Friday 5 April 2013

It can't be fair

Iain Duncan Smith's mantra is “It can't be fair”. It can't be fair that people on welfare get more than people in work – a plausible sound bite that hides a wealth of detail and difference. If people in work are earning such low wages that they need them topped up, then maybe we should do something about wages. But of course that wouldn't occur to him.

Come to think of it, is it fair that a man who earns four times the national average wage at the public's expense (Cabinet minister), then gets his booze on the cheap, at even more expense to the public. But we don't talk about that. Small beer anyway, only a few million quid. Then he claims £39 for a single breakfast while claiming to be able to live on £53 a week.

But here is something that really is unfair. I want to contrast two people. One is Peter Cummings, head of corporate banking at HBOS from 2001 to 2008 when the bank collapsed. We learn today that in November last year he was fined half a million pounds for his role in the bank's crash. Half a million is a lot of money, but I doubt it is his entire fortune. So it took more than four years to get from a point where he was, according to the FSA, instrumental in wrecking a bank, the rescue of which has cost us taxpayers billions, to a point where he is fined what for him will be a comfortable sum.

The other person is Clive Baulch, made redundant in April 2012. “By October, he was desperate to find work, out of savings and reliant on £71 a week jobseeker's allowance. On 15 November, he went to sign on as usual. The Friday before, he had been on a day-long job trial, but otherwise it had been a quiet week. "My adviser took one look at my booklet and said she was sanctioning me, 'for not looking for work diligently enough'.” Sanctions for jobseekers are instant and brutal. No negotiation, no due process of law, no delay to enable him to get his affairs in order. Let me remind you, it was more than four years before action was taken against Mr Cummings.

Oh, and by the way, we are told that Peter Cummings has been suffering from ill health. He has my sympathy for that, but if that is a cause for being gentle with him, why are we not being gentle with the hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people whose livelihood is being wrenched from under them by Iain Duncan Smith's cuts?

Meanwhile bankers continue on their very merry way. The people who more than anyone caused the crash are still paying themselves million pound bonuses without a shred of proof that they have earned them.

Where's that fairness in that, Mr Duncan Smith? Can you answer that, please, while you eat your subsidised House of Commons lunch and drink your subsidised wine?

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