Wading through the quagmire of policy, bills and recent historical events surrounding the austerity myth, and in particular the proposed Tax Credit cuts has reduced my inner voice to resemble the Peanuts’ school teacher ‘mwa mwa mwa mwa’. Yeah, ‘it’s complicated’.
Remember the Big Society? In retrospect it seems the coalition was laying groundwork for massive cuts where ‘volunteers’ would pick up the slack. It’s all well and good to say “We want to give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want” unless of course budgets are so reduced that there is very little left. I am not sure how the now seemingly defunct vision for a Big Society will cope with East Sussex Council Council having £40 million less to spend on adult social care services by March 2019, for example. Does the government want us to work or be volunteers?
But let’s look at the situation closer to home. 10,000 households in Hastings have dependent children, and in 2011 8.3% were single parent households (compared with 6.2% for East Sussex) and in 2015 34.7% of household were living in poverty (at 60% of the national median) compared with 22.9% in the South East overall. To add to these dismal figures, in 2011, 46.5 % of women in work in Hastings worked less than 30 hours a week (12.9% less than 15 hours a week – so no tax credits) compared with 17% of men. Women with children, whether they are living with a partner or not, are bearing the brunt of the cuts. The notion that “work will always pay more than benefits” is a moot point for someone unable to work full-time due to being a parent (kids getting 13 weeks holiday and the average full time employee getting 4 weeks – and don’t forget those fabulous inset days, so that’s additional week).
Let’s not forget if fewer families are able to claim working tax credits they will lose out on free services such as free dental, optical, prescriptions, and school meals and transport for children in school, help with heating and energy costs and so on. These add on benefits are no small matter. Poof. Gone.
During the Lords’ debate Earl Howe argued that from 2016/17 £4.6 billion would be saved with tax credit cuts and that “the chancellor will have more to spend on schools, hospitals and those with disabilities.” I think most people find this hard to believe looking at the story so far. Quantitative easing, which profited the top 5% whilst bailing out the banks, cuts to inheritance tax for higher earners, right to buy revoking affordable housing, complete withdrawal of funding to charities supporting extremely vulnerable people and so on are not a good indication of future spending on welfare and public services. Interestingly Jeremy Corbyn has proposed using quantitative easing to uphold infrastructure. If we can bail out the bankers surely we can bail out services to the most vulnerable in our society.
The millionaire Lords who voted against a revocation or delay in tax credit cuts are littered with suspected and proven legal and illegal tax dodgers, such as Lord Simon Wolfson of the High street retailer Next has been hit with a £22.4m tax bill. According to Oxfam “a well-crafted Tax Dodging Bill could bring in at least £3.6 billion a year to the UK treasury – the equivalent of £600 for every household living below the poverty line…” Seems logical and, I’m no economist, but makes more sense than cutting the spending power of millions of families in a struggling economy.
It is clear that the Conservatives, who we must remember only hold a 17 seat majority, are adamant on permanently dismantling the welfare state in favor of big business. The real cloak and dagger however, was the recently passed Fiscal Charter which shockingly makes future governments unable to revoke cuts. This is a long term social cleansing project.
The Welfare Reform and Work Bill will have its second reading on 10 November. It is the blanket bill of the Tory project and utilising rhetoric by repealing the Child Poverty Act, eliminates from the books, for example, that a third of children living in poverty have at least one working parent. A new living wage of £7.20/hr (which won’t apply to under 25s yet a quarter of a million working single parents under 25 are due to be hit badly by the new Universal Credit) an annual income of less than £15,000 pa gross for 40 hours a week with little other financial help, is a disgrace. I’d like to see Ian Duncan Smith get revoltingly excited about raising even a small family on that wage.
In the coming weeks I predict a glut of ‘who didn’t wear a poppy’ stories in the media rather than ‘Tories still trying to screw over the nation’ headlines. Keep your eyes peeled and hang onto the complicated thread.