At the start of 2013 the UK’s Coalition government voted in the latest tranche of austerity measures aimed at reducing the budget deficit. The Spending Review put forward by George Osborne factored in the planned attacks on welfare benefits and pensions. These attacks have been phased in by the British bourgeoisie over a number of years and didn’t start with the Lib-Cons coming to power. The attacks are plainly focussed on the working class.
To start, the government has placed a cap of 1% increase per annum for a period of three years on all welfare benefits. This has jettisoned the link of benefits to inflation that had previously been in place. When we consider that the present level for JSA is £71 (if you are 25 or over, £56.25 if under), an already impoverished situation is bound to get worse. The Department of Works and Pensions has insisted that this is not a cut, but is committed to establishing a further £10 billion ‘saving’ in the welfare bill in the coming period.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions, has promised to introduce a ‘Universal Benefit’ which will impose a £500 ceiling on all benefits for every household. This is currently being trialled in different boroughs in the country because the DWP does not have in place the infra-structure to implement it immediately. However, the cuts will still take place. These cuts will affect JSA, working tax credits, and pension credits. The Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by a ’Personal Independence Payment’.
The cuts to child credit payment will affect 2.5 million single women workers and a further million whose partners are in work. This in effect will be throwing millions of children into poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group has said that these changes will cut 4% from benefits over the next three years. The overall plan is to subsume all payments into the one ‘Universal Benefit’ payment. The government will thus cut its welfare bill. All the guff about lazy ‘shirkers’ versus hard-working ‘strivers’ is just so much camouflage to hide the attacks. According to another report, this time by the Children’s Society, “up to 40,000 soldiers, 300,000 nurses and 150,000 primary and nursery school teachers will lose cash, in some cases many hundreds of pounds” (Guardian 5/1/13) So much for targeting ‘shirkers’!
Housing benefits: cut
The government has placed a cap of £500 per household per week on the rent of a family home. In places like London this is impossible for many to find. According to the government’s own figures on risk assessment, this will affect some 2.8 million people. 400,000 of the poorest people will be included. 300,000 households stand to lose more than £300 per week.
The government in its ‘war on welfare dependency’ will hit the young hardest. The government intends to refuse housing benefit to the under 25’s. This is to effectively throw thousands of young people onto the streets.
Council tax benefits: cuts
The government is cutting its subsidies to local councils by 10% while leaving local authorities to implement the cuts in Council Tax payments. This will mean an average £10 per week that social tenants will have to find to supplement their rents. Those occupying dwellings which have a spare bedroom will have to find a minimum of £10 per week under the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’ since they now fall into the “over occupancy” category. This will again hit young people the hardest. The homeless charity Shelter say that only 1 in 5 of rental homes are affordable to single people on benefits.
The Labour Party’s alternative workfare scheme
The Labour Party, far from being opposed to the cuts, have declared that they agree with the ‘basic principle’ that work for the jobless should be encouraged and should be part of a package for welfare benefits. In response to the government attacks Liam Byrne (shadow employment secretary) has come up with his own ‘workfare’ scheme. This scheme would see every claimant under the age of 25 who has been unemployed for more than two years forced into compulsory jobs. These workers would be paid the minimum wage only. Anyone who refused such Mickey Mouse ‘jobs’ would, under the Labour Party scheme, lose 13 weeks of benefit for the first time and 26 weeks of benefits for the second time. This would not only be a way of reducing the welfare benefit costs but would also force unemployed workers into the hands of unscrupulous bosses. It is reminiscent of the ‘Dole Schools’ of the 1930s where, to claim the dole, you had to attend ‘schools’ to perform menial work or lose what little benefit you could receive.
This Labour party scheme will only mean jobs for six months, after which workers will be back on the dole - and unemployment will still remain at the same massive levels, since most workers won’t qualify for the scheme anyway.
General attack, general response
The attacks are only just beginning. The benefit cuts are part of a wider push to make the working class pick up the bill for their crisis. Governments all around the world, particularly in the centres of the Eurozone like Greece and Spain, are doing the same.
If the working class is to mount any resistance to this offensive, it must reject out of hand all attempts to make it feel responsible for the crisis of capitalism, and all the nauseating campaigns about shirkers and strivers, which are aimed at dividing the working class. Unemployment and poverty are the product of capitalism in crisis and the working class can only defend itself by developing its unity in the struggle against this system.