Yesterday morning I was listening to a BBC Today programme interview with an extra-ordinary man, Graham Miles. In 1993, at the age of 49, he suffered a brain-stem stroke which left him only able to move his eye-lids. Through sheer willpower, he has made a remarkable recovery.
Just as Mr Miles started to describe what it was like to be in limbo and not able to communicate, he was interrupted by Justin Webb to say (in effect): “We have a more important person to talk to, please stay on the line and we will get back to you”.
So Mr Miles was once more left alone with his feelings, unable to communicate, while the BBC sycophantically interviewed Nasil Adir on his return to the UK. Clearly his story was deemed to be more important.
Nearly every day for the past several years I have taken a look at the BBC Market Data page. The main layout is simple, five graphs showing the days activity on the FTSE 100, the Dax, the CAC 40, the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq. It is easy to get the overall picture of market activity.
For some while now it has been clear that every market is in lock-step. The daily pattern of ups and downs is identical for each market, all being gunned by the geeky PhDs who programme the high-frequency trading algorithms of the Too Big To Fail banks.
But what has caught my eye this week is the change in layout. For years the FTSE has been the main graph, two and a half times the size of the others. No longer. This week shows the Dow Jones in first place. An example of BBC deference to the size of US power?
Size matters when it comes to welfare too, only more subtly. A current UK political theme focuses on how we can get people off state support and back to work. By the way, in this context, the use of the word ‘welfare’ is a relatively recent import from the USA. I grew up knowing that everybody had to pay for ‘the stamp’ (their National Insurance contribution) which was administered by the DHSS (Department for Health and Social Security).
National Insurance (NI) was designed to help people by providing for a state retirement pension and an income during unemployment. NI contributions are held in the National Insurance Fund and currently account for roughly 17% of Government receipts. Each year there is a surplus of £2bn, with an accumulated total of around £50bn today, forecast to reach £114bn by 2012.
In 2009 around £24bn was spent on the major out-of-work benefits, and Mr Iain Duncan-Smith (the UK Work and Pensions Secretary) wants to reduce that. (He also has a strange notion that he wants to ‘distribute unemployment more evenly ‘ across the country!)
So on the one hand we have an established system, designed to support the unemployed and funded by those in work, which is in surplus and on the other hand we have headlines about getting people off welfare in order to save some percentage of £24bn.
But that £24bn is only 1.5% of the £1.5 trillion (that’s $1500bn) cost of the UK bank bailout! And that £1.5tn does not include the on-going costs of the hundreds of billions of extra money printed (borrowed) by the Bank of England to give to the banks and large corporations. Nor does it include the social and financial cost of keeping the base rates close to zero, while allowing banks to charge individuals upto 35% interest on their credit cards!
All this public money has been channeled into the profits of the very corporations that created the need for austerity. Then it has been paid out as bonuses to the individuals who made the self-interested decisions about how our financial systems should work.
These are the same people who are now advising governments about how to ‘rebuild’ our finances! They run corporations that declare annual profits in the billions while paying virtually no income tax.
The millions who receive some pittance as a welfare benefit are headline news, while those responsible few, whose annual bonuses alone could pay off the welfare bill, are never mentioned. But they are the real benefit cheats. These fat cats take the cream of our hard work.
Our knee-jerk sycophancy to the rich and powerful has left us on our knees, from where the view is not pretty! We are faced with either the obscene symbol of their mal-formed creativity or the sight of their backsides as they make off with their ill-gotten gains.
It is time to stand up and get these corporate welfare crooks off the drip-feed of public money. Let’s put them back to work in the service of the communities that support them and on which they depend. That would be a start.