Hart of the Matter
As we roll on into another year, I imagine there may be many people who view the prospect with trepidation rather than the more traditional anticipation.
In the past we have generally been a stoical nation at the end of the year. If it was a good one, then there is something to build on. If it was a bad one, then the next one has got to be better.
The trouble is that we all now pretty much know that 2011 is not going to be great. The pinch which has been prophesied for so many months is likely to come to pass, and most of us are going to feel it.
I don’t know if there are any bankers living in or around Haverhill. If there are, and they are out spending their bonuses, perhaps they are having a good laugh at the rest of us.
But in general, Haverhill people are likely to be badly affected by the austerity measures being implemented. We know that because town councillors assured us of the fact a week or two ago. They are so worried about it that they have written to our new MP Matthew Hancock to register their concerns.
So that’s alright then. I’m not entirely sure what effect it will have (neither are they, by the way), but at least they have done something.
It was curious, though, that at the same meeting there was rather grudging acceptance in some quarters of further money being given to that extraordinary group of people operating the Christians Against Poverty movement in Haverhill, led by Henry Wilson.
This group actually does something tangible to help individuals who get into financial difficulties – and there are a lot of them.
Impending changes in the benefits system are bound to lead to the numbers growing. But we don’t have to look even as far forward as that to find the first tightening of belts. Tomorrow VAT goes up.
If you didn’t know that you must be one of those happy mortals who is insulated from, or immune to, advertising. Retailers have been offering carrots of various kinds connected with VAT for months, and now has been the time to be seduced into buying stuff on the rather attractive basis that someone else will pay the VAT.
I have never been able to work out whether VAT is a painless tax or not. It was sold to us on that basis, and I suppose it is if you don’t buy anything.
Since its introduction, however, we have all got used to buying a lot more unnecessary, or what would have been called luxury, items. Affluence has seen a huge rise in the VAT income to Government coffers.
So has privatisation. If a council provides you with a service, you pay for it through your council tax. If a private company provides you with that service, you pay them and, in many cases, the Government, too.
The consequence is that, because the VAT tax base is so big, it is an easy one to squeeze more money out of. The extra 2.5 per cent may not sound that much, but it is across a vast area.
Is it fair? Who knows? It hits you harder if you spend more, so indirectly it does tax the rich. But it is also an annoying extra on your bill, which might make you think twice about having work done, and therefore doesn’t help self-employed tradesmen or small businesses.
And that is the area which has kept Haverhill afloat for the past couple of decades, and has led to the current buoyancy of the town’s economy in difficult times.
But the worst of 2011 is that the devil we know about may be a lot less vicious than the devil we have yet to hear about. We may be about to have the wings of our affluence clipped so completely that many of us won’t be able to fly anywhere at all, and will have to go back to walking.
People of my generation may feel that is not a bad thing. We were brought up during a previous period of austerity – after the Second World War – when people learned to value what was important. Then along came ‘you’ve never had it so good’, ‘the pound in your pocket’ and the Sixties.
From then on it was the rocky road smugly described by Gordon Brown as ‘boom and bust’ until he found out his motorway didn’t go on for ever either.
During all this time we learned that there is no entitlement to affluence. Unfortunately for the younger generation they have only recently discovered this.
The students, faced with the fact that there is no entitlement to further education, are furious, and they blame us because our further education was free. But our generation believed universities were for the few, and everyone else needed vocational training and apprenticeships.
If you are determined to remove elitism, then everyone else has got to pay for that conviction, or you have got to pay for it yourself. Sadly, in 2011, it looks like being both.