There was much confusion over the past week around the Con-Dems' plans to slash housing benefit. It seems that, in their cost-cutting enthusiasm, ministers have not thought much about the consequences of the cuts they announced.
Once the media fanfare surrounding Osborne's Comprehensive Cutting Review had died down, the meaning of the planned cuts suddenly dawned on the coalition's politicians. After all, the government's own figures predicted that over 770,000 households could be affected by these cuts. Worse, if the rent increases suggested by government papers were to be implemented, hundreds of thousands of council tenants could be forced out of their homes!
Con-Dem councils have suddenly realised what Osborne's cutting frenzy implied for them: the prospect of having to face a big rise in homelessness and the anger of irate voters. Hence this outbreak of polemics, with the likes of Boris Johnson making disparaging remarks against his own party's plans.
Their austerity is not for everyone
So far, however, despite claims by the media that the government might be reviewing its "copy", ministers' response has been to throw up their arms helplessly, claiming that the need to plug the budget deficit is "paramount".
However, a series of news items during the same week showed that this "paramount need" does not actually apply in the same way to everyone - meaning not to the wealthy.
So, for instance, it emerged that ministers had given up on recovering the estimated £40bn taxes that wealthy British individuals, who keep their cash hidden away in Swiss bank accounts, should be paying each year. Never mind the fact that this amount would not only make it possible to avoid cutting housing benefit, but also to build some of the social housing which is so badly needed.
Likewise, in several towns, protesters highlighted the recent scandalous settlement of a 10-year old tax dispute between the government and giant company Vodafone, whereby this company has managed to get an exceptional £6bn tax bill reduced to £1.2bn. In addition, over the past two years, Vodafone managed to pay just £1.16bn in taxes out of profits of £12.8bn - or a 9% rate instead of the 28% it should have paid. In total, therefore, Vodafone has managed to rob public funds of £7.2bn - equivalent to the total benefit cuts which have just been announced by Osborne for millions of welfare claimants!
But then, like all big businesses, Vodafone can afford to indulge in tax avoidance in a big way thanks to its accomplices in government. Hasn't Cameron told the bosses' CBI that "British business should have no more vocal champion than the British government"?
Austerity does not apply either to the "regulated" energy utilities. The second largest energy supplier, Scottish and Southern Energy has just announced a 9.4% price hike from December 1st, without the government's regulator finding any objections. Yet, it is not as if SSE was hard up: it increased its profits ten-fold over the past year, to £1.2bn!
They can pay, they must pay!
Perhaps last week's most striking announcement was that the salaries paid to directors of Britain's 100 largest companies increased by no less than 55% over the previous year!
As a result, the average chief executive's salary in these companies is now £4.9m, almost twice as much as a decade ago, and equivalent to the combined wages of some 390 full-time workers earning the minimum wage! The details of this review are even more obscene, with the CEO of Reckitt Benckiser (manufacturer of Calgon, Cillit Bang, etc..), the highest paid among the fat cats, raking in a whopping £92.6m/yr!
Clearly, this crisis has been a bonanza for big business. Despite this, the Con-Dems want to boost these sharks' profits even more by cutting corporation tax, thereby depriving public funds of billions of pounds that the rest of us are meant to pay for, through expenditure cuts.
And yet these are the same companies which are using the crisis as a pretext to lay off workers left, right and centre, and to cut wages and conditions, by resorting to outsourcing and forcing workers into temporary and/or part-time work!
The exorbitant wealth of these companies, their directors and shareholders, is entirely due to their parasitism on workers' labour and on public funds. It was their greed which caused this crisis in the first place. And they should be made to foot the bill for it - to the very last penny!