Well – fair?

A fortnight ago, under the title of What Trevor told me, we had some excellent contributions on thoughts which people have found valuable. But another occurred to me as I watched The Future State of Welfare led by John Humphrys, on BBC 2. It was from the American freethinker, Robert Ingersoll: “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences.”

My favourite character was a man who had neither worked nor intended to. He took the view that he not only would not profit from exchanging benefits for a wage but that he would miss the opportunity of watching his children grow up. You will be glad to know that your taxes are able to contribute to his paternal piety.

Another character was a lady, by no means unattractive, who had given birth to a number of illegitimate children as a substitute for paid work. Her eldest daughter had already had her first child out of wedlock. It’s encouraging to see such respect for family traditions, and a real boost for the value of human life.

But Ingersoll would say that the Welfare State, despite its intention to support the truly needy, has in fact created a something-for-nothing culture. People have been protected from the consequences of their decisions and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have taken advantage of society’s generosity.

But, as my wife and I discussed what our society should do, we came up against a number of difficulties. Since decisions for support cannot be made on a case by case basis you have to have rules. And once you have rules you come up against the need for exceptions.

How do you stigmatise people who do not work when they live in an area where there are few jobs for the unskilled?

If your local council has to pay £30,000 a year to cover your rent in a terraced house in Islington should you really be required to move out to a suburban slum away from your roots and your friends, and perhaps your job? You didn’t fix the rents in Islington, the newly-moneyed did. Isn’t it lucky that they are in fact the council taxpayers?

If you have had six children by several different fathers (all of whom, if known, are likely to be non-workers and so cannot contribute) you can hardly go out to work since the childcare costs would be several times your wage. But suggesting a more traditionally moral life would demonstrate a very old fashioned prejudice, and indeed religious bigotry. And we can scarcely champion artificial contraception, can we? (Not in fact that we could be confident that it would be used.) Would not the Church condemn involuntary (or, indeed, voluntary) sterilisation as directly against the natural law? So come as many as you wish, they are all God’s children. And they, themselves. are all innocent.

But perhaps you have the answers. We haven’t.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Well – fair?

  1. st.joseph says:

    I believe that the Welfare State needs a thorough sort out.
    Perhaps coupons for food, only food, not for cigarettes, alcohol drugs, Charity shops for their clothes.
    when my husband and I had the children and times were hard , on a Thursday before my husband was paid- for 2 shillings I could buy 3lb potato’s for 1 shilling, quarter of Spam for 4d and tin of peas for 4d and a little butter they were Ok. We bought neck of lamb, and made stew which lasted 2 days, loads of vegetables.There is nothing wrong with learning how to ecomomise.
    I see young mothers in the Supermarket trollys packet to the brim, with food that is totally unecessary, if they are so short. They ought to be shown how to balance their money that they get on Welfare. You can see fathers smoking, they think the world owes them a living.
    Now on the other hand I can appreciate cases of hardship through no fault of their own.

    • st.joseph says:

      Reading my comment back, I was wondering what happened to the other 4d, then I rememberd the spam was 8d. Every penny counted.
      Thank God we survived.

  2. Peter D. Wilson says:

    I don’t have any answers. However, the parable of the labourers in the vinyard rather suggests (a)that God’s idea of fairness is very different from ours, (b) that it’s all to be sorted out in the afterlife (vide Dives & Lazarus), or (c) that He doesn’t consider the quality particularly important.

    Life is notoriously unfair. It’s grossly unfair, though I’m far from complaining, that I should have come through 75 years falling repeatedly on my feet, when others not obviously less worthy have suffered disaster after disaster. It’s grossly unfair that I should have been born in a country with a generally equable climate and all necessities usually available, when others suffer calamity after calamity from the forces of nature and struggle to survive even when fate is relatively kind. It’s grossly unfair that I should have had an interesting, adequately rewarded career in a particularly beautiful part of the country when others are condemned to hellish conditions in inner cities. To that extent, I thank God for unfairness.

    Of course free-loaders are an irritation and a drain on the economy. How to deal with them, without causing excessive deprivation to dependents in no way responsible for their situation, has taxed better brains than mine, and it may be that we simply have to put up with them; any cure could well be worse than the disease.

    • st.joseph says:

      Peter you are right, but in a sense we put up withthem, but we ought to be looking at the situation more closely or the goverment ought, so that they are pulling their weight in society and not sponging on others.
      When we hear of pensioners having to choose between food or warmth that is charity not been served on the right people.We all have a duty to be responsible and pullour weight.
      There are a certain kind who dont want work because they have more money by claiming welfare.
      A family once received a turkey for Christmas from the welfare, the dad came into our pub and wanted it raffled, to buy drink. I do believe that there is a lot of sorting out to do!
      I will help anyone if its genuine.

  3. Gerry says:

    My thoughts have dwelt on much the same problem during the last fortnight as we have wandered through Yorkshire and Scotland visiting friends and relatives. We stayed at three hotels. Almost all the staff of these hotels came from abroad. Even allowing for their professional cheerfulness they appeared happy and jolly. At a hotel far north of Skye, we asked the Hungarian bar girl if there were any British staff, the reply was “No. We had one once but he was so lazy that he had to go.”

    This chimed in with a remark from a Chinese man, reported in a newspaper, that to pay people who did not work was wicked. There was an implication that this wicked act deprived the man of the satisfaction of work. We hear also that the Chinese Prime Minister has remarked that Chinese financial help for Europe will not come till we understand how deep is the hole we are in and start doing something about it: my understanding was that he thought the huge pensions and social security moneys that we pay out had to be cut. (Despite this tough talk I understand they may help a little:China needs a stable Europe)

    Can anything be done? I doubt it. We will presumable get over this present “crisis”, but eventually, as the social security and pension payments increase, the situation will become unmanageable and we will not have the toughness – the hardness of heart? – to correct it. Presumably a huge drama will ensue and our soft system will be replaced by a hard system. We can only guess at who will be in charge of this hard system.

    (The above are just stray thoughts from some recent observations. I hope my deductions are wildly wrong.)

    • Quentin says:

      No, I think what you have said is quite realistic — if we do not take the right steps this is just the sort of thing we can expect to happen. We will never, as some of us have suggested, get it completely right — but we should be able to decide what sort of society we need to be if we are to rescue the helpless, and not coddle the feckless.

  4. mike Horsnall says:

    I think Peter Wilson is right on this, the cure is probably worse than the illness especially if it involves riot police with hats. Welfare benefits presumably act as a Keynesian type of economic booster anyway since the money is spent here and recouped tax wise etc. I’ve met a lot of people over the years, most have their own story and I think that over the long run the vast majority of people prefer to earn their dignity if they can. The few that don’t, don’t.

  5. st.joseph says:

    God forbid that we have another war ‘here’
    Our Christmas’s were (coupons) but we didnt starve. It was Father Christmas, and Jesus,we were never poor in spirit. It was porrage, no pick and mix cereals. I cant remember sweets, a stocking filled with fruit and a knitted animal Singing with mother on the piano most nights,and reading in bed with a torch under the bed clothes after our night prayers.No T.V. We were not poor, it was heaven compared to the poor starving children abroad.People had pride maybe too much as I remember visiting my grandmother in Ireland and sitting in front of a not very warm fire in my coat and bootee’s. She had too much pride, as they were giving out free coal at the British Legion and she being a war widow in 1916, wouldnt lower herself to go and sign for it.
    Her motto was ‘She had a roof over her head, food in her stomach, and clothes on her back, she was not going to beg. I didnt agree with her I was freezing.She couldnt get her old age pension when she was old as she received a war widows one and it was 0ne and sixpence too much to get it and she wouldnot give it up as she said ‘ he died for that’ !How things are different now!

  6. claret says:

    We tend to think that this problem is one that ‘other people’ have created and lump them together as ‘benefit cheats’ as though it was self explanatory who was to blame and who were the worst offenders.
    It is not than simple. We need to remember that a greater amount of welfare type payments are not claimed for when they could be, than are paid to claimants who abuse the systems.
    Much as there will be groans of ‘lets move on’ I harp back unashamedly to the scandals of MP’s expenses claims that were criminal thefts but ‘explained away’ as expenses fiddles as though that mitigated what had occurred.
    Very few of us could stand up to scutiny of how honest we are in our tax returns or of how we would behave if we were given too much change at the supermarket check out.
    Corruption affects all of society and if we take a pride in having a welfare state then we have to accept that there will allways be those who take advantage of it and alongside them will stll be those who are eligible for benefits but too proud to make any type of claim, including those for food vouchers.

    • st.joseph says:

      Claret I think really that the people who abuse the system are the ones we speak about including M.Ps and Bankers etc;
      I think people with a conscience-are just as particular with the pennies as the pounds.

  7. st.joseph says:

    Also with a deeper thought, how much do we share in a persons abuse of the system by remaining silent.
    The man with the turkey in my comment above-should I have reported him to the DHSS.
    My problem was that I felt more damage would be done to his family – so we have considerations to take into account. But we cant be a law unto ourselves-but can we make certain judgements.
    I used to be criticized by people who thought I was wrong to give girls a home until they had their babies.Their parents would not give them a home-have the baby aborted they were told-So they were given a Council house when the baby was born.People didn’t like that.And I could understand it when may be their children couldn’t get a house, when they were not pregnant or even pregnant
    Its all a bit of a puzzle really But charity does begin at home and some are blessed to have parents who cared for them. Is it fair?

  8. st.joseph says:

    Also it didn’t do my children any harm to see the hardship of others-they learned how to share and appreciate what they had at an early age, and are better people for it. A house not their own-full of girls.
    I am very proud of my children, I think the Lord has blessed them for it.

  9. John Candido says:

    Robert Ingersoll’s life story makes for interesting reading. He was a 19th century American lawyer, radical, political liberal, feminist, a slave abolitionist, and an agnostic. His father was a theological liberal who had a good measure of conflict with congregations that he led. The family had to move around a lot because Ingersoll’s father was not given much tolerance by his congregations. You can read more about Robert Ingersoll here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll

    Save for massive intervention in the form of re-education, retraining, and counselling, which would be my solution to these issues, there is very little that we can change. A tiny percentage of women will deliberately have children in order to live off welfare. What usually occurs is that women have children with an understanding or hope that their man will stay put. Of course this does not happen perfunctorily. We are left with a very overworked mother, who has responsibility for her fatherless family, who genuinely needs the assistance of the welfare state.

    Without this assistance, this family will be seeking as much assistance as possible. Without which they will be homeless, get sick, and/or starve. Is it Christian to allow this? No, it is most certainly not. The desire to ostracise or punish such a family can find its origin in some people because they are unkempt, disorderly, and possibly smell (the unwashed)?

    The philosophical underpinnings of the welfare state can be found in Christianity’s scriptural sanctions and its theological developments in human rights. The New Testament has many passages that support the philosophical underpinnings of the welfare state. Of course the supreme edict of Christians is ‘Love one another’. For a breakdown of this ideal we have the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25: 31-46, … ‘I was hungry and you fed me’, etc.

    Welfare is analogous to the relationship between parents and their children. A child cries for any number of reasons and an attentive parent will attend to their children as soon and as practicable as possible. A loving parent is not too concerned about how much time or resources are wasted, in spite of whatever difficulties are associated with the moment. Likewise, welfare for the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the poor; we do it because if we didn’t, what would that say about our Christian priorities and Christ’s commands to us to care for others?

    I am not an economist, but the so called ‘trickle down’ theory of wealth found in market fundamentalism and economic rationalism, which have been tried since the early 1980s with the Thatcher and Reagan governments and recently found to be quite useless in the face of the global financial crisis (GFC). There has been a swing back to Keynesian economics in Australia and it has worked quite well under Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

    Far-right economics, embodied in economic rationalism, with its laissez faire or market fundamentalist approach to economic problems, have been roundly criticised by several Popes due to its inhumane fixation on profit seeking, the downplaying of worker’s rights, and a ‘dog eat dog’ philosophy of unregulated markets.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laissez-faire#Bibliography
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_fundamentalism

    Who in their right mind would want to live in a society that does not care for those who cannot care for themselves, for a multitude of reasons? I wouldn’t! Former Australian Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowan AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC, once wrote that any good community or society is founded on what he called ‘a fragile consensus’. The fragile consensus is constituted by the rule of law, justice, fairness, and care for others. Society’s fabric is either built up or torn down depending on how adequately its leaders, media, religious bodies, police force, families, the community, and every other institution are focused on building and strengthening the community. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zelman_Cowen

    The recent riots in the UK and Greece are a stark reminder of the need to strengthen families, and schools; for society to attend to the fair needs of all people without discrimination, for governments and societies to be thoroughly based on integrity, honest work, and respect of the rights of all people, rich or poor. These are things that most religions emphasise. The political economy of every nation-state is paramount. Where there are nation-states that fail the fragile consensus through corruption, selfishness, very poor example by governments and the scapegoating of any section of a community; trouble ensues.

    British writer Howard Jacobson was recently interviewed on an ABC current affairs program called Lateline. I would recommend the interview as an important contribution to what has occurred recently in the UK regarding rioting and looting. http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/s3296091.htm

    • mike Horsnall says:

      John Candido:

      ‘The philosophical underpinnings of the welfare state can be found in Christianity’s scriptural sanctions and its theological developments in human rights.”

      I have long been of the conviction that British politics -at least till the late 1980’s was fundamentally a kind of Christian Socialist framework. Personally I quite liked it and was happy with that. We have over here been undone partly by the Labour party’s losing control of our immigration policy which focussed all sorts of issues politically.
      I will follow up your links.

  10. John Nolan says:

    Those who set up what we call the Welfare State saw what was then called National Assistance as a safety net rather than as a career choice. Perhaps for the long-term unemployed it might be an idea to make benefits dependent on some sort of community service; the recipients would be putting something back into society and would not entirely lose the discipline of getting up and going to work. And stop regarding state handouts as an entitlement like free schooling and the NHS. Instead of giving cash, give coupons which can be redeemed against essential items like food and clothing.

  11. claret says:

    Some of the most wealthy in our society receive ‘honours’ for service to the state but yet make great efforts to avoid paying tax to the country that helped provide that wealth.
    One of the bankers being paid enormous sums of money frankly admitted that his cleaner probably paid more in tax than he did.
    MP’s are paid huge sums for being ‘advisors’ to certain industrial organisations for doing a few days work every year. Why? Because this represents very good busines to the organisations as they receive valuable ‘advice’ on how to get Govt. contracts, avoid paying tax etc.
    We see a country in which literally billions of pounds are wasted on Government contracts that have been negotiated by those who , by sheer co-incidence, have some stake in those same beneficaries of those Govt. contracts. ( The Boards of industry are awash with ex cabinet ministers who have moved from their posts in Govt. to the same type of industrial company. Eg.Retired Minister of Defence now employed in the arms industry.)
    Our answer to all this? According to some on here it is to dole out food vouchers to the needy.
    Just to re-iterate that there is many more millions of benefit payouts that are not claimed by those who are eligible for them than what is paid out for fraudulent claims..

    • st.joseph says:

      Claret it isn’t the only answer to the problem doleing out food coupons to the needy.
      But it would be a start to get the Welfare to those who are claiming it fradulently a little closer to getting it right.
      Then the money would be used for bare necessesities.
      We are speaking about the The Future state of Welfare here, not the wastage of Government Officials.That is something which will need a greater effort and will now I believe be sorted with the state of the economy at the moment,
      .We have to be careful here that we dont throw out the baby with the bath water, and innocent people suffer. There are some genuine cases of poverty and not all scroungers.
      If there is many more millions of benefit payouts that are not claimed by those who are eligible that is there own fault for not claiming -if they needed it!

  12. John Candido says:

    It is vital for democratic societies to care for the underprivileged. There is no doubt that both private philanthropy and religious charity play an important role in the community in terms of feeding the poor, providing assistance to the elderly, the sick, the homeless, and for their provision of religious schools. However, a government has a very important and overarching role to play, and they need the resources in order to do this vital, communal work.

    In order for governments to care for those who need assistance, as well as do every other thing that is expected of them on our behalf , it is of paramount importance that the national income tax base be valiantly protected against greedy and selfish usurpers. American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once famously said that ‘Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.’ This quote can easily be reconfigured to read; welfare (or national health, policing, a defence force, scientific research, and education) is the price we pay for a civilised society. All of the above requires the careful collection of that dreaded word; taxes.

    It might do us well to revisit Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. again with a different quote. ‘Beware how you take hope from another human being.’ Quite a salient point regarding Sir Zelman Cowan’s ‘the fragile consensus’ and the recent riots in the UK.

    One of my hobby horses is the need for all political economies to boost the integrity of their national income tax base, with the development of a cashless society. A cashless society will come of its own accord rather than be something that is advocated and pursued by any government. For those who doubt its future development via technology, have a look at a video of a new development from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). The CBA is one of Australia’s major banks. It is called ‘Kaching’, which is the sound of money. http://www.commbank.com.au/mobile/kaching.aspx?intcmp=HP0108

    Along with laws that can confiscate the proceeds of crime; a cashless society will contain the threat of crime and terrorism, because criminal anonymity will be curtailed in a cashless society. In addition, income tax evasion will have its scope reduced due to the removal of cash in our society.

    In Australia there are now laws which forbid a former Minister of the Crown from benefiting by subsequent employment after politics that directly aligns with his/her past work in government. There must be a gap of two years before former Ministers can be employed by complementary business sectors. Maybe this could be something that the UK should examine, to see if it was germane to its political arrangements. I cannot believe that you tolerate a serving Member of Parliament to be paid for services to industry while they are parliamentarians. To my mind that is a blatant conflict of interest. Mind boggling!

  13. st.joseph says:

    John I agree with the principle and what you say.

    But will it work for all those who would not be able to use it.
    Most elderly people here dont even have Bank Cards, or mobile phones,up to a short while ago I didn’nt have one and now I couldnt tell my mobile number if asked,and I only knew what an e.mail was a couple of years ago I pods I phones etc ,which were mentioned on the web you gave would be a foriegn language to most pensioners.Computer language is a mystery to me.
    My husband when alive knew everything he needed to in all matters of technology.
    So I think the biggest problem will be educating the elderly-who after all like to see their money and can probably manage their budget better than any Government or Tax Man.
    I think the best way to manage ones money is to read the Parable of the woman who had ten Drachmas. When she lost one would not rest until she found it!

  14. Gerry says:

    I love it when ten billion words of argument are put in a nutshell and John Nolan has produced just such a nutshell: “Those who set up what we call the Welfare State saw what was then called National Assistance as a safety net rather than as a career choice.” That certainly was the idea of the Beveridge Plan and the welfare state that came from it. If I use the phrase in the future without attribution I hope John will excuse me, I sometimes forget.
    Many contributions have deal with very important but minor matters. If there were no benefit cheats, and if all bankers and all MP’s worked for nothing and had no expenses, the sum saved would hardly be noticed in the national balance sheet. UK (and EU) overspending is huge and is due mainly to our unaffordable welfare, health, and pension payments. There is no need to blame others as Claret suggests we tend to do. We ourselves are the problem. I have been a pensioner since I was sixty-five and think I need every penny and so do most pensioners and welfare recipients, but the nation is overspending on us. (Of our national budget of £700 billion about half goes on pensions, health care, and welfare) The matter is gone into rather well by Matthew Parris in today’s Times where he discusses the decline of the west and its overspending.

    • John Candido says:

      Given domestic and foreign investment in the economy in order to create as many jobs as possible, as well as a massive program of re-education, retraining, and counselling where appropriate, it is likely that there will always be a certain amount of unemployment that will not go away. It is likely that there will always be more people chasing jobs than there are jobs out there.

      Seasonal unemployment is one thing, but structural unemployment is quite another. Unemployment due to technological development is more intractable than seasonal factors, and it takes a considerable amount of resources and time in order to retrain people so that they can change their career path and take advantage of new industries and new opportunities. Even with this forward planning by governments, there will always be more unemployed people than jobs to go to.

      You cannot hound people to find a job when their educational credentials and employment experience is at variance with available employment. It is far more humane to support unemployed individuals with adequate levels of assistance through welfare. The spending that they need for food, clothing, etc. will be a benefit for local businesses and help keep the people employed there, employed more securely.

      So it is most definitely not a career choice to be unemployed and to be on welfare. It is bad enough that they cannot obtain employment due to the mismatch of their skill/experience set and unstoppable things such as structural unemployment. They also have to cope with the stigma of unemployment from their fellow citizens for their predicament. How unchristian and nasty it is to stigmatize someone for being unemployed. It is almost the case that being unemployed is viewed by some as socially unmentionable and a quasi-crime. What brave woman wants to marry an unskilled labourer today, given structural unemployment? Not many I’ll bet!

      I can’t see how being unemployed and putting up with the pejorative assumptions and judgements of others, is a ‘career choice’. What are the prospects for advancement of someone on an unemployment benefit? None! Unemployment is here to stay for the foreseeable future. If there are people who would foolishly and unknowingly prefer this as a way of life, thank God! Because that is one less person our society has to worry about vis-à-vis social disaffection, violence, rioting, and looting.

      • John Nolan says:

        In 1982 I was made redundant and decided to take a year out to do a (taught) master’s degree. The redundancy payment paid part of the tuition fees, and I ‘signed on’ for UB and housing benefit (a small serviced room in Chiswick). This was perfectly within the rules as the taught part of the course did not exceed 15 hours a week. I was told that anything I earned at weekends would not affect the benefit, which was just as well, as I was a TA captain at the time, and we trained mostly at weekends. I received as UB the princely sum of £25 a week. Had Margaret Thatcher not axed earnings-related UB the year before, I would have lived quite comfortably; as it was, making ends meet was a struggle, especially after I had ‘maxed out’ my one credit card and gained a moratorium on repayments. For the previous nine years I had paid earnings-related National Insurance contributions, which I think gave me an entitlement. When I finished the course my aim was to get back into paid employment as soon as possible. With no dependants to claim for, staying on benefits was not an option.

  15. Iona says:

    I understand that in Greece the retirement age is 53, and public sector pensions are extremely generous.

    Whatever system we devise, somebody – or lots of somebodies – will immediately start devising ways round it so that they benefit from it unfairly.

  16. st.joseph says:

    Someone mentioned here that the unemloyed would be better if they did work for their Benefits
    Perhaps if they received extra for working even if it was not to their liking it would be an incentive to do so other than being at home and working unofficially to make ends meet.
    I dont know how much people get on benefits but I hear from those that it is not enough, it could be based on their income before they were made redundant.
    There is plenty of work to keep people occupied especially with the local Council cut backs,even unskilled labourers could do work for the Council.
    I think they would have more self respect than being idle.
    Jobs are filled now with women, who have husbands on the dole, maybe the husbands could do their job (Have I upset the femenists now) I know if it was me I would rather be at home an my husband work! I am speaking of jobs in factories or Supermarkets etc not professional work.

  17. Gerry says:

    But John – John Candido, that it – we see Poles and Hungarians in large numbers working in hotels and looking pleased and happy with life, and when we go to Mass we meet Poles and Filipinos who work in industry and care homes who are also apparently delighted with having a job, and we hear much the same story from various parts of the country. Then we are told that in these areas there are many natives of the country who are unemployed. This is a puzzle to us amateur observers of the scene and it is difficult for us not to presume that some of the native unemployed have preferred social security payments to work. Well, not being professional sociologists, we must accept that we may be wrong, and we must remain saddened at the great unhappiness of the unemployed which John describes. On the other hand there is some consolation in knowing that our systems of government have provided very many Poles, Hungarians, and Filipinos with jobs that make them – at least temporarily – happy and fulfilled.

  18. st.joseph says:

    I often wonder if we have dug ourselves into a materialistic hole with the ‘got to have’ society .
    and now cant dig ourselves out of it. Who pays for all the mobile phones our young teenagers and younger have -tapping all the time, I.Pods, computers games,Sat TV. all luxerys that most cannot afford.
    Designer clothes, designer shoes,must have designers names on clothing.
    Christmas is close, how much will be spent just to please the children,when they write to Father Christmas, who will not be satisfied with less. People putting themselves in unecessary debt.

    If that stops and we tighten our belts, that will mean businesses will slump , more unemployment,more on benefits, have we built a society that will destroy itself in the end!
    I know talk is cheap and it will not answer the problem.

  19. mike Horsnall says:

    Many of the immigrant groups in Britain now have come from countries which untill comparitively recently have known civil unrest, shortage,deprivation and in some cases the harsh attentions of a defensive State apparatus (Police, army etc) Hate to bang on about China but living there for 5 years around the time of Tianmen Square really opened my eyes to the way of life in an authoritarian regime overseeing a developing economy. Its not surprising to find Poles, Romanians, Hungarians all looking a bit more cheerful here -life is better here.
    I see quite often individuals in my clinic who are on very low wages-I see them for a much reduced rate so they can afford to come. Several are on disability benefits and struggling financially, most of them cut their cloth accordingly and do not seem wedded to the worship of objects as the rest of us-poverty teaches lessons, harsh ones no doubt.

  20. claret says:

    As long as we don’t look at ourselves with any kind of scrutiny then we can take comfort in shifting the blame on those who abuse the system. Someone on here points to the total cost of the welfare state ballooning out of control but if you have the privilege of a welfare state then you have to expect that it will involve expenditure!
    So the abuse of the system is just as much down to those who do everything they can to avoid funding it as it is to those who fraudently draw upon it.
    Sadly we see in some of these posts a rather one-sided blame culture as though the billions in unpaid taxes are merely a drop in the proverbial bucket, and so hardly worth bothering about, compared with the other end of the abuse scale.
    There is a culture of: ‘if I can get away with it i will,’ that runs through our society and it is just as prevalent, if not more so, at the top as it is at the bottom. The difference being that we have a right to expect a better example from those that have, rather than those that don’t.

  21. mike Horsnall says:

    Like John Nolan I had a period of being unemployed and used it to study. I took A levels at a local technical college which got me into University and gave me a profession.
    I worked in a pub and claimed unemployment benefit which was legal for the first year then illegal for the second year. Back then no one minded much and the staff at the benefit office in Leeds turned a blind eye. I remember taking in a bunch of flowers one week just to show my gratitude and the staff were amazed that a claimant could actually be appreciative. Unfortunately, several weeks later the benefit office was firebombed by someone who clearly held differing views than my own- metal shutters were put up and that was the end of kindness for awhile; this was 1978.
    I think we need a degree of flexibility at the margins and need to be very careful when considering edicts and pogroms.

  22. st.joseph says:

    Mike I am too sure what you mean when you say we need a degree of flexibility at margins and need to be very careful when considering edicts and pogroms.
    We have a duty to feed ourselves and our family and if we are not receiving enough on benefits a responsible parent will go to extremes to protect them from extreme poverty.
    A little extra cash in hand for helping a needy person with little jobs around their house as a thanksgiving gift I would find acceptable.
    But by law I think we are expected to disclose it.I dont believe that to be wrong if the circumstances were not denying anyone else.
    It could be a matter of conscience.
    That is different to someone claiming sick benefit and taking a full time job etc and avoiding the tax man!
    The young people hanging about in gangs and drugs where a bar of soap doesnt cost much dont want work.

  23. st.joseph says:

    Quentins last sentence in his comment on Well-Fair?
    That would be a very good starting point for the Government to bring back a traditional moral life and demonstrate a very ‘old fashioned’ religious life without the prejudiced and bigotry!

    • st.joseph says:

      P.S And make it a criminal offence for the fathers who don’t support their children!
      Maybe it would make some males think twice.
      It is about time that the responsibility was placed on the men who take advantage of the ‘weaker sex’. They ought to learn to say ‘no’ to.

  24. John Candido says:

    A little economic history from the 20th century might be germane here. The Yom Kipper war in the Middle East in 1973, between an Arab coalition of nations and Israel, led to an oil embargo by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) against the United States and other western nation-states who supported Israel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OPEC. Oil is the one essential component of western economies, and as important to our economy as blood is for humans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Kippur_War#Oil_embargo.

    This in turn led to a quite deadly combination of inflation and economic stagnation in the early 1970s, commonly referred to as stagflation. Since the introduction of economic rationalist policies during the 1980s, it has been a deliberate goal to get on top of stagflation by reducing inflation, cutting red tape or regulation with the hope of generating economic growth, and getting rid of deficits by balancing national budgets. The principal goal in this was to stymie stagflation. The concerns of the poor, the marginalised, or the unemployed, came last.

    It was a deliberate economic policy to put the control of inflation in front of reducing unemployment, in the hope of generating economic growth through the private sector, and thereby reducing it in the long-term. However, rates of unemployment have not returned to post-World War II levels unfortunately, as technological development i.e. structural unemployment, has been one important factor in keeping unemployment intractable. A permanent pool of unemployed people have been the sacrificial lambs of a deregulated economy, where fighting inflation has been an important economic priority alongside other prescriptions in laissez faire or market fundamentalist economics.

    It is interesting how people in work or who have retired after a lifetime of work, view people without work as being unworthy of any respect. Most people in work look down at their nose and take the moral high ground when assessing people who do not have employment. It is also quite interesting that both governments and people with jobs i.e. the ‘respectable people’, require the unemployed to complete all sorts of tests and jump all sorts of hoops in order to prove that they are worthy of their welfare payments.

    The nation and every lucky family with employed adults in it should be of good cheer and acknowledge the unemployed for being an essential and unwitting participant in their prosperity. So please show some Christian charity the next time you think of the unemployed, because it might do your heart some good!

  25. st.joseph says:

    We have to be careful here when we speak of the unemployed. that we know to ‘whom we mean’!
    There are those who have been made redundant.
    Those who or on sickness benefit and unable to work
    And whether we like it or not there are those who are willing to take all they can from the State Benefits.
    And those who do not as Claret says -claim all that they are due.
    Man for their own dignity and self respect need work (if able).
    I havent seen any ‘unchristian charitable’ remarks on here towards the unemployed as some have impled.
    When we speak of imigrants-those who work are acceptable-but there are unlawful immigrants claiming benefits they say-how that is I dont know.
    My parents were Irish and and came here in 1936 it has often been said about the influx of Irish immigrants in England .My father was a National Hunt Jockey and was never on the dole and served in WW2 ,and the Irish men built most of the Motorways that the English men didn’nt want to do. They were not scroungers! They sent money home to their families.

  26. Gerry says:

    This is very interesting – the economic history of the last fifty years. In this household we remember in the 1960’s paying basic income tax at 30%. In fact, if our memories serve us right, we believe there was a period when the basic rate was 33%. We have been puzzled as to why when taxes do not appear to cover expenditure the rate of income tax does not go up. It seems such a fair way of paying the bills, and better than putting people out of work, but is nowadays never mentioned. Does John Candido’s contribution help to explain it – i.e. high income tax being thought to reduce national wealth. If anyone can put in simple language why we do not put the basic income tax rate up to – say 25% – I would find it so interesting.

    By the way, I wonder where John lives that he meets people who look down their noses at the unemployed. Around here, and on my occasional travels, I find people extremely sympathetic to those who have lost their jobs due to this financial crisis. Everyone I speak to agrees that it is those who have lost their jobs who have borne by far the biggest burden of this crisis, this “worldwide intellectual failure”. Of course, there was Norman Tebbitt’s father and his bike, but surely this is just good advice to those very few young men in the same position as Mr Tebbitt’s father. And there are the Marxists with their dismissing of the lumpenproletariat as a dead loss, but are there many Marxists left these days? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpenproletariat

  27. John Nolan says:

    At the time of the 1970 General Election the basic rate of Income Tax was 6/6 in the £ (32.5%). One of the first acts of the Heath government was to reduce it to 6/- (30%). It is still effectively at this level since ERNIC (Income Tax in all but name) usually goes up when the basic rate goes down. Higher rates have certainly come down since the 1960s; when Roy Jenkins was Chancellor I believe the top rate was 24/- (120%)!

    • Quentin says:

      It would appear that there is a problem at the top end. When the highest rate exceeds 40% earners begin to take anti tax measures much more seriously. It is likely that the current 50% rate will yield no net new revenue, while satisfying the green-eyed envy of hoi polloi. Unfortunately many taxpayers will take up residence elsewhere, and their tax contribution lost to the UK for ever. Own goal.

      A case in point: a close relation of mine has a senior position in a very well known international company that is resident in Holland because the tax rate is better there. He has been obliged to take up residence in Holland as a price of retaining his job. He has to commute weekly because his wife and children are in the UK. I don’t know his salary but, at a conservative estimate, £40,000 a year goes to the Dutch exchequer and not to the UK.

      (In the ’70s and ’80s a top rate of 60% was common. But in 1977 to 1979 it rose to 83%. It dropped to 40% in 1988. As far as I know there was no reduction in tax takings as a result. You can only squeeze a sponge so far! See http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/tax_structure/incometaxrates_1974to1990.pdf)

      • John Candido says:

        I believe that you can only go so far in taxing those with large annual incomes. It is quite unfair to excessively tax anybody on very high incomes with very high income tax rates. Private property and financial reward for enterprise is a corner stone of modern democratic nation-states. However, I do believe in a progressive marginal taxation regime i.e. those that earn little pay no or less tax, while those on very high annual incomes should pay an increasingly higher marginal rate of income tax. This is quite fair on balance.

        Quentin, you state that,

        ‘It would appear that there is a problem at the top end. When the highest rate exceeds 40% earners begin to take anti-tax measures much more seriously. It is likely that the current 50% rate will yield no net new revenue, while satisfying the green-eyed envy of hoi polloi.’

        There is most definitely ‘a problem at the top end’; it is called greed, a lack of integrity, and a lack of patriotism. This is a selfish example to the rest of the nation and shows not only contempt for everybody else; it also shows a predilection to breaking the income tax laws of the UK. We are no better here in Australia or in any other nation-state. Every country with a private sector has them.

        I have no qualms with profit making and private property for it is a natural state of affairs. Businesses generating goods and services that are adding to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our economy are very important factors in national progress. It is this very thing that keeps people employed.

        Private enterprise is a very important part of our way of life, and it is to be treasured by all as the most efficient way of generating productivity, as well as the taxes that governments use on behalf of everyone. Private enterprise is also synonymous with personal freedom. So it is not our way of life that I attack but the prevailing values of those at the top, who snub their noses at our nation and to the detriment of the ‘hoi polloi’ as you describe them.

  28. Gerry says:

    Thanks John, That is really very interesting and it is rather reassuring that memories in this household have been fairly accurate.

    Roy Jenkins has often been blamed for losing the 1970 election by leaving taxes high. These figures seem to fit in with this view.

    A letter in The Times recently wondered if it was inevitable in a democracy that party politicians would always have to promise more cash for the voters in order to get elected. From a programme last night about Greece it seems that in election pledges party politicians were promising huge amounts of money to gain votes, money they did not have. If this is virtually inevitable in democracies, we’ve got a problem.

    The figures seem to show that those who pay NI contributions are just as heavily taxed as we were in the 1960’s, that is around 30%. On the other hand, those who do not pay NI contribution – eg pensioners, like myself – pay only 20%. This seems such a good idea! Have I got it right? Does everyone think it fair?

    • John Nolan says:

      Historically Income Tax (introduced as a wartime measure by Pitt the Younger and reintroduced, as a temporary measure which became permanent, by Peel in the 1840s) was a tax on the better off. Now incomes which would put the recipient below the poverty line are still taxed at source. Gladstone would have been appalled. Mind you, it would have seemed bizarre to the Victorians that the vast bulk of national expenditure goes on poor relief. And why do politicians assume that the the only things that the public cares about are ‘schools and hospitals’? Unless you are a teacher you spend at most thirteen years of your life in the former, and the less time you spend in the latter, the better.

  29. st.joseph says:

    My daughter is a Bursar and Financial Business Manager in a Secondaty School and is having a difficult time at the moment with all the cutbacks!
    We ought to care about our schools!

  30. claret says:

    I am bemused by Quentin’s example of tax avoidance. An International Company can set up their HQ in any place they care to. I would guess that Holland is not the most attractive from a taxation point. There will be other countries offering even better tax advantages. We know this from our own tax dodgers.
    It is possible to live in an income tax free society but then you pay more for just about every commodity or go without health care and all the rest that taxation pays for! On balance you are far better off paying tax and living in a welfare state, even with its fraudulent claimants.

    • John Candido says:

      Artificial overseas tax havens need to be legally proscribed in the national and public interest. If the UK ever joins the Eurodollar in future (a forlorn hope), and if all member states were to agree to one European Economic Minister and a European Treasury, this would naturally lead to one pan- European taxation regime (another forlorn hope). In this scenario an international company will have little room to move in dodging its taxation responsibilities to its home nation-state (you can bet your last dollar that they will fight tooth and nail to stop this).

  31. John Nolan says:

    “One European Economic Minister etc etc”. Has the news from the Eurozone not percolated down under? Get real, John.

  32. st.joseph says:

    Blessed Mother Teresa said’ The countries that kill babies are the poorest in the World.
    As Scripture says-‘What does it profit a man if he saves his body and loses his Soul’!

  33. Iona says:

    When did VAT come in (to the UK, I mean)? – Was it around the same time the income tax rate came down, and if so, wasn’t it a case of gaining on the swings what we’d lost on the roundabouts?

  34. John Candido says:

    I think that the European Union is an extremely useful institution that must be saved. It has justified its existence through economic and socio-political progress. When individual nation-states adhere to fiscal disciplines, the European Union is an economic and political fillip for Europe and the global economy. Since the complete devastation of Europe at the end of World War II in 1945, the European Union has been central to rebuilding the political economy of individual nation-states, and in successfully containing unbridled nationalism through economic cooperation.

    To allow the end of the EU because of the debt of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and potentially France, is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Reform of the Union is urgently needed with fiscal union. One finance Minister with pan- European authority for the entire economy of all EU members is essential. One treasury, one budget, and one European balance sheet. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently endorsed such a view in order to bolster the future stability of Europe and the world.

    Apart from this, one has to wonder why the UK has resisted joining the Eurodollar over many years. It is vital that Britain do so in order to increase the size of the Eurozone, bolter the EU as an institution and the economy of Europe, and to increase Britain’s influence in the European Union itself. The idea of any economic zone is not something that has fallen out of fashion. Look at Australia, the United States, and other (21 in total) Asia-Pacific nation-states who want to do the same with APEC, which stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

    The EU has been a marvellous example of what cooperation can deliver to Europe and the rest of the world. It has enhanced the economies of member states and prevented another European war. It most certainly deserves to be strengthened despite the irresponsibility of several member states that threaten not only Europe, but the entire world through their unsustainable levels of sovereign debt.

  35. John Candido says:

    For those interested in any general information about the European Union or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), both websites are listed below.
    http://europa.eu/index_en.htm
    http://www.apec.org/

  36. John Candido says:

    There is a really interesting and illuminating interview on the most recent episode of ‘Lateline Business’ http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/business/ , which is an ABC current affairs program on business issues. The topic of one of the interviews was the effect of tax havens on the current crisis in the European Union. The interviewee was Mr. John Christensen, who is a co-founder of the Tax Justice Network http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcatart=2&lang=1 . The Tax Justice Network (TJN) is a pressure group dedicated to transparency and accountability in international business and the corporate world. The TJN works against the existence of tax havens, tax avoidance, and tax evasion.

    You can access the Lateline Business interview from here http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/series/lateline%20business .

    If you cannot view the interview for whatever reason, you can read a transcript of the interview from here, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-23/the-fight-against-tax-havens-avoidance-and-evasion/3687748 .

  37. John Candido says:

    I need to point out that using one of the links above, called the ABC’s iView at http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/series/lateline%20business, you have to select Tuesday 22nd November 2011, as the date of the John Christensen interview about the quite serious extent of tax havens and international tax evasion, and their economic impacts. You do this by clicking the above link and look for ‘All Available Episodes’, which is located just to the right of centre, and select Tuesday 22nd November 2011. Without selecting the 22nd November 2011 you will simply automatically given the latest episode of ‘Lateline Business’.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has a paragraph on tax evasion. Paragraph 2436 is quite specific in saying that it is the duty of all Christians to pay their fair share of ‘social security contributions’ or taxes, for the benefit of the common good.

    Paragraph 2432 expounds on the responsibilities of businesses to the whole of the nation for any economic and ecological effects. I have quoted both paragraphs below for everybody’s convenience.

    Paragraph 2432:

    ‘Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.’

    Paragraph 2436:

    ‘It is unjust not to pay the social security contributions required by legitimate authority. Unemployment almost always wounds its victim’s dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life. Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family.’

  38. John Candido says:

    I forgot to mention that the John Christensen interview on ‘Lateline Business’ as presented on the ABC’s iView, is approximately sixteen minutes and twenty seconds into the episode on the 22nd November 2011.
    Go to: http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/series/lateline%20business

  39. John Candido says:

    The full extent of the effects of tax evasion and tax havens has not been adequately debated in our societies. However, I am confident that this issue has a life of its own and will be debated from now on in thanks to people like Mr. John Christensen FRSA, who is a qualified Actuary, Lawyer, and Economist. I briefly met Christensen on the 24th November 2011 at a conference room at Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral last Thursday evening.

    He gave a talk about the pernicious effects of tax evasion and tax havens to a small crowd of people. He used to be employed by Oxfam, and used to wonder why donations to Africa were not only squandered by very corrupt individuals, but why infrastructure has not taken root, despite private and government aid over many years. He then went undercover so to speak, and was employed in his home of Jersey as an actuary for one of these notorious tax havens. Jersey is a British Crown Dependency off the coast of Normandy, France, for those who are unfamiliar with it.

    He is a man of substance to be reckoned with, and he is a very brave individual as well, I might add. I hope that he has made adequate provision for his personal security, due to the nature of his advocacy on everybody’s behalf. I also want to state that I hope that I am truly wrong about this!

    Europe and the 1st world are in their present difficulties with sovereign debt, partly due to the irresponsibility of governments and corporations over many decades, in failing to administer their taxation laws with sufficient clout. Italy and Greece are perfect examples of this, and their private sectors, bureaucracies, and governments stand condemned for their dereliction of duty. The upshot of this is that services to the community such as health, education, and welfare, etc. etc., have had their funding cut to the bone, and their economies are far more unstable and prone to imbalances, recession, and unemployment.

    Tax havens not only have adverse social and economic effects on nations and communities, they play absolute havoc for people unfortunate enough to be born in the Third World. For every dollar donated to Third World, several more are placed in tax havens in order to evade taxes. It is conservatively estimated that tax havens have around 14 trillion dollars in them (one trillion is equal to one million, million, million). It is no wonder that their infrastructure is emaciated and millions of people have died as a result of the greed of dictators, wealthy individuals, and corporations.

    Everybody should be contributing to the common good through taxation. Every good hearted person, regardless of their circumstances, should know this. It is taxes that connect us all as one community and nation, and offers important sources of revenue for infrastructure, security, scientific research, policing, health, education, and welfare, as well as the full gamut of government spending.

    ‘It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.’ That was a quote from Adam Smith on the subject of progressive taxation, in ‘Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth’, in his classic and seminal work on economics called, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wealth_of_Nations .

    On the subject of the social and economic damage that tax havens and tax evasion do to our communities, I have a number of important resources that anybody can consult, in order to inform you of this very important and considerable problem that we all share.

    http://treasureislands.org/
    http://www.tackletaxhavens.com/
    http://www.cashbackmovie.com/
    http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Alpbach_Forum_0808_JC_Powerpoint.pdf

  40. John Candido says:

    Everybody has heard of the ‘trickle-down’ theory which is supported by conservative economists, corporate bodies, and politicians. There is a new term that I have recently come across called the ‘trickle-up’ theory. Mr. Robert Skidelsky, who is Professor emeritus of the political economy at Warwick University, and a member of the British House of Lords, has proposed a better way of generating an increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

    He posits that consumer spending by those less well off, is a far better way of regenerating the economy than tax cuts for those who are very well off. He believes that the wealthy have a tendency to save their money in terms of long-term investments and savings. Those less well-off tend to spend their money rather than save it or invest it. It is a method of ensuring that recessions and economic deadlocks generated through excessive sovereign debt, is reduced or ameliorated in the long-term. He also proposes as an alternative, an infrastructure fund in order to help build public structures that assist the economy to counter national economic bottlenecks, and ensure that the economy is running more efficiently.

    His proposals can be read from here…

    http://www.theage.com.au/business/world-business/economic-lessons-for-the-politicians-20111127-1o1ho.html

    British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. George Osbourne, seems to be in two minds as to what Britain is to do with membership of the Eurozone. In an article entitled, ‘Healthy euro is in Britain’s interest’ in ‘The Telegraph’, and dated 26th July, 2011, Osbourne has three specific prongs with which to use to get the UK economy running well. If I may quote him from his article,

    ‘The first is surely this: we have to stick to our plan to tackle Britain’s debts. If we don’t, we too could face sky-high interest rates, bailouts and a loss of sovereignty.’

    His second prong is to aim for increases in economic growth. ‘The second lesson: we have to go for growth.’ His final point is to place himself in the dichotomous position of supporting the logic of a single European currency, but step cautiously back from this because he considers himself a euro-sceptic. To quote Osbourne again,

    ‘The third lesson is this: you cannot resist the inexorable economic logic of a single currency. I believe the events of this week mark something of a turning point. The most significant decision euro leaders took was to expand the scope and powers of the euro zone’s bailout fund.’

    ‘It can now buy the debt of countries in distress and fund bank rescues. President Nicolas Sarkozy describes it as a form of monetary fund for the euro. It is also another step on the road to further fiscal integration.’

    ‘For euro-sceptics like me, that should not come as a surprise: we always argued that joining the euro would lead to fiscal integration and a resulting loss of sovereignty. Yet it’s hugely in Britain’s national interest that the euro does work, and is stable.’

    ‘Those who want it to fall apart ignore the catastrophic instability that multiple defaults and chaotic exits would bring, and the terrible damage it would do to our economy.’

    It could be interests of not only the UK, but Europe and the global economic system as a whole, if Osbourne and every British government of either persuasion could see to effectively dismantling all tax havens in the UK. They could start with one of the largest international centre of secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens) which is right under their noses in non-other than the city of London itself, and work their way to Jersey. London, as well as New York, nation-states such as Switzerland, and Singapore, are huge centres of secrecy jurisdictions. This is done in order to attract foreign investment, and offer a nefarious means for wealth to escape paying taxes. Secrecy jurisdictions need to be abolished in a wholesale manner in order that GDP, employment, and welfare, can increase as much as possible.

    You can read more about his proposals from here…
    http://www.theage.com.au/business/healthy-euro-is-in-britains-interest-20110725-1hx6u.html

    As a lowly member of Amnesty International in Australia, I receive their regular magazine called, ‘Human Rights Defender’. In Volume 30, number 4, December/January/February, 2011/2012, there is an interesting article about the Brazilian economy. The government instituted welfare for the poor with an aim of stimulating the economy.

    The Social Development Minister, Tereza Campello has said that this was to,

    ‘…combine economic growth with social inclusion, such as increasing employment, enhancing the minimum wage, expanding social programs, and increasing access to credit.’

    This has been not only a fillip to the Brazilian economy, but to welfare dependents, manufacturers, and retail businesses. It has also had the effect of shoring up unemployment. It is a prime example of the ‘trickle-up’ effect of providing funds at the base of the economy in order for it to be spent as quickly and as equitably as possible.

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