Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency: the Marxist voice of labour and youth.
poverty_lowres.jpgFrom time to time governments like to pretend that they are indeed aware of the problems of society and truly wish to resolve them. This normally takes the form of some announced "action" or "task force" aimed at getting to grips with whatever problem they have identified.

From time to time governments like to pretend that they are indeed aware of the problems of society and truly wish to resolve them. This normally takes the form of some announced "action" or "task force" aimed at getting to grips with whatever problem they have identified.

So, over Xmas, the Tory led Coalition government grandly announced that they are to send in "troubleshooters" to deal with "troubled families" on the estates and slums of our cities. Before we comment on the realities of this project we should consider the background.

Capitalist thinkers (if that is not a contradiction in terms) have over the decades tried to come up with a philosophical basis for the exploitation of one class by another and the resulting inequality in society. In the 1950s (and again more recently) many big business types picked up on the writings of the American Ayn Rand. Her rambling books - not least 'Atlas Shrugged' - attempted to show that wealth and progress was entirely down to the energy and farsightedness of enterprise capitalists who were only held back by the greed and narrowmindness of the workforce, who kept insisting on things like wages and holidays, aided by unimaginative government machinery. In "Atlas Shrugged' the bosses get so sick of being unable to expoilt at will that they go on strike and society collapses. Now we know that most bosses could "withdraw their labour" and no-one would notice. However, should workers take action, everything would grind to a halt. This is because only one class - the working class - produces wealth (which Marx called surplus value) which in turn is then stolen by the bosses in the form of rent, interest and profit. Society is entirely dependent on the labour of the masses yet the masses do not get to enjoy the fruits of that labour. All the bosses can come up with are new ways to extract more surplus value from the workforce and defeat each other in the market.

Yet the thinking has persisted amongst these people that they are the productive class and everyone else just feeds off them. For them, it is the poor that holds things back and the reason they are poor is entirely down to their own inaction. If only they would all stop being "lazy scroungers" dependent on benefits then poverty and hardship would disappear. So the solution, according to the government announcement, is to send in these "troubleshooters" who will sit down with these "dysfunctional" families and advise them on how to get a better lifestyle. For the government, the problem is that these families in extreme poverty are just "dysfunctional" and that's all. Nothing to do with low pay, no decent jobs, slum landlords, slashed benefits and shut down services then - it is all the fault of the poor themselves! Sort out their dysfunctionaly and the problem will go away. No wonder the Tory Party is called the Stupid Party - to believe this twaddle is to believe anything. In truth, of course, most Tories are just going through the motions on this.  They just want to be seen to be doing "something."

The neccesary conditions to earn the right to get the benefit of a visit from one of these troubleshooters is pretty severe. You have to meet five out the seven criteria to be classified as "troubled:"

  • All unemployed.
  • Poor standard of accomodation.
  • Low family income.
  • No qualifications.
  • Mother with mental-health problems.
  • Parent with long-term illness/disability.
  • Family cannot afford all the food or clothing they need.

If you have less than five of the above then you are OK so far as the government is concerned. Despite this, it is estimated that over 21,000 families in London alone will still meet the critieria anyway. They will earn the right to be preached at by a load of wellpaid do-gooders who will advise them on how to buck their ideas up. Of course, we will soon see how Tory fantasies about the poor being poor because of their own failings holds up when put to the test.

So what is the reality of this scheme? First of all local councils have to come up with 60% of the funding - this at the time when they are slashing budgets left, right and centre. Secondly, it is the private sector who will kindly provide these troubleshooters, no doubt extracting a nice profit for their services. Meanwhile job centres and support services - who were doing a real job in the communities - are being shut. It is difficult not to feel somewhat cynical about this latest initiative which will end up doing very little. 

Of course there is something that the workers can do about this problem - fight for socialist policies that will give capitalism the boot.  It is capitalism that has become a fetter on society. It is capitalism which has generated growing inequality and decay within our cities and towns. The government exists to serve that parasictic class which has acted through the decades to benefit the millionaires at the expense of the millions. The wealth exists even now, despite the wastage of big business and the City of London, to solve all the problems of society - provide jobs for all, an end to low pay, proper social services and housing, real education and the end of all the brutalies of class society - by the implementation of a socialist plan of production and the taking into public ownership of the monoplies and banks. This is the action which we need to mobilise for. The Tories blame the poor for poverty. We know where the real blame lies.