No Mr Clegg, this is not ‘Fair’

Cameron and Clegg have defended their Government’s austerity cuts as ‘Fair’. We beg to disagree.

The Treasury’s own figures recognise that less well off people will be affected more than the affluent. People whose income is in the bottom 60% of earnings will be hit harder than those in the top 40% – these are the people who can easily afford the reductions.  People in the north affected more than those in the south; urban areas affected more than the Tory shires. Women affected more than men. Benefit payments are cut by £7 billion; bankers get £7 billion in bonuses. No, we are not all in this together.

Peter Allen was the Green Party candidate in High Peak in the General Election. Peter is a benefits advisor in Manchester. He is well aware of the hardships that ordinary people are already facing. This is his reaction.

“This is not my idea of fairness. The least able to pay are having to pay for the recklessness of some of the richest people in society. £850 billion of our money has been committed to bailing out the banks. Fraud and tax evasion are costing the country £30 billion a year; billions of past taxes are uncollected and written off. But, as always, it is the rest of us who have to pay up. Is that fair?”

In Derbyshire, the Conservative controlled County Council were already drawing up plans to cut spending and increase charges even before last week’s Public Spending Review. The previous Labour Government warned them that they too would require massive spending cuts. Their plans include cutting the financial support for the bus services that many low-income residents in Derbyshire rely on, make charges for  those who need home care and axing the Derbyshire Welfare Rights Service.

This proposal is indicative of the mean-mindedness at the heart of this government. Not satisfied with cutting benefits, they are ensuring that many people remain unaware of their entitlement. The right-wing press lead their gullible readership to believe that there are legions of scroungers out there, greedily taking money from hard-working taxpayers. There is benefit fraud, it costs £1 billion a year, and it needs stamping out. There is also tax evasion that the right-wing press actually encourage. George Osborne has a £4 million offshore trust fund; by this means, he can have tax-free financial security. Tax evasion costs the economy £15 billion a year. That needs stamping out as well.

Closing down the Welfare Rights Service will make it more difficult for people to claim benefits. Since last year alone the Service helped Derbyshire residents claim over £11 million of benefits to which they were entitled, as well as preventing the unjust removal of benefit payments. ‘A good thing too!’ scream the tabloid headlines. Good for who? Benefits are a good mechanism for the redistribution of wealth, a concept that is an anathema to right-wing politicians. The £11 million of extra income secured by DWRS and spent in the local economy has benefited local traders and businesses. The £18 billion in welfare cuts so far announced by the ConDem coalition is money taken out of local economies. Its loss will affect local businesses, many of which will be tipped over the edge by this loss of income. A high percentage of top incomes are spent or invested abroad. Over the winter we will see many independent retailers and small businesses, the bedrock of the local economy, go to the wall.

The Government acknowledges that the Comprehensive Spending Review will lead to the loss of half a million jobs, mostly in the public sector. But this is not the end of the story. Many businesses are reliant on their contracts with public bodies like the Councils.  Many contracts will be cancelled, resulting in an estimated further half million job losses. The Times has predicted that unemployment will top 3 million be the end of the year. [The Times made this claim in January, to embarrass the then Labour Government.]

If this Government was fair, it would lead a drive to create jobs, but it is not, it is simply assuming that the private sector will take up the slack. This is not happening. Ian Duncan Smith is telling people on benefit to ‘get on the bus’ and find work. Another great idea from IDS, but wait: they are cutting the bus services as well! So, it’s back to Norman Tebbit’s bike! This again shows the sheer callousness of the ConDem coalition, resorting to putting the blame onto the victim. What the Minister for Work and Pensions cannot recognise is that the jobs are not there. Nationally, there are more than four people chasing every vacancy. The further north you go the higher this figure becomes, over seven per vacancy in the High Peak; over 10 in the northeast.

And what of the human side of rising unemployment and welfare cuts?

A new report by the independent Policy Studies Institute [Youth Unemployment, Labour Market Programmes and Health], looks at the relationship between unemployment and health problems among young people. Its key findings are that unemployed young people experience more health problems than those in work, including lower levels of general health, more anxiety and depression, higher rates of smoking and higher suicide rates. Attempted suicide rates in unemployed young men are 9.5 to 25 times higher than in employed young men.

The screaming tabloids are wrong. Most people want to work, but they want real jobs, not meaningless schemes. Work for the dole was tried by Thatcher’s government in the 1980s with detrimental effect. Poorly paid work and temporary schemes are seen as demeaning, a ‘punishment’ for daring to claim benefit, no more than a sop to the chattering classes.

The fair answer, recognised by Professor Danny Dorling and reported in the British Medical Journal is ‘good quality apprenticeships, permanent public funded jobs, and more highly valued education’. The most highly valued education among young people being a University education. So what is the fair ConDem response to Professor Dorling? Cut education spending, raise tuition fees to prohibitive levels, cut public investment, deregulate the labour market, or as they put it, cut red tape. Once again, they see unemployment as a ‘price worth paying’ as Thatcher said in the 1980’s. What price, remember ‘Brassed Off’? Watch it again – it will make you weep to think that we are back there again. Who pays the price and for how long? Not those people with offshore Trust Funds, or with wives resident in tax havens.

[Mike Shipley 31st October 2010]

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