Britain’s poorest: Sacrified on the altar of deficit

spending cutsBy Chris Williamson MP

So the ConDem coalition has agreed to make £9 billion cuts in benefits after George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith “struck a deal”.

The reforms will see the current welfare system replaced with a universal benefit with millions of welfare claimants having their benefits scrapped and replaced with one “universal credit”. Housing benefit, income support, incapacity benefit and dozens of other payments are set to go.

It remains to be seen how Iain Duncan Smith’s plans compare with Labour’s proposals for a ‘better off in work’ credit to ensure everyone would be at least £40 per week better off. No doubt we’ll hear warm words from IDS about how much he cares about poverty. But I was a Welfare Rights Officer in the 1980s and 1990s and I remember how the Tories impoverished millions of people with their callous welfare reforms. I also remember Nigel Lawson giving a £4bn tax handout to the UK’s richest families in 1988 while simultaneously cutting £4bn from the country’s poorest families.

David Cameron is apparently going to get in on the act. I hear he is planning to use the Tory Party conference to say that there is a purpose to the pain of deficit reduction because Britain will emerge a fairer society following the spending cuts. Meanwhile, George (Slasher) Osborne says his decision to cut child benefit was “difficult but fair”. But the reality is it’s the first phase of the ConDem’s plans to residualise social security as part of their attack on what they pejoratively refer to as the ‘big state’. I remain extremely sceptical that the Tories will do anything to help the poorest people in Britain. My fear is their plans to marginalise social security will lead to even bigger cuts if it is made the preserve of Britain’s poorest people.

I’m not the only one to have expressed doubts about the Tory proposals. When the ConDem coalition launched the consultation about their plans they were criticised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies for “ducking difficult decisions”. The IFS concluded that the proposals were “likely to be accompanied by financial losses for significant numbers of families”. The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) concluded it was “difficult to see how the [Tories’] plans will tackle the real causes of worklessness.” And Shelter expressed concerns about the impact of the “brutal cuts” to housing benefit.

It is yet another example of the 1984 style Ministry of Truth tactics being pursued by this ConDem government that is trying to portray itself as the champions of the poor.

But the ConDem coalition has already…

• Cut the Future Jobs Fund
• Ended the Young Persons Guarantee
• Slashed funding for job centres
• Increased marginal tax rates for at least 85,000 of Britain’s poorest people as revealed in the Treasury’s Red Book
• Reduced tax credits and child benefit by changing the index from RPI to CPI
• Chopped entitlement to tax credits for families earning £50,000 down to just £30,000

No doubt Cameron will deploy the usual verbal contortions in his conference speech to convince people that he’s building a fairer society by making the same old Tory cuts. But the truth is Britain’s poorest people are being sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction, just as they were in the 1930s, 1980s and 1990s.

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