THE debate on poverty and the spending of taxes appears to show a widespread misunderstanding of the purpose of government.

Historically it has always been the responsibility of the ruler – the role now taken by national and local government – to ensure that his people were fed, clothed and housed.

In principle this meant providing paid work, funded by a levy or tax on those who had money; social peace being better served by the circulation of money than by the cornering of it.

Since the 1970s British governments have deluded themselves that the provision of paid work can be palmed off onto commercial undertakings.

No-one in their right mind starts or conducts an enterprise on the basis that their fundamental purpose is to provide employment, no matter what their public relations people may say.

It is for the ‘ruler’, not the trader and shopkeeper, to keep social order and he cannot do it if too many of ‘his people’ feel the only way they and their families can exist is to steal, beg or rebel. The common good requires government to tax, and to provide directly, paid work for those without employment.

Maurice Vassie, Deighton, York.