When We Agreed to Pay Taxes, This Wasn’t Really What We Had in Mind
William Hague has been defending the government’s proposals on child benefit. And it appears that the government intends to go further on this – to remove benefit from parents of children over 16, who can currently receive the benefit if the children are in full-time education.
Here was Mr Hague’s defence of all this:
Is this going to cause some people some pain? Yes, it is, but what alternative is there for the United Kingdom to rescue itself?
This is tough but it is fair and higher rate taxpayers, better-off people, have to do their bit as well. Many, many people in the country will have to contribute to this process of reducing the deficit.
The government should really do its best to remember that withdrawing benefits from taxpayers is the same as increasing their taxes.
There are two kinds of government spending. One the one hand are “transfer payments” – benefits that are paid to individual people, who may or may not be taxpayers.
And then on the other hand is what you might call “true public spending”, money the government spends on things like providing services like education, healthcare and defence.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives made much of the idea that they wanted to cut the deficit largely by cutting spending, whereas Labour wanted to do it largely by increasing taxes. In fact the Conservatives have said that 80 percent of the deficit reduction should come from spending cuts.
So far, unfortunately, we’ve heard only about tax increases and cuts in benefits – which amount to more tax increases. We’ve heard very little about cutting “true government spending”.
Today we had some welcome signs that the government may be about to get to grips with public sector pensions, which at the moment are generally much more generous than those on offer in the private sector. And of course the spending review, due in a few weeks, may contain details of proper cuts in true government spending.
We shall see. However, I have to say that so far I see little sign of any realisation from the public sector that the world has changed. Only a couple of days ago our son’s school proudly provided a glossy County Council leaflet about “parent link workers”. Their role is apparently to:
- be the school’s first point of contact for parents and carers
- provide information, sign-posting (sic) and guidance to agencies who may be able to offer help to families
- provide information and guidance to parents and carers about after-school and holiday activities
- provide information about courses available to parents and carers, information evenings and activities within the school or local cluster of schools and in the community.
If you want more information, says the leaflet, you should contact the “Extended Services Development Officer – for Parents” at the County Council.
Apparently this is part of the government’s “Every Child Matters” agenda (sic) which is blundering merrily on even though its New Labour architects are supposedly no longer in power.
While the government considers serious cuts to real public services, and while they cut back on people’s benefits and increase their taxes, civil servants are still taking the piss like this.
While Ministers explain sadly that there is no “alternative … for the United Kingdom to rescue itself”, their civil servants are pouring billions down the drain in meaningless twaddle, pointless initiatives and senseless interference.
According to the Office for National Statistics, public sector employment during the Labour years rose from 5.1 million in 1997 to 6 million now.
Put public sector employment back where it was in 1997, and you would be employing 900,000 fewer people. At say £50k each per year (total cost of salary plus other employment costs), that comes to £45 billion per year. And are public services any better now than they were in 1997? No, they really are not, are they?
And I’ve got more news for those public sector managers: in the private sector, we become more efficient every year. Companies that merely succeed in not becoming less efficient quickly go bust.
So let’s see your increases in efficiency. Let’s have another 5 percent from you over the next five years in increased efficiency. (That would be more like the efficiency increases a typical business would need to make in a single year, so it shouldn’t be too hard.) And that’s another 500,000 public sector heads, or £25 billion.
And before you bleat too much, remember that a total headcount reduction of 1.4 million does not mean sacking 1.4 million people. Most of that could be done easily by “natural wastage” – i.e. not replacing people who leave through retirement or simply finding another job. (Note to Mr Osborne: let’s not have any “voluntary redundancy schemes” please, since they would be a licence for civil servants to show how much we’re all in this together by awarding each other generous payoffs.)
Ordinary people have had enough of watching the public sector spraying their tax money around, while telling them we all need to feel the pain. When opinion polls tell us the public don’t trust politicians, they are really telling us a much deeper truth: that people no longer trust government itself in this country.
David Cameron has said that we are all in this together.
OK, David, we’ve taken our share of the pain. Now it’s your turn. Now it’s your officials’ turn. Show us how much pain you, the government, are going to take yourselves instead of fobbing off onto the public.
You’ve had your £1 billion for child benefit paid “unnecessarily” to “rich” people. Now let’s have our £45 billion that your officials are wasting on staff they didn’t have in 1997. And anyone who thinks government was efficient even in 1997 wants their head examining. So let’s have that further £25 billion in 5 percent headcount efficiency savings as well.
That’s a cost cut of £70 billion – or two thirds of the cuts we need to make.
And let’s have all that before you even start talking about cutting our services.
Being “in this together” goes both ways. I agree to take my share of the pain – but only if the public sector wasters start taking the situation seriously themselves.
David, no more “parent link workers”. No more “5-a-day co-ordinators”, “outreach workers” or “community strategy officers”. Just government services delivered to the public efficiently and without fuss.
It’s all we’re asking for. And if you can’t deliver, we’ll all want our money back.