I was recently at a DPAC meeting discussing the big issues over us Disabled taking some very nasty hits, and I encountered the Anti-cuts crowd again ( they're typically from the Green Party and Socialist Worker's Party in my experience ). And, after a chat, I think I got them to understand the big picture more. And I wanted to write this as you, the voter, will be facing some very big decisions soon.
What is a safe cut, and what is a dangerous cut?
The country, financially, is shot to hell. It's true. The Bankers did a real number on us.
The Torys have now borrowed more than Labour planned to due to their economic policies failing, and at the same time a lot of very rich people are now paying less Tax. It looks pretty awful, & is certainly not fair. As I've said before we owe billions. And we are still borrowing billions each year as not enough Tax is being paid in this country.
If we use 2010 figures for the deficit ( the difference between what we get in Tax & what we spend on vital services ) the difference is £160b in deficit. Which means we borrow £160b each year as we do not get enough Tax in to cover the bills.
Tax Avoidance ( those evil corporations and their evil non-Tax-paying ways ) costs us about £90b per year ( last I read ). So, even if we stop all Avoidance ( which is a big if ) we're still short £70b to close the deficit. And that is before we look at then finding cash to pay off this debt. Say another£30b per year. So, in reality, if we are to pay off we need to find £100b from somewhere EACH YEAR. Scary stuff eh?
Part of this is tied to growth. If we create jobs people pay tax and claim less benefits. But part of it is Structural. Which means it can only be closed by Tax Rises or spending cuts. Most of the deficit is Structural ( about 80% of it ). Creating jobs won't be enough to sort it. Even more scary stuff.
Much as it is true the Super Wealthy will leave if taxed too high we can change the law to make it harder for them to leave. If the law is changed it is then safer to Tax the Rich. The Queen's own lawyers are examining this one. So Taxing The Rich more is possible. As is reducing Tax avoidance. But, even with all of that, we still need some cuts to bridge the gap. And this is where 'Safe cuts & dangerous cuts' comes in. The decision you voters must make come election-time.
- At present the wealthy part of our old age pensioner population gets perks and freebies that cost us £9b per year. These people are loaded, so I think it's safe to say we could safely cut their freebies and no-one would sustain injury ( or die ). This is an example of what I would call a safe cut. No-one is going to get hurt if a few rich people get less freebies.
- At present our Disabled are taking an absolute kicking on the Bedroom Tax, and people are dying. No-one is opposed to downsizing really. No-one wants to see wastage due to it. But the current policy ( cutting the Spare Room Subsidy as the Torys call it ) is putting the squeeze on already poor and injured people when there is nowhere to move to. I think it's safe to say this cut ( to the Spare Room subsidy ) is dangerous. People are genuinely dying now as food runs out and Mental Health problems get worse and worse ( due to the stress of being so desperately poor ).
- Much as Jobseekers Allowance is not supposed to be fun ( it's supposed to keep you alive & healthy but seriously bored so that you are pointed at getting a job and given a solid nudge ) if people are now developing Mental Health problems and requiring NHS treatment due to, yup you guessed it, the stress of being so desperately poor then has it been cut too far? Jobseekers now have to pay Council Tax, as the Council Tax Benefit budget was cut. Hence why so many are now getting very VERY hungry, and more and more are starting to fall ill. I would say this cut was dangerous, as people are sustaining injury. Injuries which then stop them working, and this costs The NHS ( us Taxpayers ) more money. It's an own-goal. It actually puts the bills up.
- I recently had to take The NHS to court over failures that lead to me being very badly injured. I had just found a Lawyer willing to take the case ( which was not easy as Psychiatric cases can be very difficult ) and then The Torys cut the Legal Aid budget. My Lawyer pulled out, and now the time-out has occurred that's it. My case is dead. I will never get compensation or Justice for the awful things done to me. This is quite a blow and has DEFINITELY affected my health for the worse. And it also means these bad Doctors are, quite frankly, still out there. Was this a safe cut? Or a dangerous one? I'm biased, so I'll let you decide there. Is it not better to shut down the bad doctors using The Law? Is that worthy of Public Money?
- The Independent Living Fund is a budget that allows very disabled people to get help and live a fairly reasonable life. Being trapped at home all the time due to poverty and a lack of assistance is not fun, and will make an already injured person more ill ( the stress of poverty, the boredom, the isolation, it all adds up ). The Torys have now fully cancelled this. Their plan is to transfer the responsibility to Local Councils, but they've also massively cut the Local Councils. So where is the cash that is needed to look after the Disabled? What will happen now? Services are disappearing, and more and more ill & infirm are getting stuck at home alone. Their homes become their prisons. Is this a safe cut? I believe it is, once again, dangerous. People are sustaining injuries after all.
- Carers and their adult disabled kids have also been cut. It's tied to the Benefits Cap. I think most people approve of some kind of Benefits Cap, but the current one is pretty awful. It means that if a disabled adult is looked after at home the parents ( The Carers ) are then Benefits Capped. And in a place like Croydon ( with seriously high rents ) that is a major problem. Families are being forced apart. It doesn't even make financial sense ( if you ignore the cruelty ), as moving out Disabled people to Care Homes costs far more than supporting them at home with their parents ( Carers ). I can't help but feel this cut is stupid, and will cause injury to many an adult disabled person. It is a dangerous cut.
- MP's tried to vote themselves a 32% pay rise recently. As they happily cut the support for some of the most vulnerable people in the country. I think it's safe to say cutting the amount of money spent on MP's would be safe, as no-one would get hurt. Many of them are seriously loaded. We need to pay MP's some wages sure, or only the wealthy will be able to be MP's, but they're on some pretty tidy cash already. Is it too much? One for you to think about.
- Millionaires have just been given a massive Tax Cut. The idea is to encourage investment and job creation, but that did not work when this was done in the 1980's or 1990's. It's called 'trickle-down economics' ( as wealth is supposed to trickle down from the Rich to the Poor ) but it reliably failed, as the millionaires just stashed the cash in Tax Havens instead. They did not spend anything. The one crowd who can afford to pay more Tax, and not starve or die in the process, are being given a Tax Cut. We may have created more millionaires ( who in theory paid more Tax ) back then ( source: The London School Of Economics ), but all we really got was mass unemployment ( which happily ate up that Tax Money due to the massive amount of unemployment benefits we had to pay out back then. We did not make a mint from this policy. ). All that unemployment ( whole towns left to die ) cost us a fortune in human misery and lost lives; which in turn led to the massive NHS repair job required in 1997, and the major education programs that are still needed today to rebuild these devastated parts of the country. Education, generally, is paid for by the Tax Payer as those who need it usually can't afford it ( as they are too poor due to their lack of skills. They can't get the work ). Someone needs to bail them out by training them so that they can get work, stop claiming benefits, and instead pay Tax. It's pretty obvious how good that is for the Taxpayer if these people get work. But The Torys have, in their bizarre wisdom, now rolled out this failed economic plan once again ( including education cuts ) as the Disabled suffer and sometimes die due to service shortages. Is this a safe cut, or a dangerous one? Letting off the wealthy, and then cutting education & healthcare, during a time when mass unemployment is back with a vengeance and people need training so that they can create their own jobs ( and maybe jobs for others ). Safe or dangerous? You decide. Personally I think it's crazy. Seriously dangerous. Who will pay for The Police if Taxes are down and people then turn to crime due to the lack of jobs? Street Muggings are up in Croydon at present for example ( source: Steve Reed MP ).
- Building Schools for The Future was worth £350m to Croydon; and was an initiative to invest in skills so that, as I have said, kids would come out smarter; and as such be more likely to get & create jobs. This was cut completely by The Torys ( all of it cancelled ), and since then Gavin Barwell has only been able to secure about £60m in funding to replace it ( last I read ). Is this a safe cut, or a dangerous one? Are your kids smart enough already? Are there enough school places already? Labour feel this cut is dangerous, as it leaves far too many kids in a very bad place during a critical & fragile part of their life.
- Cuts to Child Benefit. Under the new system people earning over a certain amount do not get it anymore. Rich people do not get it anymore basically. But… If you're a couple, both earning 30 grand a year ( 60 grand a year total ), you still get it. Where-as a single person earning 45 grand per year will now lose it. Even though single parents need all the help they can get ( especially in seriously expensive London ). Is this cut fair? Is it safe? Could it have been done better? No-one's gonna die, obviously, but what about that poor single mum being picked on as she's not married?
- Cuts to Sickness Benefit. If you are married, and your partner earns over 11 grand a year or something small like that, you lose all your sickness benefits now. A Tory cut. You get financially dumped on the hubby or wife. Who on earth is going to date an ill person now, knowing any future will include a massive bill for the working one ( as the ill person is too ill to work )? Ill people are now being damned to a life of loneliness, as people want a future in their marriage ( rather than a bucket load of debt ). So is this a fair cut? Or a cruel one that will harm ( or even kill ) people due to stress & isolation, and as such a dangerous cut? My vote is for the 'dangerous' label on this one. Seriously dangerous. It reminds me of Eugenics, and that was one of Hitler's favourites.
Typically too much stress causes either Depression ( which can lead to suicide ) or Anxiety ( bad nerves, and that can lead to substance abuse ). It can get you in other ways as well ( bad skin, muscle problems, etc ). Too much stress is ALWAYS bad for you. Much as I agree we should all do what work we can, if you whack the unemployed & Disabled too hard ( as you shove them into jobs ) you will injure them. And then they won't be able to work, and you'll be back at square one.
These are what you face as a voter. If you agree that some cuts are required the real question is where can you cut safely, and where must you not cut ( or you'll hurt someone ).
No cuts at all means those Wealthy OAP's get to carry on getting freebies. As do other rather wealthy people ( Child Benefit for example ). I believe some cuts are required; but this current Govt are cutting too much, cutting the wrong people in places, and are hurting too many innocents in the process. 30 ill people are dying each week from botched ESA assessments alone. The Govt have got it seriously wrong with their priorities. Their plan is not working, and people are now sustaining injury due to their failure. Some are, as you've probably seen in the papers, dying; as their life has been made too stressful. It doesn't make a man of you, as some people may claim. Too much stress makes a cripple of you. Or a corpse. Look at the injuries sustained by Torture victims.
One other thing. Universal Benefits & Universal Taxation. Once you've decided what can be cut and what can't be cut you then need to work out the cheapest way to do it.
The Conservatives are pushing ahead with Means-testing. This means a lot of admins looking through a lot of paperwork, so based on that a lot of admins need employing ( which is expensive ).
Labour prefers to use Universality. Much as this means taking with 1 hand and then giving with another ( which obviously sounds a bit weird ) at the same time it is genuinely cheaper to run, and gets the same results as Means-testing. Rich Oldies may well keep their freebies, but they'll be paying more Tax on their wealth to pay for said freebies. So it does add up. It's the same with the Wealthy & Child Benefit.
The 50p Tax Rate was one of these initiatives. In the first year there was a rise in Tax Payments coming in, even with many people juggling to avoid it. But then the Torys cancelled it, rather than closing the Avoidance loop-holes. After only 1 year. If you close the Avoidance loopholes the Rich can't avoid. They have to pay. But so far this Govt are leaving those loopholes very open. Seeing as most Tax Avoiders are set up in the Caymans now a deal with The Swiss is pretty small-fry for example. But that is something you, the voter, will have to scrutinise.
If you're like me you'll have no problem at all with cutting all those perks for wealthy people, but at the same time you'll want to do this in the cheapest way possible. By using Universal Benefits & Universal Taxation you can Tax The Rich more ( the one crowd who can afford to pay more ) to pay for those Rich-man's Perks they get. Which frees up cash to help the Poor & Injured. So you get the same results as the Tory way ( Means-testing ), but it's cheaper to run. And that means it's safe to cut the administration budget as well. Which frees up even more money to help the Poor & Injured.
Universality may seem a bit weird, but it's the cheapest way to get the results you want. Tax The Rich to pay for their stuff and also for what's needed to help The Poor. The Rich are the one crowd who can safely pay more Tax. They won't sustain injury ( or die ) from it, can still work, and won't need NHS treatment due to stress. So it's nowt but profit as long as you remove those Avoidance loopholes to stop them sneaking off.
Sneaking off? If their business is in the UK and they sell to the UK people then why are they not paying Tax on their UK sales? Because the current laws are not good enough. They can claim to be based offshore; and as such, even if they are selling in the UK to UK people, they still count as being based abroad. So pay their taxes abroad. Which is pretty silly, as they are clearly making cash from the UK economy, yet not paying Tax here. Change that, and you really will see a change in this countries fortunes. Do you honestly think Barclays will close every branch it has and leave? Will google ban UK people from using it's service? Will Ikea run for the hills and abandon Britain forever? It's pretty unlikely...
So change the law & close the loopholes. And then set taxes fairly so that the Rich, finally, pay their fair share. That is good business sense when our country is so broke.
Christian Wilcox is the Chair of the Croydon Mental Health Forum ( politically neutral ), an NHS Executive ( Advisory ) for the South London & Maudsley ( politically neutral ), and works for the Labour Party privately.