First Conservative Budget in 19 years declares war on poorest and the young

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…

2015 Budget Bullshit

I might be a bit jaded at the moment, but I don’t have anything interesting or insightful to say about today’s Budget, so instead I’d though I’d just make some snarky comments instead.

I hate the language of politicians. They dumb down, make false equivalencies, and use slogans that just don’t make any sense. George Osborne (or whoever writes his speeches) is no exception. Here are some bullshit phrases he used today that particularly annoyed me.

1. “Today, I report on a Britain that is growing, creating jobs and paying its way.”

Line one. Bad start. “Paying its way” doesn’t really mean anything in the context of a nation state does it?

2. “Britain is walking tall again.”

I’ve already seen this line parroted by assorted Tories several times. Please stop.

3. “Today we make that critical choice: we choose the future.”

Obviously been watching Trainspotting again. I suppose he thinks Labour would say “We chose not to choose the future; we chose something else.” He goes a mental for the next few lines doing the full PF Project track.

4. “Real Household Disposable Income per capita.”

Osborne wants to say that living standards are higher than they were 5 years ago. You would bloody well hope so, but the only way he can say this is to define living standards using the tortuous formulation above.

5. “We will also use this opportunity to lock in the historically low interest rates for the long term.

I can tell the House that we will increase the number of long-dated gilts that we sell.”

Maybe someone smarter than me can tell me why this is a good idea. If you can borrow short term at real rates close to zero, why would you borrow at higher rates over a longer period?

6. “Lower inflation means lower interest charges on government gilts.”

This sounds like bullshit. Perhaps someone could confirm?

7. “We’d be spending money we didn’t really have.”

The UK government never “doesn’t have money”. What is he talking about?

8. “The hard work and sacrifice of the British people has paid off.”

Well done British people!

9. “The sun is starting to shine – and we are fixing the roof.”

My old favourite, an analogy that has no relevance here.

10. “So the OBR report today that debt as a share of GDP falls from 80.4% in 2014-15; to 80.2% in the year 2015-16.”

I’d like to see the sums on this one. I reckon there’s some serious creative accounting going on (not that it matters in the slightest).

That’s only half the speech covered. I could go one, but I’ve kind of lost the will. There was a load of stuff about “rewarding savers”, which is generally a terrible idea for capitalist economies which rely on spending not saving, particularly when the government plans to continue to tighten it’s belt. We can’t all do so at the same time! Any way, a lot to hate in Osborne’s speech. 50 more days or so and it will all be over.