Wake up and smell the roses

David Cameron stands by his welfare reforms and refuses to accept any criticism of them despite a Financial Times analysis clearly showing that cuts are hitting poor people in the north far more than those in southern Conservative heartlands.

The research undertaken by the Financial Times shows that a raft of benefit changes, many of which came into effect on April 1st, and will have an annual impact of £607 per working age adult in Birmingham where 54.8% of neighbourhoods are among the poorest 20% in Britain. The average for local authorities in Great Britain is 15.1%.

Cameron refuses to ‘wake up and smell the roses’ and continues to insist that the coalition was right to tackle welfare dependency and denied the reforms would deepen regional economic divisions. He continues to peddle the scrounger v striver rhetoric, knowing that he is tapping into the insecurities that many are now facing and turning communities on each other.

Indeed, this is exactly what the facists did in the 1930’s, scapegoating particular groups for all of society’s problems. The video clip “Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts” (Oswald Mosley and British Union of Fascists footage / BUF tribute) is a frightening portrayal of just how seductive the promises of fascism can be. Thousands of people turned up to the Olympia event, and thousands took to the street, organised in a military style, donned in uniform, marching for fascism. It was Mosley’s copycat scapegoating of Jews for societies problems that became the building blocks for his movement across London and the East End in 1936. Another video clip demonstrates the clear determination of the anti fascist demonstrators to ensure that Mosley and his supporters did not march down Cable Street. Scenes of violence between the demonstrators, the police and members of the BUF, albeit quite horrific, again show the united determination, by so many, to oppose fascism.

In Britain today, there are nearly as many workers unemployed as in the 1930s and many people, experiencing poverty and living difficult lives. There are over one million young people unemployed. The media remind us on a daily basis of the fear of a triple dip recession. Many ordinary working people are losing faith in politicians.

We have a coalition government, led by the Tories overseeing an economic recovery plan of austerity measures, involving cuts to public spending and welfare which is failing.

Behind the rhetoric being spun by the government, the one thing that is clear is that although Cameron is playing a dangerous game, but he needs to turn neighbour against neighbour, quite simply because he needs the votes. The newly-introduced £26,000 benefits cap for households is supported by more than three-quarters of voters of all three main parties, according to a poll when the policy was announced by the government last year.

We know that the Tories will not relent and will continue to peddle their right wing ideology, pushing more people into poverty in their quest to look tough on welfare and we must use the ensuing debate about how that policy is now being implemented to further highlight the unfairness of these policies. But we must remain mindful that amidst all of this political point scoring, how easy it might be for fascism to take a foothold once again in our society, particularly at a time of such great economic crisis, with so many living such wretched lives and many who might easily be seduced by the promise of something ‘different’.

A nation dispossessed

In his speech at the Tory Conference last month, Cameron referred to the need to create an ‘aspiration nation’. This would be achieved by declaring war against the great evils of ‘unfairness and injustice’ with the aim of addressing poverty and stimulating economic recovery. Cameron’s ‘aspiration nation’ would be built upon ‘hard work, strong families and taking responsibility.’  Cameron argues that an aspiration nation will be driven by individual ambition – the “doers, the risk-takers…”

But it is really enough to aspire?

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) suggests that a lot of people find themselves unwillingly out of work. They aspire to work but cannot get employment. Underemployment also has major affects on aspiration. There are six million people who aspire to work more but are currently underemployed.

Cameron’s notion of aspiration is nothing new, it has long existed within our society, within our communities. But those hopes and aspirations and perhaps expectations of getting a secure job at a fair wage are becoming decreasingly fewer. The hopes of our young people are being stripped by the reality of reducing funding for higher education and a lack of employment prospects. Those claiming housing benefit are vilified as ‘a cause of great injustice’ when in fact, 93 percent of new claimants seeking housing benefit are in employment.

A society based on aspiration needs to be one that has opportunity. It is not aspiration or responsibility that is lacking…the rare element in this is opportunity.

If work is the only route out of poverty, what about those hard-working people who cannot make work pay? Under austerity, the economy is not creating the jobs that are needed nationwide. But those who find themselves unable to get work are portrayed as willing accomplices in work shy Britain or as a result of individual ‘poor choices’. Within this blaming game, responsibility is individualised thus absolving the government of any fault. It fails to portray the reality of the government’s failure to deliver just what it promised – the economic recovery. It also fails to take account of the deep-rooted structural problems within our economy that continue to create inequalities.

If Cameron and his fellow Tories get their way, within five years the UK will have a smaller public sector than any major developed nation. Its public services agenda will have fundamentally transformed the nature of the welfare state, shrinking it in a way that reduces these structures of support, resulting in the Government failing to fulfil its own responsibilities.

David Cameron’s mission to create a society of aspiration through the reduction of welfare dependency will fail unless he realises that the alternative to his idea of a more minimal state is not an over-burdensome bureaucracy.

What this government is doing to the economy, to public services and to people on benefits or in care is a disgrace. If you cut people’s pay, cut benefits, and cut the investment that creates jobs, you will not get growth. Without growth, you will not close the deficit.

£25 billion lost to the UK Treasury due to tax avoidance in 2008. £81 billion to be cut from the public sector over four years. (TUC/Tax Justice Network)

This Tory led government knows that that their model of austerity is not working and will not work but they will not be seen to be admitting defeat or to be making another U turn. Instead, they have unleashed an ideological attack against the public sector’s great civilising institutions of our society, and will privatise what remains. Under the pretence of dealing with a financial crisis, they will cut and sell off whatever they can to the highest bidder.

After Osborne’s benefit cuts, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says are almost without international precedent, he plans to take yet another £10bn from those with the least. Disability benefits are also next on the list for attack, as are worse cuts to the poorest households, while he eases top taxes for the people like himself and the other millionaires in Cameron’s cabinet.

When found travelling in first class rather than in standard class this week, Osborne chose to spend more than two and a half times what most unemployed people have to live on for a whole week, in order to upgrade his train ticket to London.

Nothing appears to have caused both Cameron or Osborne to divert from their great enterprise – to build a model of austerity to wither the state and harrow the ground where it once stood.

#Oct20 saw hundreds of thousands of men and women who have lost employment, communities who have lost local services and young people who have had their dreams and aspirations taken away from them marched on the streets in London, Belfast and Glasgow for “A Future That Works” and to protest against the Tory driven policy of austerity.

A real show of solidarity and of collective action….but unfortunately the message is most likely to fall on deaf ears.

Cameron wishes for a nation of inspiration but has only achieved in creating a nation dispossessed.

Marching against austerity