The Tories want to dismantle the welfare state. And they are trying to minimise opposition to their plans by making a huge play about tackling the benefits of the “rich”.
Chancellor George Osborne announced two major attacks on benefits at the Tory conference this week. One is the removal of child benefit from all households where one person earns more than £44,000 a year.
The other—which is getting much less media coverage—is a “cap” on benefits which will plunge tens of thousands of people further into desperate poverty.
Osborne’s cap cuts the total amount that unemployed families can receive in benefits to £26,000 a year.
This means that some 50,000 unemployed families will lose an average of £93 a week—and some will lose as much as £300 a week.
The cap restricts benefits to £500 a week. This may not sound too bad—but when you do the sums, it is.
The cap doesn’t refer to the amount that people would have to spend—it is their total benefits, including jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, and so on.
For some families, housing benefit is £400 a week.
This is because the lack of affordable council housing leaves many at the mercy of private landlords charging extortionate rents.
Osborne will leave these families with just £100 a week to pay for everything else: bills, food, travel, and clothing for a whole family.
People on benefits are already forced to live in dire poverty.
Osborne’s new attack will make it impossible for tens of thousands of poor people to make ends meet.
And as the Tory cuts throw more and more people on the dole, these numbers will grow.
The Tories want to divide unemployed workers from those with jobs. They are running a smear campaign against unemployed people, claiming they are lazy and don’t want to apply for jobs.
The truth is the jobs don’t exist.
Osborne says he wants to make sure that no unemployed family would receive more money than an employed one—but if they do it just shows up just how low wages are in Britain.
Unemployed people aren’t the cause of poverty among those who work.
It is bosses paying low wages, combined with government attacks on benefits, that leaves working people so badly off.
The limit to child benefit doesn’t seem so bad, comparatively, because it only affects high earners.
The Tories’ propaganda is simple. They ask: why should people who are relatively well off receive benefits from the state?
If benefits were removed from these people, they say, they could be given to those who are genuinely in need.
But this is a smokescreen. The Tories will not divert any savings to the poorest.
Leopards don’t change their spots. The Tories mean government for the rich by the rich.
Crucially, the idea that benefits shouldn’t be universally available is a dangerous one that will end up hitting everyone, not just the better off.
The move to scrap universal child benefit is the first shot across the bows in an attempt to wear away the welfare state. And it paves the way for further attacks.
After all, what’s to stop the Tories lowering the bar? They could later decide to take away child benefit from people earning £30,000, or £20,000.
The budget deficit provides the Tories with the perfect cover to constantly move the goalposts.
As the Financial Times newspaper pointed out, the cut to child benefit is essential “political cover for £83 billion of cuts that are likely to have an especially heavy impact on the poor”.
In the run-up to the election, Philip Hammond, then shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, promised the Tories would not means test child benefit because “to start to means test it would erode it”.
“If you start means testing it,” he went on, “if you start slicing away at that universality, then people are going to ask where you are going to stop.”
He lied. The promise of “shared pain” is being laid bare.
You only have to look at how far the Tories have gone to avoid taxing the rich. Osborne likes to promise that “Britain is “open for business”—so he is allowing companies to claw back billions by slashing corporation tax (a tax on profits).
And he has promised the rate will go down every year the Tories are in office—to less than half the rate even Margaret Thatcher set in the 1980s.
The reality is that we aren’t all “in it together”.
Whether people are in work or not, the Tories want to make them pay for a crisis the rich created.
We shouldn’t be restricting essential benefits. We should be demanding our money back from the bailed-out bankers, and taxing the rich.