The ConDems are always comparing the national deficit to a household budget. ‘You know’ they say, ‘if your family spends more than it earns in a week , it has to cut back’.
They were at it again on the BBC’s Question Time last week. Grant Shapps for the Tories and Simon Hughes for the LibDems were both chirping away in unison about how if your household has ‘maxed out on its credit card’ it has to cut back and make the repayments.
We are going to hear a lot more of this stuff so let’s just pause and examine the ‘household finances’ metaphor.
The thing is this: if the nation’s finances are really going to be likened to those of a household then the household can’t really be a normal middle income household of the type that Grant and Hughes (they even sound like estate agents) were going on about.
The house would have to be more like a shared house in which two families were living. But there would have to be a bit of a difference between the families.
One family, let’s say they are John and Jane and their two children Jack and Jennifer, will be living squashed together in the smallest room in the house. And the other family, let’s say they are Henry and Henrietta and their two children Harry and Hortense, have the run of all the other rooms in the house.
When Jack and Jane come home from work they find that there’s no room to park their second hand Ford outside the house because Henry has parked his Audi Quattro and Henrietta has parked her Range Rover in the parking bays.
Inside Jack and Jane have got frozen pizza and Pot Noodle in the cupboard. Henry and Henrietta have venison steaks and Champagne in theirs.
Harry and Hortense are going to private school with fees of £7,000 per pupil per year. Jack and Jennifer are going to the local state school.
If Harry’s family are ill they go private. Jack’s family must rely on the NHS.
Then Harry calls a household conference and issues a rare invitation to Jack’s family to join them in the huge kitchen with the Aga stove and the Smeg fridge and says, ‘terribly sorry, we’ve maxed out on our credit card and, you know, because we are all in this together, we are going to have to cut back. Perhaps you could go to work on a bike and sell the car, better for your health anyway, go Green and all that...’ And Henrietta chips in and suggests that ‘maybe Jack and Jennifer could get a job rather than go to college, it’s so expensive these days...after all we are doing our bit by not having child allowance any more...’
Now, in that household, what do you think Jack and Jennifer should reply?
And if you think that’s an unrealistic picture just remember that that the Tax Justice Network estimate that there is £25 billion lost every year in tax avoidance (legally getting around tax) and a whopping £70 billion every year lost by tax evasion by corporations and the rich (illegally not paying tax).
That’s 75 percent of the annual deficit that could be paid just by enforcing tax law.
Perhaps it’s time for John and Jane to kick the H’s out and run the place themselves. And a good start would be if they got the whole family into the old Ford and down to the Coalition of Resistance protest at Downing Street on October 20th so that the ConDems know we’ve had enough of living in the box room and paying for their credit card bill.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.