The Guardian’s editorial (Mean and arbitrary: this is not the future Mrs May promised, 3 April) is right to point to the brutal cuts to benefits. However, its argument that these are “mean and arbitrary” underplays their ideological significance. Theresa May’s government is not enforcing policies driven by a desire to be spiteful or miserly to particular groups (although that is how it may seem). Its approach to social security policy reflects deeply held, classic liberal beliefs that the state should provide as little as possible for the fewest people on the “least eligible” terms, otherwise it risks eroding the “natural order” of self-sufficiency and self-control.
The restriction of tax credits to two children reflects the ideas that the social security system both incentivises families to have children they cannot afford and incentivises parents not to do paid work. In this view the two institutes held to be central to liberal economies – work and “the family” – are undermined. Such views have been central to poor relief and social security policy for hundreds of years, even during the “golden era” of the post-second world war welfare state. It is at this ideational level related to relationships between individuals, the state and society that the critique of the destruction of collectively provided benefits needs to occur, rather than appeals to parsimoniousness.
A positive case for social security needs to be made, emphasising its importance to facilitating equality, freedom to participate and solidarity.
Dr Chris Grover
Senior lecturer in social policy, Lancaster University
• The government claims that the new round of benefit shredding will take £12bn out of spending by 2020 (Welfare shakeup will hit children and the bereaved, 3 April). The Institute of Health Equity and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have shown that the lowest benefit incomes were already too low to sustain a healthy life. In 2010 it was estimated that inequalities in health accounted for productivity losses of £31-£33bn a year, and £20-£32bn a year in lost taxes and higher welfare payments. Additional NHS healthcare costs associated with inequality are estimated to be more than £5.5bn a year. The cruellest cuts are those that increase rent and council tax by cutting housing and council tax benefits. Since 2008, benefit claimants have had to pay off those arrears out of the now reduced benefit income, which before 2008 barely covered the minimum needed for food, fuel, water, clothes, transport and other necessities. The BBC also sends in the bailiffs to collect unaffordable TV licence fees. The inhuman streak in governmental minds deliberately ignores the volumes of robust evidence that such debts, ferociously enforced against inadequate incomes, inevitably create hunger, and mental and physical illness.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• My mother had eight sons, all of whom worked until retirement and brought up families, apart from one with rheumatoid arthritis. My five sisters worked part-time and raised children. Of my parents’ 24 grandchildren, all are working, most of them in south Tyneside, an area of high unemployment. Twelve of my nephews and nieces have degrees; some of the greedier ones have two. Of my parents’ 37 great-grandchildren, all those over 18 are working or at university. When you lump together all of the taxes we have paid over the years, it is a good return on the pittance our family was given during hard times. This government’s policy is to identify minorities, such as children born to big families, then give them a good kicking. Jackboot politics.
• The impact of the benefit freeze is often underplayed. The government says the raising of the minimum wage will assist the “just about managing”, hardworking families. However, while it’s very helpful for some, most low-income working households with children will gain little. As their net earnings go up, their “in-work” benefits will go down. If wages rise with inflation but benefits are frozen, not only does the benefit part of their income not keep up with inflation: it’s reduced, because any gain in income reduces entitlement to benefits/tax credits – nothing to do with cuts; the cuts are on top. Low-income households with children will only keep just over a third of any wage rise that work colleagues not needing to claim benefits will receive. If the “just about managing” families are really to be helped, then halting the ongoing benefits freeze is essential.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
• While I feel very sorry for Alan and his family (my own husband died of cancer five years ago), this not the first time I’ve heard of Conservative supporters feeling betrayed by the party they voted for (Report, 3 April). It is a pity that it takes personal experience to alert people to the devastating impact of government cuts.
My own husband was older, retired, our children grown up and my financial position reasonably secure when he died. As an active member of the Labour party and Unite, however, I spend a great deal of time campaigning against the austerity polices that make so many people’s lives a misery. Last week there was a national day of action, little reported as usual, against benefit sanctions, which are hitting those already struggling to survive. It is time people realised the Conservative party exists to preserve the wealth gap, not eliminate it. You may not be affected by cuts now, but, as in Alan’s case, the unexpected can happen. When it does, you will find the that funding for support services we expect our so-called civilised society to provide has been diverted to preserve the status quo of members of a wealthy elite. They are the ones who have a reason to vote Tory. Why anyone else does is a mystery.
• So Alan feels let down by the government because there was no mention of the benefit cut that would affect his family in the election manifesto. He read this manifesto from cover to cover and was happy with all the other “callous” cuts that would not affect him. Careful what you sow, Tory voters.
• 3 April 2017: Guardian front page story highlights how the government’s policy of limiting child tax credits to two children will push thousands into poverty (Welfare shakeup to hit children and the bereaved, 3 April).
13 August 2015: The Guardian endorses Yvette Cooper for the Labour leadership despite the fact that Cooper abstained from the vote on the welfare bill, which included the policy to limit child tax credits to two children (The Guardian view on Labour’s choice: Corbyn has shaped the campaign, but Cooper can shape the future’, 13 August). Anyone else confused?
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