Whilst looking for something else, I came across and old USB stick from 2012. Scrolling through the files I found an article dated 5th November 2012 which could almost have been written today, in the light of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s promised attempt to the balance the books, i.e. insist on more pain for everybody with Austerity 2. Reading it, I struggled to wonder what has changed. Yes, my local MP has sold his shares in Russian fossil fuel businesses, and Hunt’s language will perhaps be more subtle than what we heard from the ConDem coalition, but that’s about it. Here is said article:
I’m sure there must be some symbolism in this somewhere. My local Conservative MP has made two of his three largest personal investments in two Russian oil and gas companies. His choice perhaps reflects the moribund state of UK energy policy and a lack of faith in the ‘greenest government ever’s’ ability to ensure the North Sea takes off as a source of renewable wind energy. He represents Scarborough and Whitby, communities perched on the edge of this green abundance, but both communities now find themselves perched on the edge of an ideological experiment which is surely unprecedented – at least since the 1930s. The last time the Tories were in power of course, they could pay for their failed economic policies with the North Sea oil bonanza.
These are not places you would normally associate with economic experiments at the heart of the British economy – what happens in the great industrial connurbations or the throbbing capital are rightly accorded the most attention. Our gentle seaside resorts are often idealised places of escape on the fringe, surrounded in our case by some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. What happens here won’t make much impact on the national statistics. And it is perhaps because of this remoteness that we go unnoticed and perhaps why our Tory representatives believe they have the freedom to behave with scant regard for the wellbeing of people a lot worse off than themselves. But our seaside resorts could be like canaries in a mine – our local economies tend to be seasonally based, low waged and low inward investment destinations. We attract higher than average numbers of the retired, so there are higher demands on social and health services. A superficial glamour can conceal a lot of issues.
So the imminent stripping out of the welfare safety net could be a devastating blow to already struggling local economies, which will almost certainly be made worse by the war on local government initiated by this government in the name of ‘localism.’ What’s happening to Council Tax benefit is a good example of how this new ‘localism’ works. The government says councils should develop their own arrangements for delivering Council Tax – they say local councils can exercise this ‘freedom’ in order to devise incentives in the system to help people back to work. At the same time the ConDems are cutting by 10% the money available to support Council Tax benefit, a cut in effect only for people of working age. Pensioners will not see their benefit reduced. Hence in a place like Scarborough with a higher than average elderly population, the cuts to benefits for claimants of working age will actually be in the region of 25% to 35%. This will be on top of all the other cuts they face.
Now we know the Tories hate unemployed people, but the irony here is that one third of our Council Tax benefit claimants are already in work, albeit low paid. For this group one wonders how the ‘incentive’ of a lower benefit is meant to get them into work? And for this group of people, there is a double whammy. Many of them are part-time and their Working Tax credit will be entirely removed if they have the temerity not to be working 24 hours a week. The current qualification for WTC is 16 hours. Of course, we are told that low paid people will pay less tax with the increase in the personal tax allowance. But I doubt whether many of these people earn enough to pay income tax in the first place.
What of the work available? Is there a glut of vacancies for all the work-shy to move into? In September our local job centres had 771 vacancies. There were 2,491 people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance. The number of long term unemployed (over two years) has exactly doubled from 415 to 830, so the vacancies we have couldn’t even satisfy that demand. There will undoubtedly be many more seeking work who are not claimants. In an area with a higher than average number of older people, the number of those seeking work is also bound to rise as the retirement age is put back – another move which will disproportionately affect women.
I’ve not touched upon cuts to housing benefits, the under-occupancy rule now commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’ nor a host of other measures which can only be described as punitive. Cameron’s talk of withdrawing housing benefit altogether from the under-25s shows how merciless this agenda is. The concept of a safety net is clearly one which this government doesn’t grasp, and whereas large cities and towns may still have local government sizable enough to cope, in the smaller areas like ours, particularly on the coast, the problems multiply. In the search for work, transport is an issue and in Conservative controlled areas public transport is not the priority it is say in Manchester or Leeds. People’s access to health services is similarly restricted. Support is thinner on the ground.
Who will notice if the canaries drop dead?