Housing Benefits The Rich

Figures shared with the Guardian by Generation Rent suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £2
Figures shared with the Guardian by Generation Rent suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £26.7bn a year from the taxpayer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Guardian

It’s been clear for a very long time that the main purpose of the tax system is to provide benefits to the wealthy. The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. During the last decade it has received €1.5m in income support by way of farm subsidies from taxpayers.

In what has been dubbed the “Great British Sell-Off” and the “Sale of the Century”, the chancellor, George Osborne, intends to sell off public owned stakes in Royal Mail, RBS, the Met Office, Ordnance Survey and air traffic controller, Nats, which will rake in a one-off windfall of around £31.7 billion in 2016/17 – an amount which surpasses all privatisations since 1993, breaking even Thatcher’s record. To put this into a wider context, the money raised which will benefit the minority of Osborne’s elite friends in the city, will be the largest amount of money raised through the disposal of public assets in any 12-month period in modern history.

The ideology underpinning this public asset stripping is part of a strategy to reduce the role of the state that will do nothing to stimulate growth. On the one hand, Osborne announced £12 billion of cuts – the pain of which will be felt by the most vulnerable. On the other, he rushed through the sale of £2 billion worth of the 79 per cent stake the government has in RBS and as a result it was the taxpayers who lost out on a potential £14 billion return. It should also be noted that the Tory aristocrat, who seems set to be next in line to take the reins of PM from his friend David Cameron, had promised action on tax avoidance in spite of the fact that his family business routinely avoids tax.

Meanwhile, the UK version of a Kardashian, the royal parasite Princess Beatrice, who has been spotted taking to the water on Roman Abramovich’s £1 billion super yacht, Eclipse, has racked up seventeen holidays in eight months at our expense.

The real benefit spongers, then, are not those who feature on low brow documentary programmes, but rather they are the elites who occupy the corridors of power. If the richest 1,000 people in Britain that have seen their wealth increase by a massive £155bn since the current economic crisis began in 2008, were to actually pay their fair share of tax, the deficit the government assures us needs reducing, would be wiped out at a stroke.

But there is no priority within government to insist they cough up. Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Ikea, Starbucks, Vodafone: all pay minimal tax on massive UK revenues, mostly by diverting profits earned in Britain to their parent companies, or lower tax jurisdictions via royalty and service payments or transfer pricing. The £1 billion that Gideon gave away to his pals in the city on August 4 in the RBS share giveaway would have gone a long way to fund the deficit in the NHS, whose trusts’ claim are “unaffordable”.

However, the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich doesn’t end there. After dissecting yesterday’s Guardian piece on welfare spending, Craig Murray highlights how housing Benefit represents another form of massive subsidy and wealth transfer, particularly in London and the South East of England where, in the absence of housing benefit or inheritance, it’s impossible for anyone on the average income to live.

As Murray says, the distortion in house prices in this part of the UK has nothing to do with very wealthy foreign buyers concentrated at the top end of the market, but rather, it’s to do with:

the conjunction of buy to let and state housing benefit. The state pays out 18 billion pounds a year in housing benefit, and the vast majority of that goes straight into the pockets of private landlords in the South East of England. State housing benefit underpins the entire system.”

Now the brilliance of the trick is that, as it is labeled a benefit, the left fight to keep housing benefit as though it benefited poor people. In fact this is a great illusion. It does nothing of the sort. What would truly benefit poor people is lower rent or affordable homes. Housing benefit goes straight into the pockets of the landlord class.

The landlord class of course encompasses the political class, many of whom (including Cherie Blair, famously) are also landlords. As housing benefit is paid for from general taxation, the entire system is a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and above all from the North and West to the South and East.

The landlord class benefit not only from the taxpayer giving them enormous rents, but from the possession of artificially inflated property on which they can raise further money for more speculation…. The reason that IDS has not made a serious assault on housing benefit is that it puts money straight into the pockets of most of his Tory chums.

The largest benefit recipients in the UK are the great landlords….[P]umping in 18 billion pounds of state money a year to rents adds 288 billion pounds to property values.That explains how you reach the apparently impossible situation of median property at twelve times median income.

Bankers bankrolled by the taxpayer, as well as local authorities that administer housing benefit – both of whom owe their continuing existence to public funds – should be acting in the public interest not frittering away public money into the pockets of the rich.

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