When your own Government department admits that proposed benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest, maybe it’s time for a rethink.
Britain’s poorest households will be hit hardest by government plans to limit rises in working-age benefits to 1% in a bid to save £3.1bn by 2016, according to a Whitehall assessment rushed out shortly before MPs debated a controversial welfare bill.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the coalition government is making Britain a colder, more cruel place to live. I try to console myself with the thought that this will be a one-term government and 2015 will bring some semblance of sanity. I’m concerned, however, that by then the damage to the welfare state will be irreperable. I’m also worried that the electorate may actually be fooled by Cameron and Co’s soundbites and support their “strivers v skivers” nonsense.
I hate that particular soundbite, which seeks to portray anyone claiming any sort of state benefit as a scrounger who needs to be given a kick up the arse and stand on their own two feet (unless their legs have been amputated, but they’ve probably still been passed as fit for work by ATOS anyway). This “lazy dolescum” argument seems based entirely on the tabloid stories which surface every so often, about families on benefits who go on expensive holidays and have plasma screen TVs in their living rooms. Undoubtedly there are people who are playing the system, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most people use state benefits for their intended purpose: as a safety net, to ensure a minimum standard of living.
Now, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers seek to remove that safety net. Get out there and work (even if it’s for free in Poundland). Never mind that there are no jobs – we’ve just arranged free bus travel for the jobless (of course, since last year’s cut in bus subsidy there may not be a bus any more)!
Look across the pond to America, which has long championed self-reliance and small government. The extreme example came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where some truly vicious pundits said that anyone stranded in lawless New Orleans only had themselves to blame. Those left behind were mostly poor, went the logic. If they had been well-off, they could have transported themselves away easily. The lesson? You should never rely on Government to help you, ever, and if you’re in poverty – for whatever reason – tough.
At the time I laughed and felt grateful that rhetoric like that would be completely out of place here. Now, however, I worry that we might be heading in that direction. Are we going back to Dickensian days of workhouses and the poor living on the streets? Maybe not to that extreme, but a similar attitude towards the poor seems to be taking hold.
I still have misgivings about Labour – I’d like to see a full apology for the Iraq mess, and the authoritarian streak that brought us ID cards and DNA databases is still there, I think. I also worry that they may go for the populist approach in the next general election by adopting similar “tough on scroungers” rhetoric. But they can’t possibly be worse than the Tories – many of whom have no understanding of what it is like to be poor and struggling to make ends meet.