Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Tory Cruelty

The Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite
By Andy Worthington

Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.
On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.
From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies.
That fact should be imprinted on everyone’s foreheads before the blame game begins, but what is also hugely important to realise, but which is almost entirely ignored, is that the benefit system is not primarily supporting the unemployed, but is  propping up a corrupt system in which low-paid workers are not paid enough to live on, and the cost of living — including housing more than any other component — is one in which the government does nothing to check rampant profiteering by individuals and corporations.
From the beginning, it was apparent to me that punishing people for not having jobs, while actively creating unemployment, as the Tories did with public sector job cuts after they took office, was cruel, in a way that, in the only other period comparable to this one — the 1980s — Margaret Thatcher at least recognised that kicking people for being unemployed at a time when the government was actively creating unemployment was a step too far, and largely allowed those on the dole to scrape by unmolested.
Now, however, there appear to be no lines that the Tories will not cross. Having been caught out by a judge regarding their workfare scam — forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits, for corporations that can afford to pay them, or charities that should know better — the Tories quickly passed an emergency law preventing them from having to recompense the victims of their policy to savagely undermine the minimum wage — and, disgracefully, were backed by the Labour Party, who abstained in the crucial vote.
Even that, however, is exceeded in the cruelty stakes by the Tories’ disgusting treatment of the disabled, in which, having established targets for the amount of money they wanted to save, they hired the corporate butchers of Atos Healthcare to conduct fundamentally unfair reviews aimed at establishing that those who are mentally and/or physically disabled — however severely — are in fact fit for work, so that the financial support that has made life tolerable for hundreds of thousands of disabled people can be withdrawn.
As noted above, the assault on the poor, the weak, the unemployed and the disabled reached an important stage on April 1, when a number of disturbing welfare cuts came into effect, in addition to the legislation intended to privatise the majority of NHS services, which is still being resisted in the House of Lords, as well as savage cuts to legal aid, and the scrapping of the 50p tax rate for the highest earners, introduced by Gordon Brown. According to Labour, this cut will mean that 13,000 millionaires will get a £100,000 tax cut, just as the poorest people in society are having money taken away from them.
In a rundown of these changes, the Guardian, in one of a refreshingly large series of articles about welfare reform (or, as we should be calling it, the war on welfare), highlighted the introduction of the welfare benefit cap, the introduction of the bedroom tax, changes to the way in which benefits are calculated, changes to council tax benefit, and the end of Disability Living Allowance.
On the welfare benefit cap, the Guardian wrote, “The most popular of the welfare reforms will begin on 15 April in the London boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey. The intention is that no welfare claimants will receive in total more than the average annual household income after tax and national insurance — estimated at £26,000. Other councils will start to introduce it from 15 July and it will be fully up and running by the end of September. Some estimate 80,000 households will be made homeless.”
Missing in all the arguments about spongers and scroungers has been any mention at all of the fact that most of the benefit consists of housing benefit, all of which goes to the landlords and not to the benefit claimants. This makes up the lion’s share of the payments, in a market run on greed alone, and without any legislation to moderate what landlords can charge, or how they treat their properties, or their tenants, and it is depressing that so many people have failed to note who receives the housing benefit, and how greedy and exploitative they are. Personally, I am permanently shocked when I think about the numbers of people who may be obliged to move from where they live, uprooting their children from school, and leaving friends and family, through no fault of their own. In London, it is the first indication that the Tories are committed to a programme of social cleansing,  and I can only hope that other towns and cities around the country, who are supposed to take in those expelled from London, will refuse to accept their role as intended ghettoes.
Added to the housing benefit cap is the bedroom tax, a disgusting way of treating those in social housing as second-class citizens, without the right to regard their homes as homes, and of punishing those in receipt of benefits for the fact that, from Margaret Thatcher onwards, when social housing was first sold off to tenants, there has been chronic under-investment in the creation of new social housing.
Under the bedroom tax, those deemed to have a spare room “will lose 14% of their housing benefit and those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25%.” The fact that those implementing the policy are millionaires with an abundance of spare rooms is a cruel irony lost on the Tories, who are so marinaded in their class-based cruelty that they have no notion of how cruel they appear to those whose moral compasses are still functioning, and it is to be hoped that the bedroom tax will be a key component in the demise of this bunch of sadists, as the poll tax was for Margaret Thatcher.
The stated aim of the bedroom tax is to make people on benefits downsize, but in most cases there are no properties available for them to downsize to, and many of the one million households affected may well be obliged to give up their homes and either become homeless or become part of the far more costly private rental market. As the Guardian noted, “Critics say it is an inefficient policy as in the north of England, families with a spare room outnumber overcrowded families by three to one, so thousands will be hit with the tax when there is no local need for them to move.” The Guardian also noted, “Two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled,” and stated that the intended savings will be £465m a year, and “as many as 660,000 people in social housing will lose an average of £728 a year.”
For some powerful articles about the ruinous impact of the bedroom tax, please see Amelia Gentleman’s Guardian article, “The human cost of the bedroom tax,” John Harris’ Guardian article, “The spare bedroom tax: a mess of contradiction and impossibility,” and this article by a Community Housing provider in Wales. All are very powerful, and a thorough indictment of both the individual cruelties involved in the tax (relating to those who use the “spare rooms,” like disabled people, and the visiting children of separated parents, for example), and the bigger picture of the government’s malevolence towards those in social housing, and in difficult circumstances.
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