost obligatory);
- Free Transport – the working poor person has to pay every bus and train fare, quite possibly merely to make their daily commute to work, while the wealthy working person aged 60 travels for free;
- Winter payments – the working poor person’s taxes also go to winter payments for wealthy pensioners who do not even want them; and
- Pensions – the working poor person is almost certainly in the private or voluntary sector (perhaps a support worker, a carer in a care home, a customer-facing retailer, a community worker or some such) and probably has no pension, but was almost going to look on as the Assembly took £1 billion from their public services over the next Assembly term merely to guarantee the pensions of those on higher incomes (thankfully, sense prevailed on this one).
Is that list not shocking?! Of course, well organised professional people’s lobbies will always get their way – on rates, on education, on payments and whatever. The working poor person who has to spend what little time they have working overtime or caring is left with the sharp end every time. Do we not care? I wonder…
Here’s the thing: I am clear that I am not poor and that thus I should pay prescription charges, water charges, and for my own pension; when I’m older I shouldn’t expect early retirement funded by others, nor even free public transport or random winter payments; others (because this doesn’t apply to me, but I’d say the same if it did) should pay full rates regardless of house value, should not benefit hugely from being able to afford to coach their children through tests, and so on; and by the way I am also clear that we will all have to work to 70 at least, changing career to do it if needs be – teachers will become college lecturers or inspectors; nurses will become Health Board workers or trainers; some of us will have to work check-outs or take tourists around the sites to top up our income (many already do, after all).
Fundamentally: that means we will all have to look after our health, we will all have to save some of our money, and by the way some of us will have to give up on second holidays or second homes to put more into the system to aid those who can’t afford one holiday or one home without going into massive debt. After the Great Recession, that’s the reality.
But are those of us who are not poor prepared to do that? I doubt it! Some of us simply deny we’re not poor, even when we’re among the top 15% of earners! For others, whatever we say, deep down what we really believe is that there’s something wrong with those who can’t afford one holiday or one home. Even if we really really don’t believe that, we will still find some excuse for suggesting that this is all for someone else to deal with and not us because even if others cheated their way to wealth, we ourselves indisputably deserve what we’ve got and frankly that holiday villa on the Mediterranean is really an investment for later in life…
And that’s just the poor in Northern Ireland. What about the Chinese workers building iPhones on a couple of dollars an hour (16 hours a day) so that we can afford them; or making toys for a quarter of the wage of a graduate Civil Servant so that we can “boost retail” at Christmas? Are any of us campaigning for them to be paid “Living Wage”, or to have pension rights funded by us the Western consumer in return for their willingness to work for so little? Of course not. The thought hadn’t even crossed our mind!
And of course, as noted last week, we can stuff everyone in Crimea, so long as it protects our energy sources and property prices.
We should stop kidding ourselves. We don’t really care about the poor – and certainly not enough to sacrifice anything to help them.