No new ideas?

What do promises of more tax cuts based on reducing working-age benefits say about the government’s priorities?

woman with empty purses


Following the Budget announcement of a 2p in the pound cut in National Insurance contributions, the Prime Minister has said that his intention if his government gets re-elected would be to keep cutting taxes by reducing working-age benefits. The Chancellor had also hinted at a long-term ambition to abolish National Insurance altogether, with various options mooted for doing so.

The suggestion has not gone down well with child poverty campaigners. The Child Poverty Action Group [CPAG] said: “If the prime minister wants to reform social security there are plenty of places to start – scrap the two child limit and benefit cap, abolish the five week wait, improve help for parents getting back to work and ensure families have enough money in their pockets to get through the week.

“But divide and rule tactics won’t convince anyone – after years of austerity, Covid, and the cost of living crisis we all know that struggling families aren’t to blame for the challenges we face as a nation. Whether working or in need of support at home, people living in poverty are doing their best to survive. Menacing words from our country’s leaders won’t help them.”

In a Women and Equalities Committee meeting just before the Budget government representatives said the two-child limit and the benefit cap were about ‘fairness’. Their argument was that working people shouldn’t have to pay for other people to grow their family while living on benefits. The answer to poverty, they said, was work and more of it, even though many simply can’t do it due to disability and sickness. Yet the evidence suggests something very different.

The CPAG says 71 per cent of poor children live in working families. A survey by Single Parent Rights out last week shows that over 80% of single parents in receipt of Universal Credit are unable to meet the new 30-hour work requirements introduced last October for lead carers of three to 12 year olds. Prior to October the requirement was 16 hours so that is a sudden near doubling in hours. Those who don’t meet the requirements can face benefits sanctions – and this is at a time of severe and deepening poverty.

The research identified multiple barriers facing single parents looking for work/increased hours, including a lack of available affordable childcare and a lack of flexible working. To listen to government ministers you’d think we were in a flexible working nirvana where everyone can get the flexibility they need and all jobs have pathways to better pay. Yet zero hours jobs are at their highest and the TUC says that many people are stuck in zero hours jobs and one of the main reasons is the lack of availability of any other jobs. Clearly there is a lot more work needed to improve pathways and offer good flexible jobs.

Many people are living a reality of crumbling infrastructure, meaning a need for more investment rather than more cuts. How many more ‘efficiency drives’ can there be at a time of staffing crises? Which is not to say that reforms cannot make a difference, but we are in a crisis and all we are getting is the same old thing we have heard over and over again.

With news that nearly half of local authorities could go bust in the next five years, more tax cuts – generally favouring the rich over the poor and favouring men more than women as the Women’s Budget Group has outlined – suggests a government that is completely cut off from what is going on in the country and has run out of ideas. There was very little in the Budget for people who earn under 50K pounds, although there were some signs that the government has listened in part to the worries about its extended childcare programme, but we await the detail over a year since the programme was announced. Inequality is not only bad for those at the bottom of society. It is bad for the country as a whole, for economic development and for the long-term future of our children.

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