When averaged out across the whole population, the government’s benefit cuts amount to a £760 loss by 2014-2015 for every single one of us.
Imagine what a monthly reduction of £63 would mean for you. What basic necessities would you have to go without? And what would you have to cut back on that are things that make life more enjoyable? What effect would it have on your social life? Holidays?
The benefit cuts show the coalition’s project in the clearest light. They want to use the opportunity of ongoing financial crisis to reduce social costs, so that when capitalism recovers, the social bill for the bosses and the state will be much smaller. They want to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.
Benefit cuts like the “bedroom tax”, penalising “underoccupation” by cutting housing benefit for people living in a home with more bedrooms than people, are designed to hit the poor.
Single parents who keep spare rooms for visiting children, or carer families who need spare rooms to help family members with disabilities or health problems, will have to find extra money for rent or give up their homes.
Council tenants forced to give up their homes may have to move into privately-rented accommodation, where rents are higher. They may need to claim increased housing benefit as a result. The “bedroom tax” will not even achieve the government’s aim of reducing the housing benefit bill!
The people affected are likely to cuts in other benefits, such as the reduction in funding for council tax benefits or the abolition of the Disability Living Allowance and its replacement with the “Personal Independence Payment”.
The tabloid media’ says cuts will clean up the benefits system and penalise only “scroungers” who exploit. This is anti-working-class propaganda. Less than 1% of benefit spending is overpaid due to fraud, and the current cuts could hit nearly 10 million households (out of 22 million UK-wide).
Unions should be organising active, visible campaigns demanding the reversal of the cuts and a working-class emergency plan to increase social revenue by taking the vast wealth of the banks into public ownership, taxing the rich and business, closing tax loopholes, and cutting military spending.
Any single one of these measures would free up the money to fund not only the reversal of the cuts but an expansion of the welfare system.
Unions must also go on the ideological offensive against government and media attempts to divide benefit claimants from working-class people not claiming benefits.
Unions like PCS, which organise workers who administer the benefits system, must arm their members with arguments based on social solidarity.
And the unions must demand that the Labour Party, to which the biggest of them remain affiliated, commits to total opposition to the cuts and to their reversal if elected in 2015.
Local Labour Parties have been involved in campaigning against the bedroom tax, including supporting demonstrations which will take place in many cities on Saturday 16 March. But senior party figures are already beginning to dilute Labour’s opposition. Shadow Cabinet Member Helen Goodman said that Labour would back the measure for people who had been offered a smaller home and chosen to remain in their current home.
The absence of a clear, comprehensive political alternative to the Con-Dem project means that even the most radical and courageous opposition to a given cut is often incidental and isolated.
Our class needs a joined-up project to counter the joined-up project of our bosses and the government which serves them.