I don’t know a single person on low pay that is happy about the Conservative proposals to cut their tax credits and subsequently, their living standards, further. This policy was deliberately left out of the Tory manifesto, and when asked directly if his government was going to cut tax credits, Cameron chose to lie and said no. Now the Conservatives are claiming that this policy, never declared before the election, is suddenly somehow a “central plank” of the budget. The claim that Conservatives had declared cuts to welfare doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, either, because they claim to be a party that is all about “making work pay”.
The Conservatives are claiming that the cuts were “democratically voted” through in the House of Commons, yet their majority in the lower House may not have happened at all, had they been honest prior to the election and declared their intention to cut people’s tax credits.
Furthermore, the cuts were presented in the form of secondary legislation – as a Statutory Instrument – which notoriously receive little scrutiny and very limited debate time in the Commons. Statutory instruments are intended to be used for simple, non-controversial measures, in contrast to more complex items of primary legislation (known as Bills.) The Government always ensure they have a majority on any Statutory Instrument committee and the MPs are chosen by Whips. This enables government to push through their legislative programme with very little scrutiny, exacerbating a lack of democratic transparency and accountability of the Executive.
The threats issued to the Upper House from the government arose because the Conservatives are facing probable defeat on what is an extremely unpopular reform, even amongst their own party ranks, and are truly remarkable, showing a contempt for democratic process and a lack of willingness to engage in genuine, transparent democratic dialogue.
Earlier this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) asked George Osborne to specify how he will reach targets announced in the budget, given that the poorest had been the hardest hit by draconian benefit cuts already. The IFS said that the worst of the UK’s spending cuts are still to come.
I said at the time that it’s not that Osborne can’t answer the IFS challenge: he won’t.
David Gauke, the Treasury secretary at the time was pressed repeatedly on the BBC’s Daily Politics to explain if the Tories would detail their planned welfare cuts beyond the £3billion previously specified.
He replied: “We will set it out nearer the time which will be after the election.”
Pre-general election television comments have exposed Prime Minister David Cameron’s lies about his party’s proposal to reduce child tax credits. During a special episode of BBC’s Question Time, aired in April, presenter David Dimbleby asks: “There are some people that are worried about you cutting child tax credits, are you saying absolutely as a guarantee that you’d never have it?”
To which the Prime Minister responds: “First of all child tax credit we increased by 450 pounds…” Dimbleby interjects: “And it’s not going to fall?” to which the PM clearly replies: “It’s not going to fall.”
As Simon Szreter, Professor of history and public policy at the University of Cambridge, points out about the party claiming “A Britain that rewards work” as its slogan:
It is a measure of just how much George Osborne’s post-election attack on tax credits represents an assault of genuinely historic proportions on Britain’s poor that his PM has made reference to the 1911 Parliament Act in his railing against popular protest and his fear of blocking measures in the House of Lords. Let us remember why the act was brought in by the Liberal government of Asquith and Lloyd George.
The landed wealth elite, including men such as George Osborne’s direct ancestors, the Anglo-Irish baronets of Ballentaylor, dominated the House of Lords. They rejected the elected government’s policy – democratically tested at the bar of two general elections in 1910 – to impose new progressive forms of taxation on the super-wealthy to help fund such basic social security measures for the working poor as pensions and the first National Insurance Act.
He goes on to say:
Mr Cameron is darkly mentioning the Parliament Act of 1911 to cow the House of Lords into compliance because the upper chamber is no longer exclusively the club of the wealth elite as it was in 1911. The alternative, as Mr Cameron’s timely recollection of the 1911 Parliament Act reminds us all, is for parliament to ensure that the financial elite pay their way more fully in our society, a case that is all the more compelling considering their undisputed role in punching a hole in the nation’s finances in 2008.
The problem today is not control over the House of Lords. Today’s financial elite have found that it is much more efficient to exert their control over the House of Commons itself. This they do though a Tory party that is almost entirely funded by them and whose administration is safely in the hands of a chancellor who fully appreciates the importance of looking after the interests of the nation’s wealth elites. After all, he is the future 18th baronet of Ballentaylor.
Even Conservative MPs, such as Heidi Allen, have pointed out the hypocrisy of the proposed tax credit cuts. But as I’ve pointed out previously, the slogan “making work pay” has a lot in common with the 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility, rather than it being a genuine statement of intent from the Tories. Unless of course, you ask “Making work pay for whom?”
Further cuts to provisions, services and welfare – support for the poorest – is unthinkable and untenable, especially when there are other choices that the government could have made.
For example, the prime minister made it clear that lavish tax cuts for the better off will be the £7bn prize for returning him to Downing Street. This came after a £48bn in public service cuts, the like of which the country has never known.
“The people whose hard work and personal sacrifices have got us through these difficult times should come first,” Cameron said.
So who exactly worked hardest and took the heaviest burdens – and what exactly will be their reward? Certainly not those who made most sacrifices – the same low earners whose working tax credits and benefits George Osborne will happily cut again by another £12bn.