South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

British government waging war on the most vulnerable (Oct 2010)

The decision by the British Government to cut Child Benefit, the latest benefit cutting measure which has been promoted by the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition, has been dressed up as a belt-tightening measure needed to help cut the economic deficit. Remove the dressing, however, and it becomes clear that the Tory-Lib Dem attack on those receiving benefits is part of an ideological attack on the poorest sections of our society.

It is estimated that the move to slash Child Benefit will save the British Exchequer around £1bn per year. We should keep this figure in mind when analysing the bigger picture.

The Tory right-wing media has happily jumped on the bandwagon by launching scathing attacks on 'benefit scroungers' and 'dole cheats'. And so a war on the 'benefit cheats' and 'scroungers' was launched with the Tory media acting as cheer-leaders.

To listen to the right-wing media you would easily believe that it was the unemployed and those in receipt of benefits that had caused the current economic climate. How quickly they forget that it was the bankers, the richest elements in our society, that created a world-wide economic crisis.

But then again, nobody should be surprised at the sight of a Tory government, and their hangers-on in the Lib-Dems, scapegoating the poorest elements in our society to protect their friends in big business and the banks; after all, three quarters of the Tory/Lib-Dem cabinet are millionaires and multi-millionaires.

The true figures tell a different story to the one that the Tory/Lib-Dem government would want us to believe. In 2009 the total cost of benefit fraud and errors in calculating benefits to the British Exchequer amounted to around £3.1bn. A hefty sum no doubt, but when we consider that the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that around £16bn of benefits go unclaimed by those who are entitled to them it starts to become clear that those on benefits are not the cause of our current economic woes.

If we then consider that the loss to the British Exchequer caused by income tax and company tax evasion, crimes of the rich, stands at around £17bn, we begin to see a different picture.

If we then factor in that the prosecution rate for benefit fraud is far higher than for tax evasion, we must begin to wonder why the Tory-Lib-Dem government have decided to launch an onslaught against those on benefits, the most vulnerable sections of our society, rather than clamp down on the richest sections of our society who, by evading tax, are costing the Treasury £17bn?

The British government needs to stop making the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our society scapegoats for the mistakes and excesses of the bankers and big business.

Here, in the North, we need an alliance involving the political parties, Trade Unions, and the community and voluntary sector to stand together and oppose the Tory/Lib-Dem cuts. Sinn Féin is focused and determined to do this. We believe that there is an alternative to the slash and burn strategy of the British government. A society is judged by how it helps its least fortunate and we in Sinn Féin will fight to ensure that those who need help most will receive that help.