Cameron claimed that he intends to devote much of his time in office to “an all-out assault on poverty”, in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, he also said he wanted to tackle “deep social problems” and “boost social mobility” and remarkably, to “finish the fight for real equality.”
I can’t help wondering with trepidation what “real equality” actually means to the government.
So, do the Tories walk the talk? Let’s have a look at their track record. Let’s judge prudently, by deeds not words.
Here’s a list of Conservative-led policies from their last term in office:-
The following cuts, amongst others, came into force in April 2013, affecting the poorest citizens:
- 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’
- 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
- 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
- 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
- 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
- 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
- 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
- 15 April – Cap on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive
- Independent Living Fund for disabled people – scrapped
- Access To Work grant for disabled people – cut
Here are some of the Tory “incentives” for the wealthy:
- Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
- Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income. The wealthiest had a tax cut of £170,000 each per year.
- No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses. Meanwhile, those previously exempt from council tax claiming social security now have to pay due to reductions in their benefit.
- Benefitted most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
- Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year, as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.
As a consequence of the highly discriminatory and blatantly class-contingent Tory policies, inequality in the UK has risen to the highest level amongst all EU countries, and tops even the US – the fatherland of neoliberalism.
Rampant socio-economic inequality apparently is the new Tory “real equality”.
The rise in the need for food banks in the UK, amongst both the working and non-working poor over the past five years and the return of absolute poverty, not seen since before the advent of the welfare state in this country, makes a mockery of government claims that it supports the most vulnerable.
Income tax receipts to the Treasury have fallen because those able to pay the most are being steadily exempted from responsibility, and wages for many of poorer citizens have fallen, whilst the cost of living has risen significantly over the past five years.
The ideologically motivated transfer of funds from the poorest half of the country to the more affluent has not contributed to deficit reduction. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the cumulative impact of Tory tax and welfare changes, from out-of-work and in-work benefits to council tax support, to the cut in the top rate of income tax and an increase in tax-free personal allowances, has been extremely regressive and detrimental to the poorest citizens.
The revenue gains from the tax changes and benefit cuts were offset by the cost of tax reductions, particularly the increase in the income tax personal allowance, benefitting the wealthiest.
The Treasury response to this is to single out the poorest yet again for more cuts to “balance the books” – which basically translates as the Conservative “small state” fetish, and deep dislike of the gains we made from the post-war settlement. Yet for a government that claims a non-interventionist stance, it sure does make a lot of interventions. Always on behalf of the privileged class, with policies benefitting only the wealthy minority.
How can Conservatives believe that poor people are motivated to work harder by taking money from them, yet also apparently believe that wealthy people are motivated by giving them more money?
Conservatives regard unemployment and disability as some kind of personal deficit on the part of those who are, in reality, simply casualties of bad political decision-making and subsequent policy-shaped socio-economic circumstances.
The Tory answer to policy-imposed structural constraints is to blame the individual and impose punitive measures to bring about “behavioural change.”
Hang on, don’t we elect governments to meet public needs, not to “change behaviours” of citizens to suit government needs?
This is not about “free markets”, “human nature” or the Tory’s new pet “behavioural science.” It’s policy-making founded entirely on traditional Tory prejudices.
Thanks to The Centre for Welfare Reform for the graphic