So the government's Spending Review for 2015-2016 has been delivered. To the usual fanfare of cheering and jeering in the House of Commons, Chancellor George Osborne kicked off with the assertion that we're "all in this together" - is that still going? - but then comprehensively managed to prove quite the opposite.
Amidst the usual claims of "fairness" - one of the three principles allegedly guiding the Spending Review - the Chancellor introduced a series of welfare cuts that are savagely unfair, and will cause hardship for hundreds of thousands of working age families.
First, an overall "welfare cap" which will effectively limit spending on housing benefit, tax credits and disability benefits, among others. While the Chancellor claimed that this is "proof that Britain is serious about living within its means", he said nothing about how he would tackle in parallel the very source of these spending rises, specifically high rents and low wages.
There is plenty of evidence to show that rent increases - particularly in the private rented sector - are fast outstripping inflation. The only way to bring the housing benefit bill "under control" is to bring rents under control. And on this, the Chancellor said not a word.
Similarly, the reason so many people receive tax credits is because they earn such low wages. And as wage freezes - and real terms wage cuts - continue, more people than ever will depend on tax credits to top up their meagre income. But again, the Chancellor said nothing about how he would work to increase the pay of the lowest earners to reduce their need for tax credits (on the contrary, he kicked off his speech with a bullish announcement that pay increases in the public sector would be removed). So ultimately all this will do is squeeze those on the lowest incomes who are dependent on government financial support, but do nothing either to increase their earned income or decrease their costs. Not looking so fair now, is it?
But there was another set of brutal measures announced - quite unexpectedly - that took our breath away. They relate to the support we can all expect if we lose our job, and the conditions attached to benefits for jobseekers. Under the peculiar banner of 'Upfront Work Search', the Chancellor introduced a range of measures that will hinder, rather than help, those looking for work. Without question, a seven-day delay before you can claim benefits will achieve nothing other than crippling hardship for jobseekers and their families; when was the last time you got a free week's groceries at the supermarket or a rent-free week from your landlord because you'd lost your job?
The Chancellor is also going to make jobseekers attend jobcentre interviews every week rather than every fortnight. For jobseekers, there is simply no evidence to show that dragging them in twice as often will get them into work more quickly, not to mention the burden of doubling the cost of travel that they'll have to pay to get there. And for jobcentres - already under-funded, stripped to the bone, and often down to lowest-common-denominator generic advice because they don't have the time or training to offer anything else - how will they be expected to cope with a doubling of footfall through their doors without additional resources?
Finally, the Chancellor reserved his cheapest shot for single parents. In explicitly talking about requiring single parents of three and four year olds to "start regularly attending JobCentres and preparing to return to work" he played into a longstanding and lazy stereotype about single parents not working. But what he completely failed to mention is that single parents of three and four year olds are already required to attend JobCentres regularly and prepare to return to work. So all this achieved was a few cheap headlines and the reinforcement of stigma. Oh yes, and an awful lot of confusion and worry amongst single parents themselves.
All in this together? I don't think so George.
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