I honestly don’t know where to start or how to express my emotions and fears about today’s budget. My feelings are amplified in homes and communities across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
We await a budget that is likely to give to those who least need it; a budget which will take too much away from those who can least afford to lose it.
The UK’s moral compass seems to be irreparably damaged and this Conservative government seems determined to continue on a truly destructive path. Last weekend saw the Chancellor himself outlining some of his plans (yes, my TV is still intact!), and we cannot say with any certainty that further cuts to disability benefits are yet off the table. Only two days later we learn that women are being hit hardest by welfare cuts. They will bear the brunt of any cuts announced today.
We have a fragile economic recovery, based on low skilled, insecure employment. Now it looks like the shabby safety net which helps thousands caught up in the “low pay/no pay cycle” may be about to be ripped away from them.
It’s hard to see how the Chancellor’s policies are anything other than ideologically driven
Yet again, the third sector is the advance party, trying to get the Chancellor to take a step back and reconsider the promised £12 billion of cuts. I am not hopeful and watching last week’s Scotland Bill debate didn’t change my view that some of our leading politicians have absolutely no concept of how people actually live – or struggle to live – every day. One MP’s interjection saw him linking unpaid carers to the concept of welfare dependency. I am still reeling in shock at that one.
I am not trying to make a political point here, although it’s hard to avoid when this UK Government keeps on giving us a reason to fight back. In a BBC interview last week, I called planned cuts to Employment Support Allowance “criminal” – that is what they are. Reports suggest the cuts could amount to nearly £30 a week, leaving sick and disabled people with just 50p more than those who have been found fit for work. This is a direct attack on those who already have no voice to fight back. That it will take away their only safety net is morally unjustifiable.
It is also economics of the worst kind. Mr Osborne seems determined to ignore the advice of respected think tanks and economists about the effect of benefit and wider cuts on growth. As Paul Krugman says, “Conservatives like to use the alleged dangers of debt and deficits as clubs with which to beat the welfare state and justify cuts in benefits”. I strongly agree. It’s hard to see how the Chancellor’s policies are anything other than ideologically driven.
I keep hoping I am wrong. I suspect I won’t be.
Finally, this all has a very deep, personal application for me. My husband is part of the social security system under attack. He is tarred with the ‘scrounger’ label at a time when the state is supporting his poor health and trying to help him maintain some independence. An attack on benefits is an attack on him; it’s an attack on me, as his carer. It’s an attack on my wider family, my friends, colleagues and fellow activists in the third sector.
I don’t know about you but I won’t stay silent. We must take the fight to Westminster and to the Chancellor this week and beyond. Are you with me?