All this tax business (it’s the budget here today and we’re all just waiting to see how much richer the Chancellor, George Osborne, is going to make the rich) is making me have a Political Moment.
Now, once upon a time, I was quite a political person and it was more an occasion for capital letters when I wasn’t having a Political Moment. Those days are long gone – I think it was speechwriting for politicians, then accidentally ending up on a right wing tabloid, that finally put the last nail in the coffin of my faith in politics. The sheer grasping meanness of some MPs and MEPs, and their determination to screw every penny possible out of their expenses – out of us, the tax payers, basically – was startling. And then the newspaper I was on connived at it all and turned so many blind eyes, it needed a white stick not a red top. So my ideals fell away. And, while this was all going on, I was acquiring grown-up things like a mortgage and a car. The older you get, the less ‘property is theft’ appeals. When you’re a student, and your ‘property’ is a few manky text books and a LBD or two, it makes total sense. When you’ve got a house and children to feed, suddenly extreme forms of political sharing lose their allure.
That’s not to say I have turned Tory, despite the inducement of living in lovely Dulwich, where bad things scarcely ever happen, and if they do, it’s usually to bankers so it doesn’t count (I suppose I shouldn’t really say that, and I don’t even really mean it, but it’s what all we non-bankers feel at the moment, I think). But I have become increasingly apolitical. Though I still always vote, I do it more in the memory of Emily Davidson’s sacrifice, under the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913, rather than with any hope of real political change.
I have been increasingly struck, though, by the way these economically crunchy times have hit my friends – and me. In my book group, which I am not pretending for an instant is representative of anything except the total creme de la creme of Dulwich, three out of six of us have been ‘let go’ in one way or another since the economic crisis started. One is now back in part-time work. One of the remaining three has had her hours drastically reduced. Anyone who is working freelance will know how much harder it is to make a living wage now.
Of course it is always going to be part-time, low paid workers who bear the brunt of a recession. Women, in other words. We’re also the ones who lose out in the Child Benefit reshuffle – single parents will have their Child Benefit cut if they earn over a certain amount. Couples, who jointly make almost double that amount, but don’t individually cross the threshold, will have their benefits left intact. Plus the looming changes to Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits, which are already a mystery even to those receiving them, will affect women hugely – particularly single mothers.
I know this is all getting ranty now, but I’m cross. What is the government doing? Telling women not to go part time to look after their children? Telling women not to be single mothers? Not many people decide, at 18, that they’d like to be a poorly-paid single mother, Mr Osborne. But don’t you worry. Just get on with cutting tax for rich people, why don’t you. Sigh.