When you’re surviving on £102 a week, tax cuts make sense
Oh, I know we can’t promise tax cuts. I know we can’t say exactly which way we would crank the great levers of the Treasury, if and when a Tory government were to get in.
I know that George Osborne is bang on when he says that stability is the number one priority, and I know the public would rightly doubt the value of whatever we said so far from an election.
And I also know that, as soon as we gave the very ghost of a tax-cutting commitment, the great Labour lie machine would chunter into action. Ed Balls would start boggling indignantly from your screens. Gordon would begin his nasal dronathon about closed hospitals, axed nurses, cancelled heart operations and mutilated stumps.
But in case there is anyone out there who doubts the evil of how Gordon Brown taxes the poor, let them hear the ill-effects on those in our Armed Forces who slave to put bread on the table for their families, and who are walloped for their pains by the Chancellor.
Last week, I met a woman who works for the RAF. It is fair to say that, without her efforts, and the efforts of thousands like her, our helicopters would not fly. Our Army would not be victualled, our soldiers would not be shod or armed.
She works 45 hours a week in RAF supply, and receives from the MoD £11,500 per year, as well as a small London weighting. She pays income tax at a rate of £116.01 per month, National Insurance at £61.45 per month, and her pension contributions are £37.92.
And then of course there is council tax, good old council tax, and for the privilege of having her bins emptied and travelling on well-lit streets, she has to cough up about a tenth of her income — that is, £118 per month, on top of her rent, which is £366 per month for a three-bedroom house.
She has two daughters, and to make ends meet she drives 12 miles every Saturday morning (in a rented car, which costs a bomb, but the buses are no use for her purposes) to work in a building society.
By giving up a large chunk of her weekends, she is able to bring in another £1,500 — a year. She can’t earn overtime in the RAF; the best she can do is work extra hours at the base, and so earn paid days off.
The result is that, at the end of it all, she has about £102 per week to spend on herself and the rest of the household. That is £102 on light, heat, car, clothes and any incidental pleasures or excitements that she may be able to eke out of the remainder.
Now imagine if that poor helicopter lady gets a parking ticket. Imagine the financial chaos, the sense of doom and oppression, if she were to suffer the kind of mishap that occurs to me just about every day: getting the car clamped, hitting a ball through a window, falling off a bicycle and ripping my trousers.
Imagine what it means to pay an unexpected £50, when you are trying to survive on £102 per week. Think how it must be to find yourself in the toils of some debt you never meant to incur, and which was entirely the fault of the authorities.
Last year, the benefits people decided that she was poor enough to qualify for working tax credit, and then they changed their minds. Now they want her to pay back £1,000 and of course she doesn’t have it, and she doesn’t see how she can get it.
She doesn’t get any benefits: that’s right, not a bean, not a sausage of any of Gordon Brown’s means-tested benefits. She has been told that she is not quite destitute enough to qualify for family credit, income support, working tax credit, housing benefit, incapacity benefit or council tax benefit, and the wonderful thing about this woman is that she doesn’t even want any benefits.
She is socially responsible; she sees herself as part of the productive sector of society, not a drain. She thinks of herself as a hard-working member of the Armed Services, who is helping to contribute to Britain’s huge international effort, and she is right. She is a small part of our struggle to bring democracy to Iraq. In so far as we have a coherent plan to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan, she is an invaluable part of that plan. She is doing her bit for her country.
What is her country doing for her? The MoD has kicked her off the patch — the RAF base — because her RAF husband walked out on her, and, instead of showing any sympathy for her predicament, and the extreme difficulty she has in paying for her rent and her council tax, her MoD bosses are just siphoning the council tax money out of her pay slip as though she had no rights whatever over her own money.
It is no consolation to her to say that interest rates are low. She has no mortgage. It’s the tax that’s making her life so much harder — the huge amount the state claws back from the derisory sum it gives her.
It is the council tax that does for her, the council tax that has been pumped up by Gordon Brown as he imposes ever more unfunded liabilities on local government, the council tax that Labour now wants to raise by revaluing her property; and if the government snoopers think the view from her bedroom window is sufficiently charming, they will nudge her up from one band to the next and make her pay even more.
So when those Labour people come on and say it’s only the greedy Tories who care about tax cuts, think of the lady who keeps the helicopters flying, and her unbearable cheerfulness.
I think it’s true that much of Middle Britain is suspicious of “tax cuts” as a political slogan. It’s true that people want good hospitals and schools.
But then much of Middle Britain doesn’t feel the impact of tax in the way that low-paid personnel in the Armed Services feel it, and it is people like the helicopter lady who should have the first call on our protection and support.