Can the Welfare State Afford to be Cut by a Further £12 billion?

A-march-in-protest-at-gov-006.jpgPoint number four on the Conservative Party's Long Term Economic Plan pledges: 'Capping welfare and working to control immigration so our economy delivers for people who want to work hard and play by the rules'. 

Here a direct relationship is drawn between limiting benefits for those in need and prosperity for those in work. We are told that without a cap in welfare, the economy cannot deliver. Again the message that the media has exhausted for the past five years, that if you and your family are struggling it is because of the benefit claimant and the immigrant, is marring leaflets, billboards and political debates.

£12 billion is the amount that the Tories say they will cut from the welfare budget by 2017-18 if they are still in government. George Osborne has recently been pressed to be more transparent as to where exactly these cuts shall be made, however, he has proposed that the Conservatives will conveniently decide post-election. To qualm the worries that Britain's Welfare State cannot take £12 billion of cuts over the next few years, David Cameron feels that from the Conservative’s ‘track record of five years where [they] cut welfare by £21 billion, [they] can now find £12 billion of savings’. However the ‘savings’ under the coalition have seen cuts to the bone to essential services like the NHS and the Welfare State. Further cuts would be flirting with amputation.

Nick Clegg recently said that the Lib Dems would not enter into another coalition with the Tories if they stick to their £12 billion target, as their approach is ‘downright unfair’. In their manifesto the Lib Dems have set out £3 billion of welfare cuts, but whether some kind of compromise of £11.5 billion is fair may prove to be another question. The Coalition introduced a housing benefit cap, with the exception of households with disability benefit, of £26,000. Labour plan to keep it at this level but the Conservatives will lower it to £23,000. In the sixth richest country in the world, half of those living in poverty are working households. Labour believes that raising the minimum wage and banning zero-hour contracts will make households less dependent on benefits and that targeting root causes is the solution to rising welfare spending.

One area that is at risk of not being protected is the disability benefit. The Hardest Hit, a campaign fighting cuts to disability benefits, has recently brought light to the proposed cuts to DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance). It ‘help[s] disabled students discover what would be useful to them during their time at university, be it physical aids, computer aids, software, support workers or proper supportive seating’, but DSA will no longer pay for “basic” computers and peripherals, the government will only fund the most specialist support workers, and Students with Specific Learning Difficulties like dyslexia look set to be hit hard. Those living with a disability rely on social security more than any other group and there are fears that the gravity of the government’s cuts is not being understood: Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being cut by 20% and the criteria to qualify for DLA has been slashed by 60%. The Hardest Hit has said, ‘couched under the language of “modernisation”, “targeting funds at those who need it most”, “fairness”, is hidden the reality of an estimated 60 - 70% cut in funding’.

This is a consistent technique in politics on the subject of cuts to welfare and links back to that notorious Long Term Economic Plan. Most people who claim benefits are in work, yet ‘capping welfare’ will ‘deliver for people who work hard’. Does this mean that people whose jobs do not provide a living wage and are forced to claim benefits do not work hard enough? When we are told that the Coalition created 1000 jobs per day over the last five years we are not told about the quality of these jobs. Head of the think tank Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson has said that there is a clear choice for the government after the General Election between spending cuts and tax increases. Whilst some may be displeased with the idea of ‘those with the broadest shoulders bearing the biggest burden’, if this burden avoids the cuts to disability benefits alone, it takes some stubbornness to maintain an opposition.

We are only a few weeks away from a general election that may prove to be one of the most interesting of recent times. A hung parliament is on the cards, and the possible outcomes may be more different to one another than what the public expects. A Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition would cut welfare by somewhere near £12 billion, and a Lib Dem- Labour Coalition would cut welfare by somewhere near £3 billion. When it comes down to principle on what is fair when tackling the deficit, we cannot afford to have a government that would rather protect those with greed than help those in need.   


Article written for The Peoples Assembly by Ewan Marshall 

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