The most eye-catching announcement in today’s Budget perhaps was the one about the “National Living Wage”, set to be introduced for over 25s next April at £7.20 per hour. This falls below the actual living wage of course, said to be £7.85 an hour outside London, but Osborne announced his intention to raise it to £9ph by 2020, which assuming the OBR’s inflation forecasts are right would actually see wages rise (outside London) to above the living wage by 2020. Iain Duncan Smith in particular seemed delighted:
With this announcement Osborne also managed to make Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall look a bit daft after she announced last week that she would look for ways to get businesses to voluntarily pay the living wage.
What Osborne didn’t say of course, was that the lowest paid won’t actually be any better off (for the most part) as they will lose their entitlement to tax credits at a similar rate to the increase in the minimum wage. Even so, it seems to me better to have employers pay more and have the government pay out less in tax credits.
At the same time though, these changes don’t apply to those under 25 who still have to make do with a minimum wage at a much lower level.
It was Osborne’s announcements on changes to the social security system that are most controversial, and I would say cruel. He is practically ending benefits for young people, making poor students take on even more loans and worst of all cutting by £30 a week the amount new claiments of sickness benefit ESA (WRAG) are entitled to. He’s also freezing working-age benefits for 4 years. They are already at below subsistence levels. To me it sends a clear message about what people like George Osborne think about the poorest.
It’s a very 19th Century attitude to the poor. George Monbiot spelled out this attitude rather well in a recent column, but in summary, here are some of the underlying assumptions that form the basis of the proposed changes:
- Those who are declared unfit for work will quickly turn into malingerers if they are given too much. Many are outright faking their conditions when they could get a job.
- If you are unemployed, you must not be trying very hard to get a job
- If you are young, you are basically lazy and unproductive and will do nothing useful unless forced.
- Young people all have strong family bonds which they can draw on for support in hard times.
- The only reason the low paid and poor have children is in order to claim more ‘welfare’. They must be stopped.
If these things are true, there won’t be much hardship suffered as a result of the new changes. People will just pull themselves together and find work. Those that don’t, obviously deserve only contempt. If they in fact turn out to be utter bullshit though…