Another Tory Budget and another round of austerity cuts. The cuts that have sparked the media furore have not been because of the scale of the cuts, per se, but mostly about who the latest welfare cuts impact the most. Although many people are speculating about his actual motivation, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith cited the cuts in his unpredicted resignation. All of the Tories’ welfare cuts have been ideological and unnecessary but they could be justified by a right-wing internal logic: cuts to welfare will encourage people to get back into work. Even if you agree with this logic, which I do not, these latest cuts expose the Chancellor to be acting in pure ideological terms.
The latest round of cuts are directed at the disabled, a group who cannot in any way be categorised as ‘potential people in employment’. Jeremy Corbyn said in an interview “we are just a car accident away from a serious disability” and he is 100% correct. Disabled people are not people who are somehow gaming the welfare system so they don’t have to work, these people need the money that is provided through Personal Independence Payments (PIPs). The Chancellor is proposing a £4.4 billion cut in PIPs and to argue that that will have no impact upon some of the more vulnerable people in our society is simply ridiculous.
Another way to frame these cuts in terms of people’s day to day earnings. The chief executive of the MS Society has estimated that these cuts would result in people losing up to £150 per week. Disabled people require a lot of financial support in order to help them live independent lives. Without this money people will be left as prisoners in their own homes or they will be forced to move out of their houses, which have often been adapted to help them live more easily.
Iain Duncan Smith was no friend of the disabled. He introduced the Work Capability Assessment by the private company Atos which is widely and accurately seen as a failure that arbitrarily restricted payments to disabled people. He also supported cuts to Remploy, a company that provides employment opportunities for disabled people, as well as its eventual privatisation. These are just two examples of his reckless disregard for the experiences of disabled people that have made him public enemy number one in the eyes of many anti-cuts protesters. Having said that, surely it shows how far these cuts must go if someone with such a bad record of defending the disabled from cuts to funding resigns saying that these new cuts from Osborne are purely ideological.
Osborne’s cuts have always been ideological. Ever since he came into office he has not said that the Conservatives believe that austerity will improve the economy; he has said that austerity is the only way to get out of this problem and that any other approach is economic illiteracy. The last six years have been a neo-liberal wet dream of reduced state-involvement in the economy motivated by fear of another economic downturn. If another economic crisis does occur, which some economists are now warning could be a distinct possibility, the solution cannot be another round of austerity measures.
Labour should use this story as political dynamite. The Tories have already slipped in the polls due to public disagreement about the upcoming EU referendum, and with Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation senior Tories are calling out others for being too ideological. Labour is in the process of rebuilding its economic credibility but this will be helped by this public disagreement about the nature of government spending cuts. Corbyn and McDonnell now need to make the case for investment in the economy rather than cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.