by Daphne Liddle

THE COALITION government last Tuesday launched a fresh assault on the principle of universal benefits. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, standing in for David Cameron who is on holiday, said that the Treasury is reviewing what it spends on welfare for the middle classes — such as child benefit, tax credits, winter fuel allowances and free bus passes for the elderly.

All these things have been hard fought for and won on the basis that we really are “all in this together” and that it is easier to administer a benefit as a right for all than to go through lengthy, complicated, expensive and humiliating procedures to sort the deserving poor enough from those who are a bit better off.

For those who are a lot better off the best way to recoup the money is through progressive taxation.

Means testing benefits leaves a high proportion of the low and middle-income working class (including those who think of themselves as middle class) in a situation where every extra penny they earn or gain from savings is taken away through cuts in benefits.

And at a time of employment uncertainty and rising costs of food and other essentials, many families whose total income may look good on paper are actually struggling.

The price of houses now means that families with an annual income of under £40,000 (in London £50,000) cannot hope to start buying even a two-bedroom flat at the low end of the market.

Renting in the private sector will swallow at least £10,000 a year from a tenant’s income for anything more than a “studio flat” — or bed-sit with amenities.

Thousands of young workers are paying off student loans and these bills are steadily rising. Decent childcare costs a small fortune and is not always available.


And young workers are also expected to contribute to their own pension funds and various forms of insurance. What seems like a decent salary can vanish very quickly.

Those universal child benefits and so on, that come no matter what, can be a lifeline for those who suddenly lose a job or fall ill while they go through the procedures of trying to claim means-tested benefits.

And for pensioners the winter fuel allowance can mean the difference between life and death during the long cold spells like those we had last winter. Rocketing costs of food will give them a very hard choice this winter.

The Government is planning to raise the retirement age and with it the age at which pensioner benefits kick in. This presumes everyone in their early 60s is fit enough to keep on working a few more years and doesn’t feel the cold. For some that is true and they prefer to work on. But most of the working class do not reach that age totally unscathed.

Many have had heart attacks, cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and so on. They may appear as fit as ever — and are far from past it — but no longer have the same strength and stamina for tough jobs.

Those in the professional classes can usually work on well past retirement age but those who have spent years behind a shop counter, on a factory floor, walking up and down hospital wards, driving heavy goods vehicles, firefighters, police, cleaners, farm hands, road sweepers, refuse collectors — these people all need and deserve a break from a lifetime of toil.


They have earned their right to bus passes and winter fuel allowances — even if they do have a little occupational pension to go with their basic state pension.

The problem is that as soon as these benefits become means tested the process of claiming them is so complex and often humiliating that thousands never claim what they are entitled to. Taxing the rich and cutting money-wasters like Trident and invading foreign countries is the answer to the deficit.

But the very rich bankers and other people who rule this country — who have received billions of pounds of bailouts from taxpayers’ money and are still taking home fortunes in bonuses and turning new profits, don’t want to give any of it back by paying taxes themselves.

So they are cutting our benefits, our health services, our school buildings, our playgrounds, our legal aid and selling off our countryside. And it’s not just to cover the Government spending deficit — it’s because they don’t want us to have anything pleasant in our lives unless they are selling it to us at a huge profit. And Chancellor George Osborne keeps repeating his mantra that “we’re all in it together” hoping like Goebbels that if you tell a lie often enough and loud enough people will believe it.