Local Poverty Tax

TaxForm
What is this? Pretty sure this wasn’t on the form before. Is this something I need to know about? Who are “High Income Individuals” – and why do they get their own special forms? What the hell is “Restriction Of Reliefs”? It sounds like something you pay for in a PVC-themed night club.

It’s that time of year again. The time when I do my taxes. Yeah, I know it’s not the time you do your taxes, but it is the time I do mine. About six months late, on average.

Once again, we open the form all a-tremble, excited to see just how many wholly indecipherable questions – perhaps entire pages – they’ve added this time. It’s not so long since they re-formed the form for the self employed so that non-accountants could read it. Year on year since though, entropy has dripped back in. A clause here, a category there, and now about 90% of it doesn’t even seem to apply to me. I guess some people’s businesses must be very different from mine, making very different things.

Money, to name one.

At least the online version has asterisks to mark the required fields. I figure I can’t go too wrong if I just fill all those. Then I scan for places to put in expenses and allowances I can apply for. Did you know by the way that if you are getting any form of social welfare payment you are entitled to a PAYE tax credit on top of your normal tax free allowance? I have no idea why, I can only guess it’s because tax is deducted at source from welfare payments – in some sort of entirely notional way. Anyway, ours is not to reason why, ours is to remember to tick the box. It may come in useful if they disallow some of my larger expenses again.

Antique erotic netsuke are research materials, dammit.

While getting my tax affairs in order, I remembered that I’d received an email from the new Local Property Tax agency. We didn’t use to have any residence-based taxes in Ireland, a Fianna Fáil government abolished them one time in a spree of vote-buying. Now that another FF administration has driven the economy off a cliff we have to have them back – though of course it’s the parties now in power that get the blame for it. Political lesson: If you create the most mess, nobody asks you to clean up.

Anyway I hadn’t paid much attention to the email. It’s a tax for property owners and I don’t own any property, I just rent a small apartment in an old four-storey building in the middle of town. Reading it now though, I find that seemingly I do. According to “our records”, as the tax people put it – by which I think they mean a hat – I own the building. Not just the room I live in. The whole. Fucking. Building. Walls of solid stone four feet thick, older than the United States, a good restaurant downstairs. According to an official government agency, it is all mine.

I tell you one thing, I’m not paying any more rent.

How About A Meanness Test?

The IMF has some helpful suggestions about how we might meet our loan repayments. To sum up: Make the poor poorer. Social welfare rates that are “too high” are a disincentive to work, apparently.

Ask yourself though, what level of unemployment assistance would be low enough for the IMF? Just one euro a day would be sufficient inducement to stay at home, if the job market was also only offering one euro.

And right now the job market is offering most people precisely no euro at all, because there are no jobs for them. To those, even a zero level of dole payment would still act as a disincentive.

To follow the IMF’s logic to its conclusion therefore, we need to fine people for not working.

It is orthodox nonsense of course. All lowering welfare can do is make more people desperate for work, so increasing the labour supply. It doesn’t magically create jobs. If viable employment just appeared because people wanted it badly enough we wouldn’t have a lot of famines in the world, would we? The only thing lower welfare can magically create is poverty, and poverty in turn increases despair, dissent, conflict and crime.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, IMF, but we have already lowered the social welfare rates. Several times. Did it lead to an increase in jobs? No. Funnily enough, the number of unemployed actually rose.

Oddly, the proposal which seemed to get all the media attention is the idea that means-testing might be introduced for child benefit. I think I see why. We have come to expect that the poor will routinely be taken outside and kicked bloody at every budget. Means-testing child benefit though, that could hit middle class people. Controversial!

(Though I noticed that Radio 1 immediately hosted an argument about whether we need child benefit at all. “Why should I pay to bring up someone else’s children?” etc. RTÉ once again failing to distinguish between socially useful public debate and the entertainment value of terrible people shouting at each other. There is really not that big a step between Liveline and the Jeremy Kyle Show.)

Well, should families who don’t actually need child benefit still get it? It seems illogical on the face of it, but there are some good, idealistic reasons behind the payment. One is that a mother, especially of young children, usually doesn’t have much income she has real control over – and that can be true in rich homes as well as poor. This makes her hugely vulnerable, her children effectively hostage to whoever holds the purse strings. The children’s allowance makes here less dependent on her husband or other family members, less vulnerable to bullying and manipulation. It seems like a good thing to me.

Now we may ask is it any business of society to intervene in that way. And in these days of ascendant right-wing selfishness, I am sure there will be plenty willing to debate it. But you know what? That’s our debate. I don’t let the bank tell me what Christmas presents to buy or what food to eat, even if I’m buying them with money they lent me. They can dictate the interest rate and the repayment schedule, but not my values.

IMF, if you want a role in formulating social policy then stand for bloody election. Otherwise, butt out.

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The Claddagh At Evening

Let’s have a break from the politics and return to the quiet beauty of the Claddagh, Galway’s historic fishing village.

Sunset in the Claddagh. The rightmost of the buildings we used to call the Claddagh Bank, back when it was a social welfare office. Before that it was the Piscatorial School, an institution for the education of fisher-folk.

Where there’s boats, there’s ropes. Or sheets, as sailors call them. In turn, sailors call sheets “sails”. This is where they get their name.  I should get PhotoShopping on this to bring out the contrasts, but I’m really tired. This was at the start of a walk that ended up taking three hours.

A similar angle to one I took last time, but now the higher tide completes the illusion.

The Right To Employ People

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Inequality - Apparently There's Not Enough Of It

I just heard someone called Jackie Lavin on the Pat Kenny radio show say that unemployment benefits interfere with “the employer’s right to employ people”. That’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? I remember when right-wing lunatics used to just call social welfare an interference in the sacred free market. Now it’s an abrogation of their rights. They are actually being oppressed by social welfare.

I hadn’t known that the wealthy had any special rights – at least not officially – but according to her, one of them is to have other people be poorer so that they’re more affordable. That’s kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it? The rich have a right to poor people. It makes a strange Zen-like sense.

This Jackie Lavin is on the radio because she’s a “Business Personality”, best known for appearing in the Irish version of The Apprentice as mentor to her real-world business and life partner Bill Cullen. Also, for appearing in and writing for glossy Hello!-style magazines, like the one owned by Bill Cullen. He’s an entrepreneur, Fianna Fáil donor and I suppose our nearest equivalent to Donald Trump. These are important people then.

Why not apply this entertainment paradigm to the country as a whole? If the unemployed don’t shape up, we can fire them from their homes – from the whole country indeed. ‘Firing’ is much sexier than that dated emigration idea.

I mean. Fuck this.

You Called That 2010?

You may (perhaps) have wondered why I didn’t do the usual year-end review in this column last week. The truth is, I just wanted one week after Christmas without having to be depressed again. But now, like pretty much everyone else, I have a stinking cold. Being in a foul mood anyway then, I might as well get on with it.

2010, the year the country was taken into receivership. The year we agreed to smash up our health and welfare systems in order pay for the mistakes of bankers. If overcrowding is any measure, our hospitals are now in the worst state that they have ever been. The year in which we found out that we are basically slaves to the whims of a financial market, in which our government became our pimps, offering out our services for the best terms they could get. One easy country, only slightly abused, willing to work into the next generation.

And it’s not going to get better soon. Beware a false dawn, as Fianna Fáil tries desperately to spin anything not immediately disastrous into ‘recovery’. Expect them to make complete asses out of the Green party as they continually put off the election in the desperate hope that some good news will arrive. Or, more depressing but more likely, that we will eventually come to see our current state of oppression as normal.

In the end we may have to hold a general strike or other mass protest to force them to stop harming the country. The fact that they have not already resigned out of sheer embarrassment tells us a lot about the kind of shower they are.

So 2011 is not shaping up to be a good year… The President has asked business to project a dynamic image of Ireland abroad but you know, I think if they could they’d be doing it already. How can they when the people responsible for this mess are still in charge? At best we look forward to a desperate endgame followed by a divisive election, our impossible financial situation growing worse all the while. It will be a year of damage but… Well, at least it won’t be dull.

I can’t finish though without a quick word about Ivan Yates and the collapse of his business. It is a sad situation of course when a company goes under, especially one with many employees. But I cannot find it in myself to feel sorry for the man. Recall what business he was in – gambling. It’s not exactly productive industry. Gambling is something we need a whole lot less of in this country. In the madness of the last few years, Ireland changed from a growing economy into a property casino. And yet, in a complete reversal of the norm in these things, it was the house that lost.

It must be said though, at least Ivan Yates doesn’t expect the rest of us to make good his losses. When banks could learn a lesson in socially responsible business and basic morality from a bookie, you know what they’re worth.