The Tories have unveiled plans to push up poverty, increase evictions and sell off more public services—and that’s only the start of their assault.
Last week’s queen’s speech detailed some of the Tories’ plans. They included cutting the benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000, freezing most working age benefits for two years and removing housing benefit from people under 21.
A leaked government memo admitted that the benefit cap cut would push 40,000 more children into poverty. Housing charities warned that the cut would send evictions soaring as tens of thousands more people struggle to pay their rent.
The Tories also want to snatch benefits from young people. Under 21s who are out of work will only be able to claim a new Youth Allowance for six months—after which they can be forced into “community work”.
It isn’t clear if they will be paid for the work.
The cuts are part of the Tories’ Employment Bill, which pretends that making life harder for people on benefits will “incentivise” them to find jobs. David Cameron had the gall to decry the “misery of unemployment”.
He leads a government that gloats it will have sacked 1.1 million public sector workers between 2010 and the end of this parliament.
The measures in the bill will cut £1.5 billion from welfare. But the Tories want to slash a staggering £12 billion—and it still isn’t clear where the rest will come from.
The Tories want more privatisation too. The Housing Bill will force councils to sell “high value” council homes and extend the Right to Buy.
Meanwhile “coasting” schools will be forced to become privately-run academies and the government will bring in 500 more free schools. A definition of “coasting” is still to come.
The Tories will make it even harder for workers to strike to defend their jobs and conditions (see below).
They will cut even more “red tape”—regulations that protect workers and the environment. They will end new subsidies for onshore wind farms and give local councils power to block wind farms.
The Tories will invest more in new nuclear energy.
They hope to get away with all of this partly by dividing us. So the Immigration Bill will whip up more racism against migrants. It will make working in Britain “illegally” a crime—and give the government power to seize migrants’ wages.
And the Extremism Bill will allow the government to ban extremist groups and close venues “used to support extremism”. It would also give bosses the ability to check whether someone is an “extremist” and stop them working with children.
Cameron declared the plans would create a “One Nation” Britain. The truth is they will widen the gap between rich and poor and scapegoat the most vulnerable people—if they get away with it.
Disability benefit claimant Rosa Davies speaks out
The benefit cuts announced in the queen’s speech are a fraction of what the Tories want to slash.
But they will make a major impact on vulnerable people struggling to get by.
Rosa Davies is a disability benefit claimant in Sheffield. She is often in pain and has little energy.
Rosa told Socialist Worker, “From the moment you wake up, you’re ill. Doing anything is like a marathon.”
She explained, “Benefit cuts can leave us isolated. You might not be able to manage to walk to see your friend but you can get a taxi.
“If benefits are cut, you can’t afford that any more. You will just be stuck in the house.”
A recent report by MPs linked disability benefits cuts with suicide.
Rosa said, “When the Tories talk about hardworking families I flinch. I want to be a hardworking family but I can’t be.
“We need to stand up against the cuts.”
Multiple protests reveal a spirit of resistance
Thousands of people took to the streets in the wake of the queen’s speech on Wednesday of last week.
Up to 3,000 mostly young people marched through central London. The demonstration grew out of protests called by a number of organisations, including the People’s Assembly.
Police tried to stop the march, but were swept aside.
Ukip MP Douglas Carswell got a fright when he ran into the protest. He had to be led away by police as protesters surrounded him chanting “racist”.
Hundreds of people also joined protests in Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham and Liverpool.
More protested last Saturday during a day of action called by the People’s Assembly. Some 500 people demonstrated in Nottingham while 300 marched in Cambridge and up to 500 in Bristol. Protests were also held in Norwich, Hull and Oxford among other places.
In London up to 300 people joined a protest called by UK Uncut.
The protests are building up to the People’s Assembly national End Austerity Now demo in central London on 20 June.
School student Ben was on the London protests. He told Socialist Worker, “It was my first demo on Wednesday—and it was great.
“We’ve got to have more protests. The 20 June is a massive chance to do that. We need as many people on that demo as possible.”
Harder to strike, harder to back political causes
The queen’s speech included a new attack on workers’ rights. A planned Trade Unions Bill would make it harder to strike. It would bring in a 50 percent voting threshold for ballot turnouts.
On top of that it would require 40 percent of those entitled to vote to support industrial action in public services including health, education, fire and transport. Currently workers can strike if a simple majority support it in a ballot.
The bill would also introduce time limits on mandates for action following ballots.
The Tories want to change the political fund part of union subscriptions so that workers have to opt in to paying it.
Trade unions need to organise real resistance to these attacks.
John Burgess is branch secretary of the Unison union in Barnet, north London. He told Socialist Worker, “We need a coordinated strategic approach. We can’t rely on the law.
“The union movement has got to respond in the strongest possible terms—up to and including a general strike.”
Ian Hodson, president of the Bfawu union, said, “TUC general secretaries should send a message that we won’t accept the removal of any more workers’ rights.
“The TUC should call a general strike. If the laws are bad, we’re going to have to break them.”