Tag: Deficit

Government refuse to publish Brexit impact assessment. We need to ask why

“Despite calls from over 150 MP’s and threats of legal action, the Department for Exiting The European Union are still refusing to publish Brexit impact assessments.” David Lammy.

Whitehall’s internal risk assessments of the impact of leaving the EU on various sectors of the UK economy have remained the private property of the government. The government’s reluctance to publish them has been one of the most controversial, and widely discussed, features of its approach to Brexit. Ministers say that publication would undermine their hand in the Brexit talks and could influence the debate on Brexit if they were revealed. Circulation of the assessment is said to be highly restricted inside government because of its political sensitivity.

However the government’s authoritarian refusal to publish these documents is undemocratic, and it means the public will be intentionally kept in the  dark about Whitehall’s internal analysis over the economic impact of Brexit. Not a government that’s fond of public scrutiny, transparency and democratic accountability, then.

If you think my use of the term “authoritarian” is a bit strong, it’s worth remembering that in 2012, the government was ordered more than once by the Information Commisioner and by a Tribunal to release the risk register document relating to the impact of the controversial Health and Social Care Bill. Ministers vetoed the disclosure, and said that revealing such information would “interfere with policymaking”, and as such, was “not in the public interest.”  However, the Information Tribunal had ruled that the public interest in publishing the risk register was “very high, if not exceptional”.

Nonetheless, it has never been published for the public to see. Over the last 7 years, I have given many other examples of policies and narrative that indicate the Conservative’s strong authoritarian tendency.

The highly controversial Welfare “Reform” Act ( key measures of which were the introduction of Universal Credit, the “bedroom tax”, changes and steep cuts to disability benefits, the introduction of  a harsh and punitive sanctioning regime and the benefit cap) was defeated several times in parliament. The government implemented it nonetheless, by enforcing the “financial privilege” of the Commons in order to ignore the serious concerns raised and the refuse to entertain the mitigating amendments from the House of Lords.

Parliamentary debate regarding Brexit legislation is at a crucial stage, but opposition parties are given very little information before they are expected to make key decisions and vote on them. This is not an isolated or incidental set of circumstances. It’s emerged as a key Conservative strategy over the last few years, to ensure that parliamentary and public scrutiny and debate of controversial legislation is minimal. It’s a government that likes to get its own way, regardless of what the majority of the population may think. 

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, has said: “Brexit isn’t a game – people’s livelihoods and futures are at stake.

The Prime Minister seems to be intentionally keeping people in the dark in her quest to leave the single market and customs union.

The Government must publish their secret impact assessments as soon as possible so people know what’s in store and what the government is putting at risk.

Public services, unions and government need to plan for the future, we can’t do that when the government is hiding so much information from everyone.”

Image result for Brexit memes
There has always been a substantial gap between the Conservatives’ ideological position and economic prudence. Despite assurances earlier this year from the government, the Daily Mail  and the Express that our economy is “thriving”, they have somehow managed to misplace £490bn of our cash. That’s half a trillion pounds. It’s equivalent to 25 per cent of GDP.

This quote from the Daily Mail hasn’t held up very well in the fullness of time:

“In a damning assessment of the scaremongering by the Remain camp, the Office for National Statistics declared that there had been no post-referendum economic shock.”

I think it’s a bit of an economic shock to discover that the UK’s wealth has suddenly diminished from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn, and that investment in the UK by overseas companies and individuals fell from a £120bn surplus in the first half of 2016 to a £25bn deficit, over the same period, in 2017. 

Meanwhile, the government’s decision to leave the EU has itself “raised uncertainty and dented business investment” in the UK, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned. 

The report says that real wages are being stripped back amid soaring inflation, despite low unemployment. Of course this has been a longstanding problem under successive Conservative governments as they have pared back labor market regulation and undermined the very notion of workers rights and collective bargaining. The balance of power was deliberately tipped against unprotected employees, in favour of exploitative and bad employers.

David Cameron introduced enormous fees of £1,200 for anyone seeking redress from an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal or discrimination. The crippling cost had its intended effect – in one year there was a 67% drop in the number who could afford to use tribunals. Only the highly paid or those backed by a union can now seek help. Women have been the hardest hit as sex discrimination cases fell by over 80% in the first year of fees.

Then there came the Trade Union Act which was deliberately designed to set too high a bar for strikes – a conditional ballot requiring a 50% turnout, and 40% of the electorate to vote yes.

General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, says: 

“Pay packets are taking a hammering. This is the sixth month in a row that prices have risen faster than wages.

Britain desperately needs a pay rise. Working people are earning less today (in real-terms) than a decade ago.

The Chancellor must help struggling families when he gives his Budget next month. This means ditching the artificial pay restrictions on nurses, midwives and other public sector workers. And investing in jobs that people can live on.” 

Despite their eyewateringly disingenuous rhetoric, the Tories have never been “the party of the workers”. Real wages are still shrinking , the cost of living is spiralling upwards, inflation was 2.6% in July (the mid-point of the quarter), and jumped to 3% in September.

Today, in response to the ONS employment report that was published, the Resolution Foundation analyst, Stephen Clarke, says:

“Today’s figures confirm the big picture trend that the UK labour market is great at creating jobs, but terrible at raising people’s pay.

“The scale of the pay squeeze over the last decade is so vast that people today are earning no more than they did back in February 2006, despite the economy being 4.4 per cent bigger per person since then.”

Britons would need a £15 per week pay rise to get back to the levels before the financial crisis.

Brexit, the economy and more shenanigans

The 140-page annual report from the OECD outlines the state of Britain’s economy 16 months after last year’s EU Leave vote.

It also says the deadlock in talks has put Britain on course for a “disorderly Brexit”, suggesting: “In case Brexit gets reversed by political decision (change of majority, new referendum, etc), the positive impact on growth would be significant.” 

The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats said it was clear from the OECD report that a second vote was needed to prevent the harm caused by Brexit.

Jo Swinson said: “Brexit has already caused the UK to slip from top to bottom of the international growth league for major economies.

“This will only get worse if the government succeeds in dragging us out of the single market and customs union, or we end up crashing out of Europe without a deal.”

At least 20 members of May’s cabinet backed remaining in the EU in the run-up to last year’s referendum. 

The Treasury and Conservative ministers have rejected the OECD’s suggestion of second Brexit referendum, despite the warning from the thinktank that Britain must stay close to the EU or face long-term decline, and that reversing the decision to leave would significantly benefit the economy. 

I wonder if Philip Hammond’s Autumn budget on 22 November will continue to push the “balancing the budget” theme – a Conservative euphemism for more austerity, and the poorest citizens having to live within the governments’ dwindling and increasingly miserly “means,” now that he’s somehow misplaced a massive amount from the public purse. It’s going to be very difficult to woo the electorate with such a backdrop of even more looming poverty for the demographic that Conservatives usually direct their traditional prejudices at. For many of us, the “no gain without [your] pain” mantra doesn’t endear the Conservatives or switch on our confidence in their “long-term economic plan”.

There is a veritable chasm between policy and democracy, rhetoric and empirical evidence, not forgetting the galaxy-sized space between facts and techniques of persuasion. Maybe the Conservatives are still trying to convince themselves, in the their typical blustering, unreachable, non-dialogic “because we say so” way that always indicates denial and authoritarianism, that they can persuade a cut-weary public that austerity will suddenly work if we persist for yet another decade.

The “paying down the debt” deadline set by the chancellor has become an elusive goalpost, forever retreating into the future, and now we are expected to believe that by 2025, our economy will be fine and we’ll have a comfortable surplus instead of an ever greedy black hole of trillions.

Back in 2010, we were reassured by George Osborne that the government’s aim was for the deficit to be eliminated by 2015, and in his first budget he said that aim would be achieved, based on the government forecasts of the time. That didn’t happen. By November in 2011, the first surplus was forecast for 2016/17. By December 2013, it had been pushed back again to 2017/18. Now it’s been pushed back to 2025.

That’s providing that the public continue to believe the Conservatives have a shred of economic credibility for the forseeable, of course. Personally, I think that people are starting to grasp that the continuing radical cuts to public spending the economy will continue to shrink rather than expand the economy, because it’s not rocket science, and besides, we have now witnessed 7 years worth of empirical evidence that austerity does not work the way the Conservatives say it will. There’s only so many times that the Conservatives can get away with saying “but the economic damage was greater than we feared”.

The Tories have succeeded in being economical with the truth. But the fullness of time itself – the last 7 long years – has been a very good test of verisimilitude. The Conservatives failed. The public have noticed.

Only months ago, before the election, the government were boasting about the economic “recovery”. Yet when it comes to actual policies, we see more miserly austerity cuts, juxtaposed with generous tax cuts for very wealthy people, and the justification narratives always sound as if those carrying the brunt of austerity cuts – our poorest citizens: disabled people, young people, those on the lowest wages, public sector workers and so on – are somehow culpable personally for the state of the economy, inequality and poverty.

Some disabled people have been forced by the state to “tighten their belts” on behalf of the nation to the point that it has actually killed them. I can’t help but wonder how long the public are willing to sacrifice politically marginalised groups in the name of “the national interest” and “the deficit” just for the sake of fulfilling economic dogma, traditional Conservative prejudice and nasty, antisocial ideology.

The revised figures from the Office for National Statistics figures have weakened the governments’ position in Brexit talks. On Monday, the prime minister is meeting with European Union leaders, Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, a matter of only days after the exit negotiations were deadlocked.

The OECD said Britain must secure “the closest possible economic relationship” with the EU after Brexit to prevent the economy suffering a long-term decline.

Angel Gurría, the OECD’s secretary general, said Brexit would be as harmful as the second world war blitz and the British would need to act on the propaganda maxim to “keep calm and carry on.” That doesn’t exactly bode well. 

The revision of UK national accounts, the ONS “Blue Book”, shows that the country no longer has a net reserve of foreign assets, and therefore no safety margin while talks with the European Union reach a critical point, as time runs out to reach an agreement.

Is no prime minister better than a bad prime minister?

The half a trillion pounds that has gone missing is equivalent to 25 per cent of GDP.  

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that if we leave without a deal, trade with the EU would fall by as much as 29%, costing the UK economy between £48.6 billion and £58 billion – the equivalent to between £741 and £884 per person.

The Treasury, rather worryingly,  is equally pessimistic saying it could cost 800,000 jobs, cut GDP by 6% and see the pound fall by 15%.

The Conservatives have succeeded in raising employment figures, but all that means in reality is that more people earning smaller wages.

And the pay squeeze is set to continue.

Maike Currie, investment director for Personal Investing at Fidelity International, says the rise of the ‘gig’ economy, and the government’s public sector pay cap, are partly to blame for the wage squeeze:

Another month, another fall in real household incomes. Today’s wage growth figures show our total earnings including bonuses grew at just 2.2% in the three months to August . With yesterday’s CPI figures showing inflation spiking to an eye watering 3%, the gap between our pay packets and the cost of goods and services continues to remain vast – our wages are not keeping up with the rising cost of living.

“The absence of wage growth remains the missing piece of the puzzle in the UK’s slow road to recovery – high employment should be the worker’s best friend because that’s what pushes up wages. With UK unemployment at a 45-year low, one would think that workers’ bargaining power at the wage negotiation table would improve, yet earnings growth remains elusive and the UK’s workforce is getting poorer. There are many potential reasons for this ranging from poor productivity to the squeeze on public sector pay and the rise of self-employment in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

Treasury documents showed Britain could lose up to £66bn a year if it pursues the hard Brexit option – leaving the single market and EU customs union.

Yet May’s Conservative conference speech signalled that the UK will prioritise immigration over single market access in Brexit talks, which also sent confidence in pound sterling plummeting.

While the longer-term economic impacts of Brexit are yet to unfold, and surprise everyone except the government, today’s report from the Resolution Foundation think-tank strongly suggests that the lowest paid could once again be hardest hit. It’s like everything this government touches upon immediately loses its value.

A draft Cabinet committee paper, which is based on a controversial study published by George Osborne in April during the referendum campaign, says:

“The net impact on public sector receipts – assuming no contributions to the EU and current receipts from the EU are replicated in full –would be a loss of between £38 billion and £66 billion per year after 15 years, driven by the smaller size of the economy.”

This evening the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Better Brexit for Young People released a report on the concerns and priorities for Britain’s youth during the Brexit negotiations. The report, compiled in association with LSE, gathered data from forty focus groups of 18 to 24-year-olds from varying economic, geographical and social backgrounds over an eleven-month period from November 2016 to September 2017.

The report, which is divided into three sections, explores youth views on the current state of Brexit, their concerns about Brexit and their priorities for Brexit negotiations.

In the introduction, it says: 

“[Respondents] spoke of their concern about the economic pressures they face with regard to housing, jobs, and education, and the political, social and economic direction of travel that Brexit represents”.

This opinion, says The LSE say that this is an opinion that was shared by over 90 per cent of those surveyed, demonstrating an overwhelmingly negative view of Brexit and its consequences. It’s clear that the referendum stirred feelings among many young people  of sadness, anger and frustration at the outcome of the referendum, and some of that was directed at people who voted to leave – the majority being older generations.  The government chose not to give the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds in the referendum. It is fair to ask whether allowing them to vote could have changed the result of the referendum or not.

Neoliberalism: more business as usual

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the near meltdown of the global financial system would prompt a comprehensive rethink of the principles underlying neoliberalism. Instead, the crisis was exploited to de-fund social welfare provision on a grand scale, to dismantle the social gains from our post-war settlement ) legal aid, the NHS and other public service provision, social housing and civil rights, and to hand out our public funds to a small and very wealthy cabal. Austerity socialised losses for the poorest, and privatised hand outs in the form of tax cuts. Labor market deregulation and increasing trade union regulation also benefitted the wealthiest, resulting in the growth of exploitative wages, job insecurity and poor employment practices for ordinary people, and big profits for the wealthiest. 

Immediately following the referendum result, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a free market thinktank, revealed what many of us suspected – Brexit has presented the Conservatives with a cornucopia of opportunities to extend the principles of an already overarching, totalisin ideology to its absolute limits. The CPS said:

“The weakness of the Labour party and the resolution of the EU question have created a unique political opportunity to drive through a wide-ranging … revolution on a scale similar to that of the 1980s … This must include removing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses, such as those related to climate directives and investment fund[s].”

Shortly after, George Osborne proposed to cut corporation tax from 20% to below 15%, to staunch the haemorrhage of investment. During the coming months and years, the unfolding Brexit fueled economic crisis will provide countless pretexts for similar “emergency measures” that solely benefit big business profits and of course “roll back the state”. 

This is inevitable if the current government remain in office. There will be no Brexit risk assessment available to the public. There will be no vote in parliament, no second referendum, no fresh elections: just the most massive, scheming and authoritarian legislative programme in history within the current parliament, in which the Tories command an absolute majority based on 37% of the votes cast in the last general election.

So much for “taking back democratic control”. 

Tom Coberg, writing for the Canary, says:

“[…] it was not long after the 2016 EU referendum that one commentator observed how the Conservatives appeared to be adopting tactics akin to “disaster capitalism“. And that with Brexit:

[…] the prize is the opportunity to rework an almost infinite range of detailed arrangements both inside and outside the UK, to redraw at breakneck speed the legal framework that will govern all aspects of our lives.

May has begun to prepare the public for this. And according to Joe Owen of the Institute for Government, the civil service drew up plans for a ‘no deal’ “months ago”. Though, given the close links between the Tories and Legatum, such a scenario may have been the plan all along.

Or to put it another way: extreme Tory Brexit looks as if it could mean exploitation of the many, for the benefit of the few.”

 We are taking our country back. 

We’re heading for the feudal era, singing Hayek’s deadly anthem all the way. 

When the “free market” came to Chile

 


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Stephen Crabb’s obscurantist approach to cuts in disabled people’s support

proper Blond

It’s less than two months ago that the new Work and Pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, assured us that the Government had “no further plans” for specific welfare cuts. Now, he has admitted that welfare is to be the source of further austerity cuts to “bring down the deficit,” bearing in mind that the last budget saw alternative  and far more fair, humane measures taken off the table when the Conservatives controversially announced cuts to disability benefits to fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor raised the threshold at which people start paying the 40p tax. This leaves the poorest and some of our most vulnerable citizens carrying the entire burden of austerity and the whole responsibility for cutting the deficit.

Of course Crabb assumes we believe that austerity is an economic necessity and not an ideological choice. However, austerity is being used as a euphemism for the systematic dismantling of the gains of our post-war settlement: welfare, social housing, the NHS, legal aid and democracy. There is no such thing as conditional democracy. It can’t be rationed out or applied with prejudice and discrimination. That would make it something else, more akin to totalitarianism and not a necessarily inclusive democracy.

The Government has already made substantial cuts to the Employment and Support Allowance disability benefit, cutting the rate for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group by £30 a week from 2017. Now the Work and Pensions Secretary has said he wants to go further than the £12 billion welfare cuts declared in the Conservative manifesto and to “re-frame discussion” around disability welfare support, signalling his intention to cut expenditure on disability benefits through further reform to the welfare system. The Conservatives are clearly using the word “reform” as a euphemism for dismantling the welfare state in its entirety.

Prior to 2010, cutting support for sick and disabled people was unthinkable, but the “re-framing” strategy and media stigmatising campaigns have been used by the Conservatives to systematically cut welfare, push the public’s normative boundaries and to formulate moralistic justification narratives for their draconian policies. Those narratives betray the Conservative’s intentions.

Crabb said that he will set out a “discursive” Green Paper on the additional proposed cuts to disability benefits later this year. Iain Duncan Smith had previously promised a more formal White Paper which was considered key to persuading Tory rebels to vote through the cuts despite opposition in February.

The shadow Work and Pensions secretary, Owen Smith, said that the Government should reverse the ESA cuts which had already been passed, adding that the Conservatives needed to offer clarity on how the “reforms” would support disabled people into work.

He said: “Yet again the Tories have let down disabled people, by breaking their promise to quickly publish firm plans on supporting disabled people in to work.

“When the Tories forced through cuts to Employment Support Allowance in the face of widespread opposition they bought off their own rebels with a promise to have a firm plan in place by the summer.

“Now the new Secretary of State has confirmed that he is going to downgrade the plan to a Green Paper, effectively kicking the issue in to the long grass for months, if not years.

The flimsy case for the cuts to Employment Support Allowance is now totally blown apart by this broken promise and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”

Remarkably, Crabb has claimed that disability benefit cuts are among policies “changing things for the better.” However, if cutting people’s income is such a positive move, we do need to ask why the Conservatives won’t consider taxing wealthy people proportionately, distributing the burden of austerity more fairly amongst UK citizens, instead of handing out money for tax cuts to those who need the very least support, at the expense of those who need the most.

The secretary for Work and Pensions has said: “The measures  that have either already been legislated for or announced get us to the £12 billion [welfare cuts planned in the Conservative manifesto].

Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end? I would say no. I’ve already pointed to what I see as one of the big challenges of welfare reform – and that’s around work and health.”

Crabb told MPs on Work and Pensions Select Committee that he would deploy “smart strategies” for cutting expenditure on disability and sickness benefits and would hopefully be able to secure the support of disability charities.

“In terms of how you make progress of welfare reform there when you are talking about people who are very vulnerable, people with multiple barriers, challenges, sicknesses, disabilities – I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure,” he said.

“When you’re talking about those cohorts of people you’ve actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it which carry the support and permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.”

Both Crabb and his predecessor, Duncan Smith, have claimed that there are “millions of sick and disabled people parked on benefits,” yet rather than providing support for those who may be able to work, the Conservatives have abolished the Independent Living Fund and made substantial reductions to payments for the Access To Work scheme, creating more barriers instead of providing support for those who feel they are well enough to work.

A government advisor, who is a specialist in labour economics and econometrics, has proposed scrapping all ESA sickness and disability benefits. Matthew Oakley, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, recently published a report entitled Closing the gap: creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK, in which he proposes abolishing the ESA Support Group. To meet extra living costs because of disability, Oakley says that existing spending on PIP and the Support Group element of ESA should be brought together to finance a new extra costs benefit. Eligibility for this benefit should be determined on the basis of need, with an assessment replacing the WCA and PIP assessment. The Conservative definition of “the basis of need” seems to be an ever-shrinking category.

Oakely also suggests considering a “role that a form of privately run social insurance could play in both increasing benefit generosity and improving the support that individuals get to manage their conditions and move back to work.”

I’m sure the private company Unum would jump at the opportunity. Steeped in controversy, with a wake of scandals that entailed the company denying people their disabilty insurance, in 2004, Unum entered into a regulatory settlement agreement (RSA) with insurance regulators in over 40 US states. The settlement related to Unum’s handling of disability claims and required the company “to make significant changes in corporate governance, implement revisions to claim procedures and provide for a full re-examination of both reassessed claims and disability insurance claim decisions.

The company is the top disability insurer in both the United States and United Kingdom. By coincidence, the  company has been involved with the UK’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill, advising the government on how to cut spending, particularly on disability support. What could possibly go right?

It’s difficult to see how someone with a serious, chronic and progressive illness, (which most people in the ESA Support Group have) can actually “manage” their illness and “move back into work.” The use of the extremely misinformed, patronising and very misleading term manage implies that very ill people actually have some kind of choice in the matter. For people with Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, cancer and kidney failure, for example, mind over matter doesn’t fix those problems, positive thinking and sheer will power cannot cure these illnesses, sadly. Nor does refusing to acknowledge or permit people to take up a sick role, or imposing benefit conditionality and coercive policies to push chronically ill people into work by callous and insensitive and medically ignorant assessors, advisors and ministers.  

The Reform think tank has also recently proposed scrapping what is left of the disability benefit support system, in their report Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits and has called for the government to set a single rate for all out of work benefits and reform the way sick and disabled people are assessed. 

Reform says the government should cut the weekly support paid to 1.3 million sick and disabled people in the ESA Support Group from £131 to £73. This is the same amount that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants receive. However, those people placed in the Support Group after assessement have been deemed by the state as unlikely to be able to work again. It would therefore be very difficult to justify this proposed cut.

Yet the authors of the report doggedly insist that having a higher rate of weekly benefit for extremely sick and disabled people encourages them “to stay on sickness benefits rather than move into work.”

The report recommended savings which result from removing the disability-related additions to the standard allowance should be reinvested in support services and extra costs benefits – PIP. However, as outlined, the government have ensured that eligibility for that support is rapidly contracting, with the ever-shrinking political and economic re-interpretation of medically defined sickness and disability categories and a significant reduction in what the government deem to be a legitimate exemption from being “incentivised” into hard work.

The current United Nations investigation into the systematic and gross violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK because of the Conservative welfare “reforms” is a clear indication that there is no longer any political commitment to supporting disabled people in this country, with the Independent Living Fund being scrapped by this government, ESA for the work related activiy group (WRAG) cut back, PIP is becoming increasingly very difficult to access, and now there are threats to the ESA Support Group. The Conservative’s actions have led to breaches in the CONVENTION on the RIGHTS of PERSONS with DISABILITIES – CRPD articles 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, and especially 19, 20, 27 and 29 (at the very least.) There are also probable violations of articles 22, 23, 25, 30, 31.

The investigation began before the latest round of cuts to ESA were announced. That tells us that the government is unconcerned their draconian policies violate the human rights of sick and disabled people.

And that, surely, tells us all we need to know about this government.

 —

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

 

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Osborne’s tax credit cuts omnishambles

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The Chancellor, George Osborne, has recently announced that the Conservatives are a true “workers party”  – claiming that his opponents, the Labour Party, represent the unemployed. But the Conservatives are attempting to re-write history: the Labour Party grew from the Trade Union Movement, and have a strong tradition of supporting worker’s rights and fair wages, and of course the Unions have retained close institutional links with the Labour Party.

Osborne has argued, somewhat absurdly, that reducing tax credit payments to people in low paid jobs would give them “economic security” by reducing the Government’s spending deficit. Labour argues that the richest should pay to cut the deficit, and has identified cuts to tax avoidance and corporate subsidies that could replace cuts to the lowest paid. Osborne’s priorities reflect a traditional Conservative ideology.

As Richard Murphy, from Tax Research UK, points out:

“… the government is forcing the burden of risk bearing onto those least able to bear it in society – that is those with the lowest income. So just as we now know inequality, especially concerning wealth, is rising rapidly, insecurity is also increasing exponentially as risk is being passed from those with the capacity to bear it to those who have not.”

Osborne’s “long-term economic plan” isn’t without controversy. According to many economists, during recessions, the government can stimulate the economy by intentionally running a deficit. The budget deficit is the annual amount the government has to borrow to meet the shortfall between current receipts (tax) and government spending.

Of course, last year, serious doubts were raised regarding Osborne’s deficit targets after the treasury met a significant tax revenue shortfall. Osborne’s obsession with deficit cutting and the Conservative small-state ideology has clearly overlooked the problems created by poor pay and high living costs, which has impacted detrimentally at both a micro and macro level, creating an economic spiral of cuts and stagnation. And it has widened inequality significantly.

In order to keep his promises on further future tax cuts for higher earners, Osborne will invariably make even more cuts to public services, public sector pay and the social security safety net that are so deep they will severely damage both the economy and potentially, the fabric of our society.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have recently criticised George Osborne’s proposed tax credit cuts, because it is “at odds” with wider Conservative stated aims to “support hardworking families”.

Research conducted by the IFS calculated that only around quarter of money take from families through tax credit cuts would be returned by the new National “Living Wage”.

Tax credits are payments made by the Government to people on lower incomes, most of whom are in work.

It was announced today that the Work and Pensions Committee is holding an urgent evidence gathering session on the proposed reforms to the tax credit system on Monday 26 October. The Committee will question representatives of respected independent think tanks that have analysed the impact of the Conservative plans, including the IFS and the Resolution Foundation, who revealed that the planned welfare cuts will lead to an increase of 200,000 working households living in poverty by 2020, and that almost two-thirds of the cut would be borne by the poorest 30 per cent of households, whilst almost none of the cuts will fall upon the richest 40 per cent of households.

A Labour motion calling on the government to rethink the controversial tax credit cuts has been defeated in the Commons. But despite Labour losing the vote today, the debate saw a number of Tory MPs attack the proposed changes, too.

In her maiden speech today, Tory MP Heidi Allen said that her party risks betraying its values, as she voiced her opposition to tax credit cuts.

She suggested ministers were losing sight of the difficulties of working people in their “single-minded determination to achieve a [budget] surplus”. She also said that the tax credit changes do not pass the “family test”, warning that the pace of the reforms is “too hard and too fast”.

The opposition day motion called for a reversal of the policy but MPs voted against it by 317 to 295 – a government majority of just 22. Next week, the vote in the House of Lords was set to be far closer, with the very real possibility that on Monday, Peers would  vote to block the changes. Because the tax credit cut proposals were not in the Tory manifesto, it means they are not bound by the usual Salisbury convention that prevents the peers from blocking election promises.

Also, the tax credit cuts were not included in the Finance Bill, which normally enacts a Budget, and the opposition have used the opportunity to seize on the fact that a Statutory Instrument can be halted by a single House of Lords vote.

Mr Cameron effectively ruled out cutting the benefit before the election, telling a voters Question time that he “rejected” proposals to cut tax credits and did not want to do so.

The cuts are part of £12bn cuts to the social security budget that the Government is to make – the details of which the Conservatives refused to announce before the election.

However, in an unprecedented move, the Conservatives have threatened a constitutional “showdown”, and have refused to engage in dialogue with peers that want kill off the proposed Tory cuts. The government warned the House of Lords it would trigger a full-scale constitutional crisis by pressing ahead with their plans.

Despite the fact that the chancellor faces a growing rebellion against the cuts among Tory MPs, the government told the group of crossbench peers that they also “risked” a renewed push to weaken the powers of the upper house if they refused to back down.

The threats from the government that came because it was facing probable defeat on what is an extremely unpopular reform, even amongst their own party ranks, are truly remarkable, showing a contempt for democratic process and a lack of willingness to engage in transparent dialogue. They came after Lady Meacher, a crossbencher who is the former chair of the East London NHS Trust, threatened to table a “fatal motion” to kill off the cuts to tax credits.

The Tories do not have a majority in the Lords and faced defeat after Labour and the Liberal Democrats said they would support Lady Meacher.

It is understood that Meacher withdrew her fatal motion on Tuesday night and announced she would table a motion calling on the government to deliver a report responding to the warning by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 3 million families would lose over £1,000 a year.

Meacher told the Guardian today:

My plan at the moment is to put down a motion which will prevent this regulation being approved on Monday, which will require the government to produce a report responding to the IFS analysis and consider mitigating action before bringing it back. This gives time to the House of Commons to go on doing what they are doing. There are Tory MPs horrified by this.

So we are giving the government time to think again, but the word fatal would not be appropriate. This is causing a great deal of consternation at government level and we are trying to find a way through which will ensure that the government revisits these regulations

This move will also allow time for the Work and Pensions Committee to gather further evidence to present to the government, too. The Committee have stated that they will ask representatives questions on the following topics;

  • The impact of the April 2016 tax credit cuts (in isolation and in the context of other welfare measures in the Summer Budget), and the National Living Wage
  • The winners and losers and their characteristics
  • The extent to which the National Living Wage will compensate individuals receiving lower tax credit payments
  • The distributional impact of these measures, individually and combined
  • The scale of the financial gains/losses to households and what influences this
  • The quality of the analysis produced by the Government to support their proposals
  • Other options for achieving savings from the tax credit system that will mitigate the impact on the least well off
  • The implications for work incentives and the Government’s wider objectives in welfare reform

Select Committees work in both Houses of parliament. They check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs. The results of these inquiries are made public and the Government must respond to their findings.

A select committee is a cross-party group of MPs or Lords given a specific remit to investigate and report back to the House that set it up. Select committees are one of the key ways in which Parliament makes sure the Government is adequately scrutinised, held to account, and has to explain or justify what it is doing or how it is spending taxpayers’ money.

Committee findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to respond to the committee’s recommendations.

The Osborne omnishambles is far from done and dusted yet.

555114_453356604733873_1986499794_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone