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Wednesday 6 October 2010

Benefit Reform: Behind the Scenes

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's grace and favour country mansion, Dorneywood.

INT: Elegant drawing room. Chancellor George Osborne is lying on the sofa, flicking through "World of Interiors". He is dressed casually in smoking jacket, cravat and velvet slippers bearing the monogram CofE. A knock at the door. George leaps up and grabs a large sheaf of papers from his red box. He moves to the fireplace and, resting one elbow on the mantelpiece, begins to study the documents intently.

GO: Good God, come in! There's no time to waste!

The door opens and Sir Humphrey St. James, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury enters with his PS Barnaby Sumpthwaite.

Sir H: Good morning, Chancellor.

GO: Honestly, you public sector namby pambies with your door knocking and your "Good mornings". You've no sense of urgency. You wouldn't bloody last two minutes selling wallpaper in my shop, you feather bedded egg-heads.

Sir H: (smiling urbanely) You wished to see us?

GO: I've been reading this submission on plugging the ruddy great deficit, (thrusting papers at Sir H). Some of the options are ludicrous! Raise taxes!? You bunch of unreconstructed socialist morons. It's ludicrous! I suppose you'll be suggesting workers' communes and nationalising the banks next.

Sir H: Please accept my apologies Chancellor. Now, if I may be so bold, you wished to see us?

GO: Christ man, why hell else would you be here? You're like that useless bitch pointer of mine, kept returning the bird to the wrong bloody gun!

Sir H: Indeed. I wonder however if now would be an appropriate time for you to sketch out your thoughts on why you wanted to see us?

GO: Benefits Hump. Cutting the old benefit bonanza for all the numpties that haven't the gumption to get themsleves born into a successful painting and decorating business. Bloody workshy idiots. But I don't want that jumped up geek Miliband accusing me of having it in for the working classes. So bloody unfair. My beater had two weeks in Majorca last year courtesy of the Osborne dollar. So we have to take the benefits from the middle classes Hump old boy, and I've the very one, Child Benefit. Ruddy ridiculous. All these nappy valley yummy mummies blowing it on cupcakes, own brand chablis and clogs. That's not why we're fighting overseas.

BS: Actually, I'm not sure that the clogs trend ever really translated beyond the catwalk Chancellor. They're very unforgiving on a chunky ankle....

Sir H: Thank you Barnaby. That is an interesting proposotion Chancellor,(pressing fingertips together and pursing lips). If you will permit, I would like to explore some of the questions of both principle and practice which arise were such a policy to be pursued.

GO: (Stifling yawn) Oh, knock yourself out you goggle-eyed dweeb.

Sir H: Child benefit is a universal benefit. As such many see it as totemic, as an indicator of the State's commitment to a welfare system which reaches out not just to those on the breadline, but also to those on modest and middle incomes. Universalism is, after all, also a central pillar of the NHS and of our education system. Many would argue that it is important that we have policies which reflect a shared sense of citizenship, that make manifest our shared commitment to the welfare state. Removing child benefit, even from the better off, will therefore be seen by many as a direct attack on the founding principles of the welfare state.

GO: (Making 'yak yak yak' gesture with both hands) Ooooh, ten out of ten!

Sir H: As ever, the Chancellor's comments are most apposite. However, set against that, we find ourselves in uncharted fiscal territory. The structural deficit must be tackled and removing child benefit from the better off, whilst potentially unpopular amongst the middle classes, could mean less stringent cuts for those on very low incomes. And so we come to the practical difficulties. I am sure Chancellor you will have considered the difficulties in introducing an efficient, effective and equitable system of means testing. It strikes me that if removal of a universal benefit is pursued, then it must be executed in a way which is, and is seen to be, scrupulously fair. (Where are the jokes? - Ed)

GO: Oh here we go, (in whiny voice) "It's so complicated. We've tried and tried Sir but we've run out of biscuits so now we need to stop." FFS, JDI you great DODO! Well you can thank your lucky stars that I've brought a bit of private sector interior design experience to bear on this problem. Do you remember those adverts for Prize yoghurts where the yoghurts were "The Prize Guys"? Well that is me. That is me and Dave. We are the Prize guys and we have fixed it. Anyone on top rate of tax gets it whipped off 'em. Tough but fair. Endov.

Sir H: Hmm, I do wonder Chancellor whether that approach, though it does have an admirable clarity, might not lead to some unfortunate anomalies.

GO: (Fingers in ears) La, la, la I'm not listening. TOUGH BUT FAIR, FOUR EYES!

Sir H: If I may seek your indulgence a moment longer. Is there not a concern that, due to the fact that the the higher rate of tax is applied to individuals and not to households, some couples earning up to £86k a year would keep the benefit, whereas households with one person earning in excess of £44k would lose it?

GO: And?

Sir H: Well Chancellor does that not strike you as, er, somewhat problematic? Let me give you an example. Do you see those cows in the field out there, a big one and a small one? Would it be fair do you think to take the hay away from the little cow, but let the big one keep its hay?

GO: Aha! No you don't. I've seen this one before. It's not a big cow and a small cow, it's just one of them is further away.

Sir H: (rubbing temples) With respect Chancellor, this is not in fact a matter of perspective. One cow really is almost twice the size of the other. £86k really is almost twice £44k. I would humbly submit that your solution is somewhat challenged in relation to matters of equity.

GO: I would humbly submit that my foot will challenge your bony arse if you keep raining on my parade you badly dressed speccy beanpole. The big cow needs twice as much as the little cow so of course it can keep the hay. I mean if you're at the Wolsey with Fatty Soames you're hardly going to give him half portions are you?

At that moment the door bursts open and in bursts a wild eyed Samantha Cameron, baby Flora on hip, wearing clogs and brandishing large glass of Tesco's "Finest" chablis.

SC: Where's the bloody decorator? There you are, you horrible little tradesman! What the hell is this I'm hearing about the kiddies' fund? First Dave takes a pay cut, and I've had to bloody go part time. What's going to keep me in Wolfords and cocktail Sobranie now you simpering lady boy?

As Samantha lifts the poker from beside the fireplace, Sir Humphrey and Barnaby beat a hasty exit.

Barnaby: I am rather concerned about how these proposals are going to play Sir.

Sir H: Christ boy, I couldn't give a rat's arse, I'm out of here in six months and my pension is bomb-proof. At least this one's not a bloody Jock....


1 comment:

  1. :-) Brilliant- cheers Shelagh- made my day- the first thing I've read about this that hasn't made me want to strangle the writer/Osborne/myself



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