Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION COMMENT: Osborne’s budget – and beyond

In A.Graham, Editorial on April 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

George Osborne described his Spring budget, released on March 20, as a “budget for an aspirational nation“.

It contained nothing for those who have little to aspire to – except of course, security, perhaps a job and a decent home. Although he didn’t spell it out this time, his budget was aimed squarely at those he’d previously termed the “strivers”. Those who have a comfortable job, can make choices in their lives, and maybe would also like a second home to retreat to occasionally.

It wasn’t even a budget capable of kick-starting our flagging economy. We’re still heading for a “triple-dip” recession (though such economic terms mean little to those who’ve been suffering from an increasing squeeze on their living standards ever since the present government took office). It’s been a long time since the difference in living standards between the “haves and have-nots” has been so marked. And for those who struggle just to get by, there are yet more cuts to social welfare in the pipe line.

Of course as we all know, the difference between those who are labelled as “strivers” and those who are seen as “scroungers” is clear cut. The “strivers” still have security and reasonably paid employment. The “scroungers” are those who’ve lost their jobs (or in the case of many young people, have failed to gain employment at all), and have to live on the margins. And their number is growing.

NICE ONE, GEORGE?

The bits in the budget that the right-wing press really liked were the penny off the pint of beer, the freezing of excise duty and the offer of help to buyers of new-build houses. But how much of that is available to the millions who live outside Osborne’s notion of society? They are still there, on the outside looking in.

As many social commentators have pointed out, any society marked by a growing gulf between rich and poor, where the very rich get even richer whilst the poor sink deeper into poverty, is a “dysfunctional society”. Or as we’d phrase it, a very sick society. But that is what is being created by the economic policies of this Government.

To quote from The Observer (24th March), “Mr. Osborne… crafted a set of measures that will make it increasingly difficult for those in the bottom third of society to manage income, housing, employment and childcare. Favoured are those already several several rungs up the ladder, and high earners”. As the chief executive of Citizens Advice declares, “the lowest paid, part-time working parents, won’t benefit, whilst some wealthy parents earning eight times the minimum wage will.”

FAILING:

Yet, whilst Cameron, Osborne (and Clegg?) remain at the helm, there seems to be no let up. Their stated aim of sorting out the economy is failing. Growth forecasts have had to be scaled down to the point where they’re in danger of disappearing altogether. Only a few months ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the UK economy would grow by 1.2 per cent this year. That’s now been revised down to just 0.6 per cent. For the past three years, growth forecasts have had to be scaled down, as the economy stagnates. All that Osborne could say was “it’s taking longer than anyone hoped.”

We’re not even cutting the deficit, which, we’re told, is what this is all about. Indeed, the Government is going to have to borrow even more this year.

This means, of course, more cuts for us all. The Government’s spending review for the years ahead suggest a further £11.5 billion, on top of those already implemented or in the pipeline.

And it seems there is also talk about introducing a cap on all welfare benefits – what’s been labelled AME (or annually managed expenditure). Basically what this means is that there will only be a set amount in the welfare pot. If the number of claimants, and their needs, grows, their benefits will shrink – making it even more difficult for them to make ends meet.

HOMES FOR THE NEEDY?

As for Osborne’s cunning wheeze to help home seekers to b houses, this would only affect those who can afford a mortgage anyway. Meanwhile it’s estimated that a family is currently made homeless every 15 minutes – either because they can’t keep up with mortgage repayments or the rent on their homes. For those in such desperate straits, Osborne’s ploy is just a mockery.

So what happened to the old slogan, “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs”? Under this Government it’s become more a case of another old slogan: “to those that have shall be given, from those that have not, so shall it be taken away.”

If we want evidence that this really is a nasty government led by an extremely nasty party, we only have to look at Osborne’s budget, and his programme for further cuts.

From our point of view, it can only be seen as a class budget, aimed at improving the lot of those that today’s Tories represent, at the expense of the rest of us. Of course, Osborne may simply be suffering from myopia (necessitating a visit to Specsavers to widen his field of vision). But we fear that it will need more than that.

A change of government and a change of outlook are urgently needed. And by the time we reach the next election, in 2015, the damage done to our society, and to the victims of Tory policies, will be even greater.

That’s why it’s vital that we all keep up the campaigning, to ensure we don’t lose sight of all that needs to be done after the election.

THE CLARION EDITORIAL COMMITTEE

IMMIGRATION: and the ugly face of racialism

It seems that they’re all at it. Cameron and the Tories (keeping one watchful eye on UKIP) want checks on immigrants. The Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers lead with dire warnings of floods of foreign nationals coming to Britain in order to sponge off our Welfare State. And even Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership seem to shuffle rather uncomfortably.

As for UKIP, it declares that unless we do something to stop it, we’re going to be overwhelmed by hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain to live off the fat of our land. They have decided that this tack is a vote winner, and they’ve been plugging it for all it’s worth.

Of course most of those gullible enough to lap this all up have never seen a Bulgarian or Romanian in their lives. These would-be immigrants have become akin to bogeymen (like the myths about the gypsies of old who it was claimed used to steal our children).

As for Cameron, he wants to “end Britain’s reputation for being a soft touch”. They’re flocking in to claim our benefits, it seems – despite the statistics that show that the vast majority who reach our shores actually come to seek work.

Of course, many of those who want to shut the door on immigration deny vehemently that they’re “racist” – unless they happen to be paid up members of the BNP of course. But if those who are denied entry simply on the grounds of who they are or where they come from (are you listening, UKIP?) isn’t that just a tad racist?

The European Union (under its old name of the European Economic Community) had as one of its founding principles the free movement of labour within member states. We signed up to this and – unless UKIP has its way – we’re bound by it.

Britain has a patchy record when it comes to immigration. Once, of course, we assumed we had a God given right to colonise the Empire. Or anywhere else, come to that. And, towards the end of the 19th Century, we did accept thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Russia. In those days, passport controls were, shall we say, more fluid – until the passing of the “Aliens Act” in the early 20th Century. But in the 1930s we did accept many hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany – though most of these had to be sponsored by those willing to give them a home. Incidentally, Ralph Miliband (father of David and Ed) escaped in the nick of time, arriving in the UK in 1940.

I’m sure that Cameron doesn’t see himself as a racist. Fair enough, but he is a populist, and as such he seems to be quite prepared to give the public what he thinks they want. And the tactic he’s trying is to make immigrants pay for the dubious privilege of coming to Tory Britain.

Of course this notion of making them pay over a “bond” before gaining entry will ensure that we get the right kind of immigrants – the rich ones. And to blazes with “the poor and huddled masses”.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

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