It is difficult for me to put my anger and distress into words on a page, but I started writing a blog because there were things that made me angry and people on facebook were fed up listening to me ranting about cuts and how dangerous the Tories are. This has been going on for four and a half years and for the last few months, we’ve had the referendum to worry about. But now, it’s back to business.
I can’t be the only one who has looked upon the Tory conference in despair, as privately educated, rich, middle aged, white men once again try to tell us that the best way to cut the deficit is to freeze the benefits of the poor. Without a hint of irony. 10 million households in Britain will be hit with a benefits and tax credits freeze for two years. In addition, public sector workers will be frozen until 2017- with no pay rise above inflation for over seven years, which, in real terms, really means public sector workers have seen a pay cut. George Osborne said that it isn’t the time to ease up on cutting the deficit, the problem isn’t that we tax too little, it’s that we spend too much. Osborne has made a commitment to cutting £12 Billion off of the benefits bill and with this week’s announcements that tax credits and working age benefits are to be frozen said to be saving around £3 billion, this means that the worst is yet to come during the Conservative’s reign of terror. As if it wasn’t already bad enough.
They also announced that the Department of Work and Pensions would be piloting a scheme to issue pre-paid cards to “troublesome” benefits claimants, rather than cash because some parents find themselves in “destructive cycles” of drug and alcohol addictions. This policy will add another level of infrastructure to the already over worked DWP. Instead of pandering to a moral panic of people on benefits squandering their money on cigarettes and alcohol, the media should be urging taxpayers to consider whether or not their contributions were being spent on an efficient system, which, they aren’t. Duncan-Smith’s welfare reform is costing the taxpayer more money because it is over budget and they are over running- that is the true burden to the taxpayer, not the small minority of people on benefits who spend their money on cigarettes and alcohol.
Duncan-Smith’s plan also panders to a belief that all people on benefits have drug and alcohol problems, which we know, is simply not true. We must reach out to those on the margins of society- there are clearly reasons why people have drug and alcohol problems- for some, it is their only catharsis for a desperate situation. Forcing them to receive their benefits on a pre-paid card will simply stigmatise the poor further when what we need to be doing is improving access to education, implementing a living wage and putting proper social assistance programmes in place. A pre-paid benefits card is putting a flimsy plaster over a gaping wound. It simply won’t work.
Ahead of the beginning of the conference, David Cameron announced that young people aged 18-21 would lose their entitlement to Job Seekers Allowance after six months if they were unable to find a job or training. This was announced to target the allegedly endemic problem of people leaving school and living a life dependent on social security. Conservative social security policy is rarely, if ever, based on actual empirical evidence. It is based on the opinions of Daily Mail readers. Actual government figures show that the number of young people not in education, employment or trainingbhas actually fallen. Last year, the number fell by 0.8% to 15.5% of young people aged 16-24 who are not in education, employment or training. Why the need then, for draconian policies that aren’t going to solve the long term issue of youth unemployment?
As if the Tories couldn’t live up to the ‘rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ stereotype that seems to permeate every Tory government ever, any more than they already have done, they have also announced a tax cut for their core voters. The threshold for the higher rate of income tax has been risen by £8000 to £50000. This means that people earning a decemt wage will be on average £1300 off while people earning the least will be left worse off by on average, £250 due to cuts to in-work benefits. The rise in income tax threshold to £12,500 will do nothing to alleviate low incomes.
If it wasn’t abundantly clear before this week, this is Thatcherism on speed. Although the Tories supposedly reward hard work, they are cutting in-work benefits for the people who work in the hardest jobs, with thr longest hours and lowest wages. This, is a party for the rich and by the rich. It always was, it always is and always will be.