They just don’t get it and just don’t care do they? Hot on the heels of press reports about plans to curtail housing benefit for the young and the poorest rather than, for instance, bringing in rent controls on rich landlords to stop the housing benefit bill increasing, we get a new report relating to housing. Now inheritance tax is to be scrapped on family homes worth up to £1m.
Mr Cameron and Mr Osbourne say “It can only be right that when you’ve worked hard to own your own home, it will go to your family and not the taxman.”
‘Only be right’? Only be right that without measures to stop the rich elites from passing wealth on to the people who never earned it – the children of wealth – and redistributive measures to help the children of poorer families avoid the lack of opportunities and misery offered by poverty, which they equally never earned, what you get is a steady husbanding of wealth into the hands of the few?
It is a classic example of the more subtle bribes of right-wing thinking, the kind that has even poor lower-class people voting for them, ultimately against their own interest. I can see the appeal. Do your work, earn your pay, keep your money to yourself, support your family, look after your own and everyone else can and should do that too. Who can argue with that?
But there are obvious flaws in the logic. ‘Earn your pay’ – is it possible to earn an honest day’s living from an honest day’s minimum wage without top-ups or food banks nowadays? Why do some jobs earn so much more than others, for instance why is management so highly paid now in all forms compared to just about any profession (let alone the minimum wage)? Are any jobs paid what they’re actually worth – think about how long a company would last without its front line workers, its administration staff, and finally its managers, and the huge disparity in pay between those three areas. ‘Look after your own and everyone else can and should do that too’ – really? Does everyone have the same opportunities in life? What about those who really can’t, for whatever reason, whether through physical, emotional (e.g. as a result of abuse) or mental health problems or just sheer poverty? Do the people espousing this logic really expect never to suffer any problems themselves? We all need a helping hand occasionally.
And of course, then we have the ‘keep your money to yourself, support your family’ idea, which is the point with this housing policy. Supporting your family is a natural impetus, but there is a point where passing on wealth to grown-up children who never earned it is counter-productive. It is not difficult to see that, however attractive this is on the personal level, on the social level it leads directly to inequality. There is a balance between personal and social needs, and Britain has forgotten how to maintain a balance. This is how more and more wealth becomes concentrated into the hands of a narrow elite. This is how we end up with increasing inequality. This is how social mobility stops. This is how we go back to the land Charles Dickens knew. Britain is already the most unequal country in Europe, do we really want more?