Working poor will be Cameron’s legacy
Everyone from Labour to the Sun claimed victory when Chancellor George Osborne reversed his plan to scrap tax credits for working families. But as the Independent reported, the poorest in Britain are still getting poorer. The Conservative government’s planned cuts to welfare will see working families lose up to £1,600 a year by 2020, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Meanwhile, 1.2 million Londoners are now “in-work poor”, meaning they fall below the poverty line despite having at least one working adult. That’s a 70 per cent increase in just 10 years, according to the Guardian. This is a startling record for a government that claims it wants to “make work pay”.
London is indicative of a wider problem. The number of out-of-work households has fallen while poverty has increased. Work is not paying for the working poor while David Cameron’s government pushes on with major reform of the welfare state. Some on the left have accused the Tories of using the economic crisis to push an ideological agenda – nothing less than the re-orientation of the British state. George Osborne makes no secret of his aim to create a “low welfare, high employment” economy. He’s succeeding. Welfare is shrinking as a source of income and more people are in work. The rate of poverty nationally is estimated at 20%. Both welfare recipients and working families are struggling to make ends meet. It’s easy to push people into poverty-wage jobs when welfare leaves them even poorer. This looks like government’s goal.
The national living wage, which will come into effect in April, is undeserving of the name. This “national living wage” is the minimum wage rebranded and it is significantly lower than that calculated by the Living Wage Foundation. Employers already have tools to undermine it. Zero hours contracts, cutting overtime and employing part-time workers will defray much of the cost, while workers under 25 won’t qualify for it. No-one has shown why younger workers are less productive, however. The young, the poor and the hard-working gain nothing from the Conservative’s half-hearted pro-work policies.
The “strivers” the Tories like so much are a throwback to Victorian social morality. The “deserving poor” who work hard and don’t complain about their lot earn praise from their political betters. It doesn’t matter how poor they are as long as they’re working and experiencing the spiritual benefits of hard slog. Any government that makes its people poorer must be considered a failure. When a prime minister deliberately introduces policies that impoverish working families, his legacy is clear. Social housing has never recovered from Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy scheme, while the banking industry’s stranglehold on the British economy is another longstanding effect of the last purely Conservative government. Cameron and Osborne’s plans are less grand, but the rise in working poverty has the potential to change Britain for decades.
Cynically, the Conservatives have nothing to gain from helping the poorest Britons. There are no Tory votes in increasing welfare spending and behaving “irresponsibly” with the budget. Thanks to Labour’s disunity and Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing credentials, it’s now easier than ever for the Conservatives to paint Labour as the party of hand outs and fiscal recklessness. The chancellor is holding all the cards at the moment and that’s very bad news for struggling workers. The hard working poor will be David Cameron’s legacy to Britain.