Friday, 26 June 2015

Austerity isn't necessary, it's ideological

This week, a friend had to ‘sign-on’ after he lost his job.

He told me staff at the local Jobcentre were very friendly and helpful.  He also said that if UK Government statistics showing falling unemployment are correct, such apparent good news has not yet filtered through to the jobs-market in North Ayrshire – the ‘buroo’ being the busiest place in Saltcoats town centre.

It’s been a long time since my friend had to seek public support and he was advised he must now submit a claim for Universal Credit, which has replaced Jobseekers Allowance and Housing Benefit.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary responsible for Universal Credit, says the new ‘benefit’ merges claims into one single payment, which is paid once a month.  This, claimed Duncan Smith, will teach benefit-claimants how to budget their ‘income’ and how to pay rent and other outgoings.  Clearly, Iain Duncan Smith believes the unemployed have never worked and therefore have no experience of receiving wages and paying bills.  Only someone completely removed from reality could hold such a patronising view.  Mr Duncan Smith lives in a luxurious home, located on the Buckinghamshire estate owned by his father-in-law, the 5th Baron Cottesloe.

As my friend ‘signed-on’ (apparently claimants do not actually have to ‘sign’ for their benefit now, but must still attend the Jobcentre on a fortnightly basis), Iain Duncan Smith told newspapers that he “welcomed” foodbanks, because they showed “decent people” were looking after those in need. 

Foodbanks exist to prevent people from starving, a situation caused largely by the policies of Iain Duncan Smith and the UK Tory Government, the very uncaring politicians who are causing the need to which foodbanks are responding.  Certainly Duncan Smith and his Conservative colleagues will never fall into the category of ‘decent people’.

Also last week, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed his Tory Government will inflict a further £12bn of cuts on the ‘welfare’ budget.  Cameron didn’t go so far as to explain exactly who will be hammered by these new cuts, but it will almost certainly be some of those who are already the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

Let’s not forget that the same Tories have slashed the amount of taxation paid by the richest people in the country.

Of course, David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and the UK Conservative Government tell us these cuts to ‘welfare’ are necessary in order to reduce Britain’s debt.  In fact, this is a lie.

The national debt has continued to grow – currently by £5,170 per second - as a result of Cameron’s government borrowing from the international money markets.  That’s how capitalism works and the Tories are nothing if not staunch advocates of the capitalist economic system.

In order for capitalism to work, the poor must be exploited by a small ruling elite in order to generate ever-greater profit for the already-rich.  That is why wages have been driven-down, working conditions have been eroded, and those in need of social security are demonised as lazy spongers not worthy of a ‘decent’ standard of living.

Austerity is not necessary, it is ideological.  Austerity is what Tories do.  Sadly, the Labour Party now also endorses policies of austerity.  Even if the capitalist system had not collapsed in 2008, creating the latest economic crisis, the Tories would still be imposing cuts to benefits, driving-down wages and attacking the working conditions of ordinary women and men.  The economic crisis is simply a convenient cover for the Tories.

Currently, the British national debt stands at more than £1-trillian, which represents around 80% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the monetary value of all goods and services produced by the UK).  This, according to the Tories, is why government spending must be reduced.  This, according to the Tories, is why the poorest in society must be made even poorer, including those already on poverty-level benefits.  This, according to the Tories, is why wages must be driven-down and why workers should be denied the right to defend their interests through taking the ultimate sanction of withholding their labour.

Contrast the current financial position of the UK with the one faced 70 years ago.  Back in 1946 Britain was emerging from having led the fight in a World War.  The country had just seen unprecedented levels of spending in order to fund the war.

In 1946 the UK national debt was 250% of GDP (against the current 80%).

Despite the much-worse situation faced 70 years ago, the Labour Government elected after the war – a real, socialist Labour Government that will never again be seen in Britain – introduced far-sighted legislation that rebuilt the country and created ‘decent’ living standards for the general population.

Between 1946 and 1948, the Labour Government implemented the following legislation:

The Family Allowances Act, which introduced Child Benefit; the National Insurance Act, which created a comprehensive system of social security; the Industrial Injuries Act, providing compensation for workers injured or disabled as a result of work-related accidents; the National Assistance Act, which established a social safety-net for those who did not pay National Insurance Contributions, such as the homeless, the disabled and single-mothers.

At the same time – and remember, against a national debt standing at 250% of GDP – the government also created the National Health Service and embarked on the biggest-ever social house-building programme, including introducing the New Towns Act, which saw the development of towns like Irvine, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.

Industries, like coal-mining, transport and telecoms, and utilities (gas, electricity and water) were nationalised and operated in the public interest.

Alongside these progressive policies and developments, the UK national debt was brought under control, partly by forcing the rich to pay their fair share in taxation.

The Tories and right-wing newspapers tell us there is no alternative to capitalism and austerity, but that is a lie.  Punishing the poorest members of society through devastating cuts to benefits, wages and public services is not necessary, it is ideological.  It’s what Tories do.

Now, remind me again, how is it that the Conservative Party, with just one MP in Scotland, can impose its brutal austerity programme on Scotland?

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