WARNING: This article contains figures
Austerity is fine if you are Margaret Thatcher’s granny, but when the whole country is plunged into a double dip recession, it’s time to change the medicine.
Scarborough Borough Council is gearing up for change: a new welfare system which suggests that just about everybody of working age is a vast drain on society if they have the temerity to be out of work, or poor, or low paid, or in part-time work, or who have children, or who have a spare bedroom, or are disabled or . . . well the list goes on. I’m not sure the Council will be able to cope with the changes that begin in earnest next April, but we have some talented officers who will do their best. I don’t envy them the task.
Consider this. The Council Tax Benefit system is being changed so that we have ‘local’ control over the scheme. This, the government says is a good thing because we, the Council will have the freedom to devise our own ‘incentives’ in the scheme to get people back to work. What the government doesn’t remark on is that at the same time, it is lopping 10% off the money paid by central government to pay for the scheme. Because pensioners are excluded from the new arrangements, it means that everyone else will pay for the 10% cut, which in Scarborough and Whitby’s case actually results in cuts of up to 35% in Council Tax Benefit.
What the government seems to assume. Everyone who receives benefits is out of work and so needs the ‘marvellous incentive’ of this reduction. But in this Council’s area, of the approximately 6,500 council tax benefit claimants of working age nearly one third are working. What are they supposed to do? Go to their boss and ask for a pay rise because the government is reducing their income?
Here’s something else that’s changing. At the moment, in order to qualify for Working Tax Credit, you have to work at least 16 hours a week. The government is upping that to 24 hours a week. So if you work for 23 hours, you lose the lot. Which part of the 47% will take the biggest hit here? (Don’t forget, this is a WORKING Tax Credit, so it’s not for those on the dole – i.e. those the Tories hate most.) Well, in the Scarborough and Whitby constituency of Government Yes-man Robert Goodwill MP, there are:
- 1,000 men and 3,500 women working up to 16 hours a week
- Nearly 2,000 men and over 7,000 women part-timers who work over 16 hours a week but less than 30.
In effect, three times more women will be targeted by this cut than men. This anti-female bias runs through a lot of the Tory/LibDem attacks on the poor – mainly because women are worse paid to start with.
So these ‘incentives to work’ can only mean that the government assumes that there is enough work going begging to satisfy the demand it is so ‘benevolently’ creating. The latest (September 2012) figures available for unemployment in Scarborough and Whitby show that Job Seeker Allowance claimants (but remember that not everyone seeking work is a claimant) number 2,491. Job Centre Plus vacancies advertised in September came to 781. We might reasonably ask how many of those vacancies would qualify a successful applicant to receive Working Tax Credit or Council Tax Benefit . . . Job Centre figures, by the way, also show that the number of the long-term (over two years) unemployed here rose from 415 to 830 – exactly double the number when this coalition shower of incompetent buffoons came to office.
What would Labour do?
- We wouldn’t be cutting income tax for millionaires for starters (they’ll be £40,000 better off with Cameron and Clegg).
- We would of course wring some tax out of bankers’ bonuses.
- And, most importantly we would arrest the decline in the economy with more infrastructure investment.
Yes, the time to change direction is well overdue.