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The poor suffer cuts, our leaders coin it in ... society is torn apart A society torn apart

Tomorrow, anyone of working age in social housing who is deemed to have a spare bedroom will lose 14% of their housing benefit.

If they have two or more rooms they neither need nor deserve – children and the disabled are of no account – they will lose 25%. Some 660,000 households will be affected by the changes, each losing an average of £14 a week.

Next Saturday, in contrast, anyone earning £1 million will be at least £42,295 better off. Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs estimates that there are 13,000 people in Britain whose earnings (not their total wealth) exceed £1m annually. The 50p tax band George Osborne said was worth next to nothing is actually worth £1.31 billion.

Its worth is just slightly less, in other words, than three times the value of the housing benefit cut (660,000 x 14 x 52 doesn't even get you to half a billion.) Once you work out the effect of threshold changes and the numbers earning over £1m, meanwhile, the average cut for Osborne's strivers is around £100,000 a head.

That seems fair, doesn't it? According to Osborne, it could be better yet. Under the guise of helping young couples, he devises a scheme whereby the beneficiaries of his tax cut can have a subsidy when next they mean to enlarge their portfolio of £600,000 fourth homes. Labour point out the injustice, not to mention the economic stupidity, and promises to - Do what, exactly? It would be easy to say the political narrative breaks down, but in truth there is no narrative.

What we get, from a trio of political choirboys, is that word "fairness". Each knows the word can mean anything, depending on the audience. Iain Duncan Smith – called a "ratbag" by the Edinburgh mob's descendants, I'm pleased to hear – thinks it unfair that decent folk, folk like him, should be paying towards the upkeep of people who are not like him. That would be a man with a personal wealth estimated at more than £1m in 2010, much of it earned from after-dinner speaking.

Meanwhile, we were expected last week to believe that Britain has suffered a grievous loss. Or rather, parts of north London, Westminster, the London Speaker Bureau, St James's Wealth Management, the government of the United Arab Emirates, Sunderland FC, and outfits such as VantagePoint Capital Partners, Oxford Analytica and Indus Basin Holdings have suffered a loss. There must be a bank manager out there who feels crestfallen, too.

Whether the people of South Shields are bereft remains to be seen. In theory, until last Wednesday morning, David Miliband MP worked for them. He got £65,738 a year for that. Since leaving government, he also earned 15 times the amount he was paid for serving South Shields – £985,315 – from the outfits mentioned above and others. Miliband is now off to New York to work for a charity, but not, as it were, for charity.

George Rupp, Miliband's predecessor as chief executive of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has its offices on Manhattan's East 42nd Street, got by on $429,705 back in 2009 (about £282,500 today). Four years on, it seems likely that Miliband's package will be weightier. And who knows? He has plenty of friends among the Democrats, starting with Bill Clinton, and excellent contacts in the White House.

Meanwhile, male unemployment in South Shields is running at 10.7%. Median wages, if you get a job, are £19,500 a year. A quick calculation says enterprising Miliband has been doing the work of 50-and-a-bit men. He should have the IRC's global refugee problem cleared up in no time.

Still, while the metropolitan group we shall call the Friends of Tony Blair mourn the loss of Miliband's talents – surely you noticed the talents? – the unemployed of South Shields must wonder how he does it.

They are not alone. The House of Commons Register of Members' Financial Interests yields up the facts easily enough, but the facts do not quite explain everything.

That £75,000 as vice-chairman of Sunderland FC only required 15 days a year. The £64,475 from the UAE was for a "forum". The £14,000 (plus dinner at Claridge's) Miliband got for talking to the law firm Cameron McKenna involved one speech. The chat at the annual meeting of St James's Place Wealth Management – it has no office in South Shields – must have been worth all of £12,750. The MP from a constituency ranked as one of the most deprived in England also did a lot of "advising" among the least deprived.

But why pick on Miliband? Set beside Blair's £12 million a year, the former tribune granted 52% of the South Shields vote in 2010 has barely broken sweat in the personal enrichment stakes. Part of the answer for finding Miliband disreputable – you can call me old-fashioned – is that he thought he was fit to lead the Labour Party. The other part is that he is less symbolic than symptomatic.

His failure to notice moral contradictions is of a piece with his brother's decision to oblige his party to abstain from the workfare bill, whereby the Coalition stole back £130m from 250,000 jobseekers coerced into working for free. That, in turn, is of a piece with Dead Ed's decision to compete with Dave and Nick in stigmatising immigrants. It is of a piece, entirely of a piece, with the efforts of the Coalition to criminalise poverty.

David Miliband would object to that last remark. Didn't he speak against the 1% cap on benefits increases? In what is known as a "rare intervention", he certainly spoke, but not against the principle of cuts to the dole paid to the needy. Like a good Blairite, he merely wanted thought given to priorities.

People say, almost routinely, that there is nothing much to choose between the Oxbridge types who run the Westminster parties. This is foolish talk. Nick and Dave and Ed put in a lot of work ensuring there are big, important differences between them. It is a matter of profound significance whether a cut is a Labour cut, a Tory cut, or a LibDem cut. Whether cuts are fast or slow is a fascinating topic. The victims think of little else.

David Miliband's instant nest egg invites a question. It could as well be put to the rest of them, but he and his £985,315 will serve. What world has he been living in these three years past since the government in which he served caused Labour to sink to its lowest share of the vote (29.1%) since 1922? Patently, it's a cruel world. Thanks to Miliband and those like him, the British part of that world has also become very strange.

We have a country run into the ground by a clique whose personal fortunes do not diminish as a result of the carnage, a country that suffers in a strange, mesmerised silence while its society is torn apart. Someone should give a speech. But would anyone listen?

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Local government

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