Welfare cuts and the death of Compassionate Conservatism

December 16, 2012 1:36 pm

The Autumn Statement of two weeks ago was the final nail in the coffin of ‘compassionate conservatism’.

The Tories claimed to have changed. Iain Duncan Smith, once a doyenne of the Thatcherite right, seemed to have transformed into someone who cared deeply about the most vulnerable in society. On taking power, Osborne had always claimed that he would not look to balance the books ‘on the backs of the poor’.

Yet in the mini-budget he did exactly that. Most out of work benefits, as well as tax credits, will increase by just 1% each year for the next three years; a real-terms cut of almost £4bn.

This came just a week after figures revealed that the Work Programme is not working. Billed as the centrepiece of their effort to get Britain working and cut the welfare bill, the Work Programme has been a catastrophic failure. Just one in every thirty participants found a job that lasted over six months, well below their target. Given providers are paid by results – and that results are so spectacularly poor – the Work Programme looks set to collapse in on itself.

The Work Programme’s failings are mirrored, and indeed caused by, the continuing economic crisis. Taking power as the economy was recovering, the Coalition’s ideologically driven austerity choked off the fledgling growth. Having taken us back into recession, we now face the risk of an unprecedented triple –dip. The Chancellor has shown the limits of austerity. Although the latest job figures were relatively positive, there is a long way to go; the recovery has been the slowest following any recession in modern times.

With the economy as it is, the Work Programme could never work. When there is so much competition for vacancies, the long-term unemployed and those that face significant barriers could never compete.

Yet at the same time as hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to find work, the Coalition is cutting their benefits. They are punishing the people that they have failed. Instead of cutting the welfare bill by getting people into work as they’d promised, the Tories are now slashing out of work payments, forcing people into abject poverty.

After the failure of their brief attempt to help unemployed people, the Tories have reverted to type; attacking them and blaming them for their own predicament. Instead of people needing support, they are shirkers who would rather keep their ‘blinds down’ while others go off to work.

Osborne thought he was being rather clever when he invited Labour to join them in supporting the cut in benefits. His trap has backfired rather spectacularly since it was revealed that 60% of those hit by the cuts were in working households. What’s more, polling released since the Autumn Statement has shown that the majority of the public support increasing benefits at least in line with inflation. It seems that the electorate rejects this shameless attack on the most vulnerable in our society.

Irrespective of the polling, these cuts should be opposed simply because they are wrong. Osborne was trying to split the Labour party between those who wanted to oppose the cuts and those who thought that to do so would be too politically risky. It is sad that anyone in our party would ever consider such a move.

We were right to oppose these disgraceful and vindictive cuts. Alan Johnson could not have put it better when he said on This Week:

“Forget the 60% in work, I don’t accept that the people out of work are shirkers…these people should not be treated or demonised in this way…I don’t care actually what focus groups are saying, it’s wrong. I feel it there, it’s wrong.”

Yes, we should always stand up for hard-pressed workers. But we are nothing as a party and as a movement if we do not also protect the most vulnerable in our society. Our claim to be a One Nation party would be meaningless if we were to accept these cuts.

If the Tories and the right wing press want to portray us as the party of feckless shirkers, let them try. Sometimes we need to forget the politics, and remember our principles.

  • NT86

    Compassionate Conservativism isn’t dead. It never existed under this government.

  • NT86

    Compassionate Conservativism isn’t dead. It never existed under this government.

  • AlanGiles

    “Iain Duncan Smith, once a doyenne of the Thatcherite right, seemed to have transformed into someone who cared deeply about the most vulnerable in society.”

    Joe, if you really believe that, then you would believe anything. The only person Smith ever gave a “job opportunity” too was his wife who was paid an inordinate amount for doing damn all (Bettysgate, remember?)

    Smith needed to “prove” himself, after the humiliation of being kicked out of the leadership, and his colleagues and some elements of the press were as prepared to believe Smith had turned over a new leaf, as they were prepared to swallow David Freud, multimillionaire investment banker as an “expert on welfare”.

    Both of course are fairy stories.

    • aracataca

      Agree completely AG.

    • aracataca

      Agree completely AG.

  • Hamish Dewar

    Fact is in the autumn statement Osborne has reduced tax for low to middle income earners while increasing it for higher income earners, by lowering the threshold for the 40% rate.
    This goes some way to redress the damage done by Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p rate.
    Duncan Smith a doyenne? Doyen surely, Joe, unless you are hinting something.

    • Serbitar

      I think raising the income tax threshold to £9,250 was a Liberal Democrat idea.

      • Hamish Dewar

        Agree with most of that, Serbitar.
        I support a fully progressive income tax starting at 1% for 1k to 2k, 2% for 2k to 3k, and so on to the point of no returns.
        If you make a tax fully progressive, rather than having big step changes, you reduce the incentive io create tax avoidance schemes,

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          You are correct, and I fully support this thinking. But it also works to 20% for £20K, 25% for £25K, and pretty soon you run out of voters.

          The problem is that “the point of no returns” in a real life arithmetic sense occurs before the political sense does. The alternative is to spend less, which is “difficult” for a Labour Party. That is “difficult” to the point of being existentialist for the socialist tendency, and of course they will whine, wail and lie to prevent the mathematics from being presented to the electorate.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          You are correct, and I fully support this thinking. But it also works to 20% for £20K, 25% for £25K, and pretty soon you run out of voters.

          The problem is that “the point of no returns” in a real life arithmetic sense occurs before the political sense does. The alternative is to spend less, which is “difficult” for a Labour Party. That is “difficult” to the point of being existentialist for the socialist tendency, and of course they will whine, wail and lie to prevent the mathematics from being presented to the electorate.

      • aracataca

        I have personally benefited from the rise in the income tax threshold but you are of course completely right Serbitar.

      • aracataca

        I have personally benefited from the rise in the income tax threshold but you are of course completely right Serbitar.

      • aracataca

        I have personally benefited from the rise in the income tax threshold but you are of course completely right Serbitar.

      • aracataca

        I have personally benefited from the rise in the income tax threshold but you are of course completely right Serbitar.

      • aracataca

        I have personally benefited from the rise in the income tax threshold but you are of course completely right Serbitar.

      • aracataca

        I have personally benefited from the rise in the income tax threshold but you are of course completely right Serbitar.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          So has every working taxpayer. While the Liberal Democrats will probably be “annihilated” at the next election, millions of British taxpayers might stop for a moment to thank the lifeless corpses for the extra money in their pocket-books. But they will not.

          Goodness, no one has yet had the cojones to calculate over a lifetime (or actually, an annualised 12.3 years at 2012 rates of tax) that the Lib Dem “input” to this one-term tory-Lib Dem Government will increase the general wealth of individual citizens of the country. But 3rd parties do not ever get to claim this credit. Instead, they get the machete in the neck for the next election, and easily ascribed to some foolish pre-election policy on student fees..

  • Serbitar

    I notice that this laudable article was not authored by Liam Byrne. Just saying.

  • David B

    There was no recovery underrway in 2010, the last government borrowed and spent the equilavent of 3% of GDP and the economy grew by 0.8% a net deficate of 2.4%. This was not growth. It was said at the time this would have to be paid for and the debt collector is now at the door.

    The biggest squeeze on income of poorest was the last governments abolition if the 10p tax rate. Nothing Osbourne does comes close to that attack. A recent report (forgot who but it can be found on coffeehouse) showed that this government takes less from the lower income brackets than the last government. It also collects more from the higher income brackets

  • Dave Postles
  • http://www.facebook.com/redangelas Angela Sullivan

    I am just so relieved that the Labour Leadership has found in itself the guts and conviction to oppose these cuts. If they come out in favour of them, or even just abstained, I would have had to ask myself why I was a member of the Labour Party.

  • Daniel Speight

    Joe it would have been a good article a week ago. Today it’s a nothing really. The apparatchiks are following the public not trying to lead it. When John McDonnall sent his open letter ten days ago, that would have been a good time for this post.

  • MrSauce

    You might not like it, but it was our Labour government’s financial incompetance that got the Tories into power. I know a lot of other governmants were being equally stupid, but that is no excuse. Before criticising the ‘cuts’ remember how we got here and deal with those issues.

    • Quiet_Sceptic

      Not a popular message but something which needs remembering.

  • http://twitter.com/AtosVictims1 Atos Victims

    The statement
    “The Tories claimed to have changed. Iain Duncan Smith, once a doyenne of the Thatcherite right, seemed to have transformed into someone who cared deeply about the most vulnerable in society.”
    IDS has never cared for the most vulnerable in society, in fact he HATES the vulnerable with a venom, just look at his policies that are destroying the lives of the disabled & severely ill?
    I’m sorry to say this but the Labour Party & a large percentage of it’s politicians don ‘t care either, they have sat on their hands & done nothing to stem the abuse directed towards the most vulnerable, the “disabled & sick” by Atos who carry out the DWPs Assessment/Torture process for them?
    I get sick & tired by people like Liam Byrne repeatedly telling the public Labour care, well Mr.Byrne actions speak louder than words, if the Labour leadership were brave and had morals they would call for an immediate end to the Atos WCA process until a safer & fairer assessment process could be implemented, mind you they won’t do that as it was the Labour Party who introduced Atos to us Disabled people in the first place?
    The Labour Party or should I say the elite political generals of the party hate the poor just as much as the Tory’s, they are elitist as the rest, will Miliband, Byrne or any Labour MP die this winter because they can’t afford to keep warm, no, why? Because us plebs will be paying for them to keep warm.
    Merry Xmas to all the politicians enjoying Xmas at the vulnerables expense.
    Paul Smith
    Founder – http://www.atosvictimsgroup.co.uk

  • Monkey_Bach

    Whenever conceived Compassionate Conservatism is always stillborn. Eeek.

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