Counting the cost of benefit blunders

LET S talk about figures, and how much trouble – or delight – people can get from them. Numbers have been crunchingly bad for the Labour lads lately. I m almost, but not quite, tempted to say poor old Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling for the pickle they

LET'S talk about figures, and how much trouble - or delight - people can get from them.

Numbers have been crunchingly bad for the Labour lads lately.

I'm almost, but not quite, tempted to say poor old Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling for the pickle they've got themselves into.

Introducing the ultra low 10p rate of tax for the poorest among us was a masterstroke by Mr B when he was Chancellor, but he and his successor deciding to scrap it amounted to near political suicide.


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It makes you wonder how the minds of our leaders work when this sort of thing happens.

Do they sit down and say, "What can we change today just for the sake of it, and hang the consequences?"

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Why they could not foresee the clamour there would be if they took away the 10p rate is beyond me.

Are they genuinely surprised when their party - and the country when it came to the local elections - turned against them in protest?

And then they compound their gaffe by indulging in a bit of political bribery aimed at the voters in by-election-bound Crewe and Nantwich by miraculously finding £2.7b from somewhere to allow the Government to charge most of us less tax, but for this financial year only.

Can we see through your ploy Messrs B and D? Does night follow day?

I suppose there will be some in this land of rapidly escalating food and energy prices and tumbling house values who will be glad to get any tax relief cash they can.

I don't imagine that would include the person who made a certain purchase in New York this week.

The figures to do with this were huge. Everyone to their own taste, of course, which is why I would not have been among the bidders at Christie's in the Big Apple when a work by Lucian Freud came up for sale.

It depicts a corpulent, naked woman asleep on a sofa. The model, who has been quoted as saying that Freud probably picked her because he "got a lot of flesh" for his money, has been on TV and seems a very jolly lady.

What I find astonishing is not her appearance but the price paid at auction. The piece titled Benefits Supervisor Sleeping set a new world record price for a work of art by a living artist when it went for $33.6m which is £17.2m or a quadruple Lottery roll-over to you and me.

In a world where millions of people are poverty-stricken and starving to death, it is sickening to see such a whopping sum of money being paid for some oil daubed on canvas when it could be used for something much more worthwhile.

Are our priorities right? Most certainly not, but I'm afraid it has been that way for many a long year. And so the art world will be not so much mimicking life as poking out its tongue at it.

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