Against George Osborne's vile stupidity

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Dec 9 22:57:37 GMT 2012

Against George Osborne's war on the poor and the 
vile stupidity of his "workers vs shirkers" narrative
Owen Jones - Sunday 9 December 2012

Amid talk of setting political traps for Labour, 
the Chancellor of the Exchequer used his Autumn 
Statement to attack many of the most vulnerable people in our society

It is right to be disturbed by the psychology of 
a politician who uses millions of working poor 
and unemployed people as a political football. 
That is exactly what George Osborne is doing with 
his 1 per cent cap on spending increases on 
benefits and tax credits over three years – 
which, in real terms, is a cut. That six out of 
10 of those who will suffer are in work is 
irrelevant to the policy’s architects: here is an 
attempt to divide people with rhetoric of “strivers” versus “shirkers”.

The hope is that, by opposing such a cap, Labour 
can be painted as the unapologetic champion of 
the widescreen-TV-watching, 
multiple-child-producing, closed-curtained-home-dwelling “shirkers”.
Class warriors

That a gang of multimillionaire class warriors is 
intentionally attempting to turn poor people 
against each other for political advantage is as 
shameful as the often grubby world of politics 
gets. When even the mildest suggestion is floated 
that Britain’s booming wealthy elite should cough 
up a bit more, the Tories slap it down as “the 
politics of envy”, and yet they shamelessly 
attempt to direct the resentment of struggling 
low-paid workers towards the supposedly luxurious 
conditions of their unemployed neighbours. Has 
there even been such a concerted, deliberate 
attempt by a postwar government to turn large 
chunks of the electorate against each other? Thatcher would blush.

It surely represents the most aggressive attempt 
to drive down the living standards of the poor 
since the second-ever Labour government was 
destroyed in 1931 after an attempt to slash 
payments to unemployed people and wages. 
Disastrously, it will further suck desperately 
needed demand out the economy. Austerity has 
proved self-defeating (just as the critics, 
smeared as “deficit-deniers”, warned) and it is 
the working poor and unemployed who must pay the price.

Just look at what this ideologically crazed cabal 
has done to our economy. According to Citibank, 
further large revenue shortfalls will drive the 
Government’s debt-to-GDP ratio close to 100 per 
cent of GDP, up from 43 per cent before the 
crisis unfolded. The underlying deficit is 
growing, despite attempts to massage figures with 
raids on the Bank of England’s quantitative 
easing coupons and the gifting of assets from the Royal Mail’s pension funds.

Osborne is borrowing £100bn more than expected. 
We are in the most protracted economic crisis in 
modern times; the economy is still 3.1 per cent 
below the pre-Lehman Brothers crash peak, and 
analysts warn that an unprecedented triple-dip 
recession is approaching. A “lost decade” is upon 
us. As the catastrophe unleashed by this 
Government worsens, so the campaign to redirect 
anger to our neighbours must intensify.

To be clear, the situation facing the working 
poor and unemployed people was already bleak. The 
Resolution Foundation predicts that, in 2016, 
wages will be no higher than they were at the 
turn of the century. The poorest 10 per cent face 
a slide in living standards of 15 per cent by the 
end of this decade. Unlike the economy, food 
banks are booming like never before. Osborne 
claims his measures are to make work pay but, 
given that the majority of people in poverty are 
in working households, this is a nonsense.

There is now talk of the Labour leadership taking 
a stand against Osborne’s cuts. It comes after 
backbencher John McDonnell sent a desperate plea 
to his fellow MPs that, “instead of falling for 
this grubby trap, let’s take them on”. Labour’s 
response to the onslaught against the welfare 
state has been weak, partly because its 
spokesperson on the issue is Liam Byrne, a man 
who sums up all that is wrong with modern 
politics – technocratic, obsessed with tactics 
and stripped of purpose or belief. It has proven 
totally counter-productive: while the Tories can 
claim a clear message, Labour’s top team has 
risked looking hopelessly muddled and cowardly.

If the Labour leadership does show courage, it 
must defend the interests of the battered working 
poor without fuelling the sense that unemployed 
people are “shirkers”. According to the Joseph 
Rowntree Foundation, there are now 6.5 million 
unemployed or under-employed people, all looking 
for work that does not exist. Neither are 
unemployed people a static group: at least one in 
six of us has claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance in 
the past two years, and millions are trapped in a 
cycle of low-paid work and joblessness. And as a 
recent report from the foundation showed, the 
widespread belief in ”three generations who have 
never worked” is a total myth. “Despite strenuous 
efforts,” reads the report, “the researchers were 
unable to locate any such families.”

To be fair to the Labour leadership, the 
political space for challenging welfare cuts is 
limited indeed. While a YouGov poll in September 
revealed that more than half opposed further 
welfare cuts, there is a Government and 
media-fuelled pandemic of hate against 
“scroungers”. There urgently needs to be a 
campaign led by trade unions and charities to 
challenge myths and give a voice to those 
affected – challenging the all-pervasive extreme caricatures of layabouts.
There is an alternative

Such a campaign needs to push alternatives, too. 
It is often alleged that the original plans of 
the Beveridge Report have been subverted, but it 
was published at a time of near-full employment. 
In the 35 years after its publication, 
unemployment rarely topped a million. Long-term 
unemployment alone was higher last year than all 
forms of unemployment in the early 1960s – the 
damning legacy of the trashing of British 
industry from the 1980s onwards. Most do not 
realise that by far the biggest chunk of welfare 
spending is on elderly people. And if Beveridge’s 
original aims have been corrupted, it is because 
the welfare state has become a subsidy for 
landlords charging extortionate rents and employers paying poverty wages.

Today, Labour unveils plans that move towards 
German-style rent controls. If combined with a 
council house building programme – creating jobs 
and stimulating the economy – the £21bn wasted on 
housing benefit (which should be renamed 
“landlord subsidy”) would be reduced. Similarly, 
the number of working families receiving working 
tax credits has risen by half since 2003 – 
because of a surge in low-paid jobs. A living 
wage would bring down spending on tax credits, 
and increasingly in-work benefits like housing 
benefit and council tax benefit. Improving 
workers’ rights stuck in the Victorian era would 
allow working people to demand better wages from 
their employers, too, at a time when big 
corporations sit on a £750bn cash mountain.

Osborne has set a trap made out of the 
livelihoods of the poorest people in British 
society. Labour must call his bluff, but a 
campaign challenging the Government’s 
demonisation campaign must create the space to do 
so. Let this ruse backfire – and expose the 
inhumanity of a Conservative Party determined to 
make the poorest pay for the economic calamity it is responsible for.

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Twitter: @TonyGosling
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"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
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Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered 
that shall not be revealed; and nothing hid that 
shall not be made known. What I tell you in 
darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye 
hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.  

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