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Pitching the public against the poor isn't a laughing matter

PUBLISHED: 01:59 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 01:59 17 January 2013

Nothing says "we're all in this together" like a mob of laughing millionaires preparing to squeeze the country's struggling poor into an even tighter corner.

David Cameron and his cronies couldn’t help but see the funny side when they discussed reducing the income of people so poor they have to choose between feeding themselves or feeding their children, heating their homes or buying school shoes for the kids. Frankie Boyle, I’ve found you a new audience.

Our government, that no one voted for or wanted but that we’ve been saddled with for another two-and-a-half years, couldn’t contain the guffaws as it effectively plunged even more people into poverty – even when Labour’s Ian Mearns and Lisa Nandy asked Cameron and crew to stop laughing in the Chamber, the tittering continued.

This continual demonising of benefits claimants in a bid to justify a terrible decision to increase state handouts by less than inflation really yanks my chain: we are, almost every one of us, only one catastrophic health event or redundancy away from needing the welfare state and pitching the strong against the weak is bullying of the most pathetic, unacceptable variety.

George Osborne has told us about “the shiftworker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits”, while Iain Duncan Smith points out that benefits have risen by almost twice as much as earnings over five years.

What Osborne doesn’t mention is that the decision to cap most benefit rises at one per cent will also affect “the shiftworker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning” who receives tax credits or the fact that a first-world country like Britain is now reliant on excellent organisations like Foodbanks to plug the yawning gaps in the welfare state.

To listen to the government, you’d assume that the vast majority of benefit claimants were fraudulent, lazy scrimshankers luxuriating in their palatial front rooms with 3D televisions and foie gras. In fact, two-thirds of the claimants that will be affected by the benefits freeze are in work – so when Cameron et al were laughing as they discussed policy, they were laughing at the people paying their wages. Nice.

I don’t begrudge a penny of the taxes I’ve paid for years that go towards our welfare system and I’m yet to meet a claimant that lives the life of Riley while I shuffle off to work in the dark hours of the morning.

What I really resent is a government none of us voted for turning us against each other and laughing while they do it – and I’d quite like to see a more robust condemnation from the opposition, too, because it really would be nice if we really were all in this together as opposed to taking potshots at the poor from our ivory towers.

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