Brutal attacks on working class living standards will continue

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Tory Chancellor George Osborne is set in the July Budget to announce details of the new phase of the Spending Review which will undoubtedly continue the vicious attacks on benefits which have continued to hit the very poorest sectors of the working class under Labour and Coalition governments.

David Cameron has hinted at a plan to raid Working Tax Credit Benefits. He justified these cuts by wanting to abolish the ‘merry-go-round’ of benefits paid to people in work. Cameron has had the gall to make low pay part of his case for cuts. He argued, “We need to move from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society.”

We cannot say precisely where the cuts will fall but the Tory election manifesto gave some important indications of the areas they are aiming at:

  • Cut working-age social security spending by £12bn.
  • Cap overall welfare spending over the course of the next parliament.
  • Freeze the value of working age benefits for two years from April 2016.
  • Deliver the universal credit reform of most existing welfare benefits.
  • Lower the household benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000.
  • Reduce benefits for drug-addicted or obese claimants who refuse medical treatment to enable them to return to work, and force sick and disabled claimants to undergo psychological treatment

In a leaked exposé leaked before the election, Danny Alexander, the former Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, said that in June 2012, members of an inner group of senior cabinet members were sent a paper by the Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith that involved:

  • Limiting support to 2 children in child benefit and child tax credit, so cutting up to £3500 from a family with three children.
  • Removing the higher rate child benefit from the first child, an average cut of over £360 for every family with children.
  • Means-testing child benefit – cutting £1750 for a two child middle income family
  • Removing child benefit from 16 to 19 year olds – a cut of over £1000 for parents of a single child.
  • Removing housing benefits for 18 to 21 year olds.

The director general of the right-leaning Institute for Economic Affairs think-tank supports the need for making savings in the welfare budget, but has said that the composition of the proposed cuts “looks set to be extremely unfair on the working age population […] simply salami-slicing the value of tax credits will hit certain households hard”[1].

Another area where the axe is due to fall is incapacity benefits. ‘Reforming’ incapacity benefit, crystallised in the notorious fit-for-work tests carried out by Atos, was a major PR disaster for the Coalition. Today, Atos has been replaced with a new agency – Maximus - but this body still has the function of throwing as many claimants off benefits as possible. The Tories promise to push on with this, and with parallel reductions in the numbers of people receiving disability benefits, “so that help goes to those who really need it”.

Labour isn’t against austerity

This list of attacks planned by the new government could be greatly extended, but they already demonstrate that the Tories will ruthlessly accelerate the attacks on working class living standards carried out under the Coalition.

But just in case anyone should think that these attacks are the invention of the Tories, let’s recall that the Coalition merely kept up the attacks of the previous Labour governments of Blair and Brown:

“The consequences of Labour’s welfare reforms were devastating. 52,399 benefit sanctions were inflicted on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in March 2010.  This was twice the number from just two years earlier and more than the 51,142 sanctions handed out by the Tories in September 2014…  

“In March 2010 the number of people on sickness benefits who had their benefits stopped for failure to carry out work related activity hit a high of 3,673. This is just slightly below the 3,828 sanctions handed out to this group in September 2014.

“To hear the current rhetoric from the TUC, you would think that mass benefit sanctions were a Tory invention.  TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady recently released a statement saying ‘Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions’. This was in response to a report showing the desperate toll that sanctions were taking on lone parents and most importantly their children. As far back as 2008 the government’s own experts, the Social Security Advisory Committee, recommended that lone parents should not face sanctions.  The Labour government rejected this advice”. (Johnnie Void, 8/3/15, posted on the The Void)

Cutting working class living standards, subjecting proletarians to increased surveillance and repression, is not an ‘ideological’ choice of this or that bourgeois party. It is a remorseless necessity for the state in its defence of the profitability of the national economy in the face of an irresolvable economic crisis and the fierce competition of other nation states. Capitalist profit and human need are irreconcilably opposed.  

Melmoth 28/6/15



[1]. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jun/22/poor-families-hit-unfairly-welfare-cuts-institute-economic-affairs