Chancellor George Osborne used his speech at the Tory party conference to launch a savage new attack on the poor on Monday of this week. The multimillionaire who is set to inherit his father’s baronetcy pledged that “no one will get something for nothing”.
But his target was those who have least—the unemployed people who have already borne the brunt of his government’s attacks on welfare. Osborne’s latest scheme involves rounding people up into unpaid labour at a modern workhouse.
Those who have been unable to find work in two years could find themselves forced to pick up litter or lose their benefits.
Others will have to spend 35 hours a week in detention at the job centre. But job centres already struggling to cope with longer dole queues and fewer staff won’t get the extra funding to help them cope.
As with the existing Work Programme, those who refuse to comply would have their benefits cut off—leaving them at the mercy of charities to survive. “It’s like he’s saying it’s a crime to be poor,” unemployed council tenant Theresa Padmore told Socialist Worker.
“It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to people on benefits already. I have to pay an extra £27 a week thanks to the bedroom tax. I can’t even afford to turn the heating on because the gas keeps going up.”
The Tories hope that by lashing out at the poorest they can use them as a scapegoat to distract from the government’s attacks on working people. The buzzwords on their banners and in their speeches were of “hardworking people”.
But forced unpaid labour is an attack on workers too, helping bosses drive down their wages and conditions. Companies using the Work Programme—better known as Workfare—have been able to lay off paid workers and bring in unpaid claimants to do the work.
Some people even end up doing their old job for free. “The Tories think they can suck up to working people by attacking us,” said Theresa, “but workers know it could happen to them too.”
“And many people in work are affected by benefit cuts. My sister works for the NHS, and she can’t afford to buy new clothes.”
If rolled out nationally, Osborne’s new attack would affect around 200,000 people. It’s a big ask for the paltry £300 million funding that he intends to use. If it gets beyond the headlines at all, even a trial run could mean misery for thousands.
But it could also go the way of Universal Credit—what was once the Tories’ flagship benefit reform—now mired in delays and widely seen as unworkable. That may be why benefits minister Iain Duncan Smith wasn’t allowed to announce the new attack himself.
None of these attacks will do a thing to reduce unemployment. But that was never the point. With an election on the horizon and Osborne’s economic credibility slipping away, the Tories are desperate for someone else to point the finger at.
Gloating at recovery falls flat
This year’s conference was supposed to be a time for gloating over the economic recovery—and Osborne did his best. He tried to use the huge retreat from the Tories’ original deadlines for cutting the deficit as a reason to give them five more years.
And he promised a time when the budget will run at a surplus, perhaps to distract from the fact that the national debt will have grown more under five years of his watch than the 13 years of New Labour.
Osborne’s pledge to cut fuel duty was met with derision, as it would be “balanced” by deeper cuts elsewhere. Meanwhile David Cameron announced another £12 billion towards new mortgage schemes to push up house prices.
It will further inflate the bubble that is actually driving the recovery.
Government will challenge campaign’s bedroom tax win
The government is gearing up for a legal battle to defend the hated bedroom tax. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) hopes to appeal against a landmark court decision last month.
QC Simon Collins ruled that size and usage matters in deciding whether a room should count as a bedroom for purposes of the bedroom tax. The case was brought by tenants from Fife. Fife council accepted the ruling—which could exempt 2,000 of its tenants from the tax.
But the government didn’t. It issued new guidance to all councils, telling them to tax a room even if it is not used as a bedroom. Meanwhile protesters are preparing to take on the councils that are still gearing up to evict tenants who have been pushed into arrears by the bedroom tax.
This includes many Labour councils—even though Labour has now pledged to scrap the bedroom tax if it wins the next election. Newcastle activists were set to march on Saturday of this week, while Saturday 26 October is a national day of action.
The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation was set to hold its national conference in Glasgow on Saturday of this week.