The coalition government has a favourite mantra when it comes to justifying the £81bn in public spending cuts unveiled last week: "We are all in this together". Presumably taking a leaf out of prime minister David Cameron's public relations training, ministers seem to believe that repeating this phrase often enough makes it true.
The 490,000 public sector workers who will lose their jobs over the next four years probably don't agree that they are "in this together" with the cabinet ministers whose policies will consign them to the ranks of the unemployed. Of the 29 cabinet ministers in the coalition government, 20 are millionaires, 19 were educated at fee-paying schools and 19 are Oxbridge graduates. Not for them the fear of joblessness, the hardship of a life spent on benefits, the lack of control of not being able to choose where you live.
Channel 4's Dispatches programme last week reported on the tax dodges employed by ministers - including the chancellor George Osborne, who could reportedly avoid inheritance tax worth £1.6million through a trust set up by his father, the co-founder of interiors company Osborne and Little. This is the same man who was met with cheers from Conservative backbenchers when he announced the unprecedented cuts in last Wednesday's spending review and who last month berated benefit claimants for making a "lifestyle choice". Tax avoidance and tax evasion is estimated to cost the UK economy upwards of £40bn a year. Benefit fraud costs £1bn.
Much of the detail of how the cuts in government departmental and local authority budgets will be implemented has yet to emerge. We already know that the building of 400 playgrounds has been cut, the school building programme scaled back, free swimming for children and pensioners scrapped, child benefit restricted after 70 years and £18bn wiped off welfare support. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said last week that the cuts will hit the poorest hardest and described them as "regressive". The Fawcett Society has said women will be the worst affected, particularly single mothers and women from ethnic minorities. Meanwhile the government makes plans to transfer public services into private hands and shies away from hitting the pockets of those who can most afford it. It feels like a return to Victorian Britain, where the poor and the workless are blamed for their situation while the rich protect the vested interests that keep them wealthy.
Writing in The Guardian on Thursday, the activist Selma James argued that the government's "big society" relies on the unpaid work of women. She said: "It is the carer who will carry the heaviest load...and not only for children who will lose education and other allowances, but for relatives with disabilities and pensioner parents whose local services will either be directly cut or contracted out, to be done by workers paid slave wages not to care, but to meet targets."
There was a while after the banking crisis when we saw clearly the damage done to our society by the unsustainable greed of an out-of-control financial sector. We should not now allow ourselves to be fooled by the government's false platitudes. We are not in this together: the reality is that some of us will suffer far more than others.
By: Laura Smith
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