It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor wot gets the blame;
It's the rich wot gets the pleasure,
Ain't it all a blooming shame.
Everyone and their uncle is going on and on about 'the poor'. 'Hash' Brown never stops and is, apparently, working flat out to alleviate their plight. Unfortunately for his credibility, he tells us that he is also working flat out to stop knife crime/global warming/Muslim terrorists/winning the East Glasgow by-election/zapping Zimbabwe, and so on depending on the headlines of the day. However, it was his constant re-iteration of the phrase "the poor" which began to irk me. I thought to myself, I really must write something about that but then galloping lethargy took over, not least because it is a complicated subject, so, just as I was dumping the idea into the bottomless bin of my other good intentions, suddenly the papers were full of articles concerned about "the poor" who were going to have their wallets nicked by 'Baron Hardup', or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he is sometimes called, by means of a new car taxation rate - so no change there, then! Again, I was stirred to write something, but again, creeping procrastination overcame me and gradually the subject sank out of sight - and then, up pops Clairwil and writes a truly excellent post - read it! - which lays bare exactly and precisely what being 'poor' really is in Britain. So the damned subject was back again and unless I write something I will be tormented for ever. That is why, in the previous post, I threatened to smack 'Clairwil' and my amazing boldness in the face of a lady who is frequently the last
man woman standing in sundry Glaswegian pubs has nothing to do with the very useful fact that some 400 miles separates us! Where was I? Oh, yes, 'the poor' ...
Well, for a start there are no 'poor' in Britain. I realise that my argument is semantic but, dammit, words matter. Everyone in Britain has water, food and shelter - and chickens! What the hell have chickens to do with it, I hear you ask? Well, I stretch a point but I remember P. J. O'Rourke after a long trip through the various wastelands of Africa and Asia defining true poverty as 'no chickens'. He noted that whilst most mud-hut villages had very little there were nearly always chickens scratching around, and chickens mean eggs, and meat, and soup. An absence of chickens means they've all been eaten and that means real poverty. Actually, the metaphor is not too far fetched from this country in which, for the moment, there is a plentiful supply of really cheap chickens. I say "for the moment" because, of course, a publicity-seeking bunch of very rich people is seeking to deny this cheap food for 'poor' people on the grounds that the chickens don't have half an acre to trot around in like Samantha's pony! See, that old song up above was right on the button: It's the poor wot gets the blame!
However, if my gripe is semantic then it is up to me to come up with a word or phrase that expresses more accurately a certain economic sector of the British public, as exemplified by Mr. 'X' in 'Clairwil's' post. I could use the expression 'under paid' but apart from the fact that many of the so-called 'poor' are not in work, there is also the problem that definitions of under-, or indeed, over-, paid are impossible which is why propaganda expressions like 'a living wage', or, 'a fair wage', are exactly that - propaganda. I turned to my friend-in-need, Roget and his superb thesaurus, but still I could not find exactly the right word, until I stumbled on the word 'pinched'. That exactly describes the economic condition of Mr. 'X'. He's not starving, or freezing, or denied the possibility of medical care, he is just - 'pinched'! Economic nit-pickers will demand that I define the 'pinched' condition, but I can't, so I won't, I will simply say that, like pornography, it defies definition but you know it when you see it.
So, let us all agree that no-one is 'poor' in this country; most people are rich, a few are pinched. The question then remains as to what we do about them. I am tempted to point them all in the direction of 'Clairwil' but that might overwhelm even that feisty lady. Obviously one of the immediate problems to be solved on behalf of the 'pinched' is taxation. 'Clairwil' states firmly that the lower-paid should be taken out of taxation altogether. That is tempting but the problem then arises of a tax barrier at some particular level which acts as a deterrent to the lower paid as they approach the point where they cease to pay nothing and start to pay something. Here, I confess to being in a quandary because I am no expert on taxation, and I am a total ignoramus on the mathematics of taxation - all of that, of course, qualifies me to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, judging by the last two incumbents! However, I can talk of general principles, and I am partially convinced by those who argue for a flat tax. It seems to me that some sort of effort should be made to work out a base income upon which it is reckoned possible to live a 'pinched' existence, such as Mr. 'X' lives. There-after, anything earned above that should be taxed. However, I part company with the 'flat-taxers' by suggesting that there should be two bands before you reach the top level. This is because, if the top rate is, say, 25% (and I make no claim as to what exactly the rate should be) then 25% out of that part of a fairly minimal wage earned over and above the tax-free limit is very large indeed. So I would suggest two tax bands starting at 5% and then 15% and then the maximum 25%. Objectors might claim that this would add to the cost of collecting tax, but it should be remembered that all tax allowances would be abolished, such that the tax
avoidance planning accountants would be out of business and the time they used to waste arguing with tax inspectors would be regained. Put simply, any income from any source would be taxed on those four rates, nil, 5%, 15% and 25%.
Again, some might complain that collecting 5% of tax from that portion of the wages of the 'pinched' that takes them into the first taxable bracket would not be worth collecting, and in straight cost analysis terms, they are probably right. However, I think paying income tax is an important part of citizenship. Even in a small way it concentrates the mind, especially at election time. The problem of benefit payments, in the sense of entitlement and amounts, I happily leave for another day, but with the proviso that they would count as income and be taxable should they take a recipient into a tax bracket.
So let's hear no more talk of 'the poor', instead let's discuss 'the pinched'. And, finally, a big 'thank you' to 'Clairwil' for providing a real-life example.
Additional: A sort of 'thank you' to Laban Tal who contributed a very pertinent link in the comments below. My thanks are somewhat grudging because the writer, Theodore Dalrymple, says it all so much better than me, dammit, and on the basis of very much more direct experience. Please read it.