The Tories are committed to cutting public spending by £30 billion over the next four years. This will mean annual cuts twice the size of any year’s cuts over the past five years. Although they have not identified all their cuts it is already clear to some degree where the axe will fall.
Policies include debarring unemployed under-21s from claiming Housing Benefit and cutting the annual benefits cap — the maximum payable to any claimant, whatever their circumstances — from £26,000 to £23,000.
Jobseekers Allowance for 18-21 year-olds will be replaced by a six-month Youth Allowance, after which the young unemployed receive nothing if they do not take an apprenticeship, a traineeship, or “community work”.
Working-age benefits (apart from disability and pensioner benefits) are to be frozen for two years from April 2016. And leaked DWP papers suggest that the Tories will scrap several other benefits completely and begin to tax disability benefits. Some experts believe the Tories will means-test Child Benefit, with millions of families losing out.
If the Tories stick to their promise of increasing NHS spending by £8 billion, this will mean even bigger cuts in other areas. Spending on local government and transport is likely to be decimated.
Subsidies for the development of renewable energy will be slashed. Instead there will be big tax breaks for fracking in order to encourage more environmentally destructive onshore drilling for oil and gas.
While the Tories slash welfare benefits and servicies, other areas of spending will be protected or even increased. The size of the regular armed forces will be maintained, with an army at least 82,000 strong. The armed forces reserves will be increased to 35,000. £40 billion will be spent on Trident renewal.
The rich and better-off can look forward to all kinds of perks from the Tories over the next five years.
The threshold for the 40p tax rate goes up to £50,000, for inheritance tax to £1 million. A law will ban any increase in income tax in the life of the Parliament.
Enjoying an absolute majority in Parliament, the Tories can be guaranteed to press ahead with attacks on workplace rights which even their former Lib Dem coalition partners — hardly champions of workers’ rights — found “excessive” and blocked them from implementing.
Big business can look forward to the Tories’ “free market instincts” and their commitment to do “everything possible to encourage free enterprise” resulting in the implementation of unspecified Tory promises to “cut red tape”. This will mean even more cuts in basic workplace rights, including another tranche of attacks on health and safety laws, while the Tories’ new anti-union laws will make it more difficult to fight back.
High on the Tories’ legislative programme will be an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union, to be held before the end of 2017 and possibly as early as 2016. The Tories support EU membership. But many of its backbenchers support withdrawal. If Cameron cannot win concessions from the EU on restricting cross-border freedom of movement and denying benefits to EU migrants, the Tories may end up officially backing withdrawal as well.
The mere staging of the referendum will provide a platform for Tory and UKIP nationalists to further whip up anti-EU and anti-immigration agitation. Now EU migrants will require four years residency before being entitled to social housing. EU jobseekers are to be denied benefits and required to leave the UK after six months if they have not found work.
Skilled migration from outside the EU is to be capped at 20,700 a year. And the principle of “remove first, appeal later” is to be extended to all immigration cases apart from asylum cases. (In fact, the principle already applies to many asylum cases.)
The Tories’ pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act, relies on falsely portraying it as an import from the EU which provides immigrants with legal immunities and protection against removal. In fact the Human Rights Act is about... protecting human rights.
Running in parallel with scrapping legal protection for human rights are plans for a “snoopers charter” which will allow the police to monitor internet communications and for new laws “to defeat extremism”.
Nominally targeted at Islamist extremists, the new laws will be a licence for an anti-democratic crackdown on all forms of “extremism”. They will “combat groups and individuals who reject our values and promote messages of hate.” They will allow for “extremist organisations” to be banned (although such powers already exist) and for premises to be shut down “where extremists seek to influence others”.
The Tories are now committed to creating another 500 free schools and transforming 3,000 state schools into academies. This will mean worse working conditions for staff and a widening of inequalities in educational attainments.
The Tories’ “big idea” for housing is not to do what is needed, i.e. to make money available for building more social housing, but to do the opposite: to give Housing Association tenants in England the “right” to buy their accommodation.
In the 1980s, Thatcher introduced the ‘right to buy’ for council tenants, providing them with large discounts based on their length of occupation. The result was that the better council housing was sold off on the cheap, and the costs of housing maintenance and repairs rocketed as a proportion of a council housing department’s rental income — it was the remaining stock which was the most in need of repairs and maintenance.
The impact of this “right to buy” on Housing Associations will be the same, as well as being accompanied by job losses (less properties mean less staff) and mergers between stock-depleted housing associations (which will result in further job losses).
The Tories plan further devolution of powers to Scotland (‘Smith Commission plus’), a devolution of powers in England to “large cities with elected mayors”, a veto for English MPs over issues which affect only England, and reducing the number of MPs to 600.
Cameron believes that such measures will preserve the Union. In fact, however many powers are devolved to Scotland, this will never be enough for the pro-independence SNP. And the proposals for devolution to big cities and for “English votes for English laws” will do nothing to promote a balanced federal structure of ‘Home Rule All Round’.
Cameron has been promising a “down to earth” legislative programme, which will deliver “a good life” for everyone willing to work for it and public service reforms which will be rooted in “true social justice and genuine compassion”.
In reality, the first Tory government since 1997 to have an absolute majority in Parliament will rule on behalf of the rich, the powerful and the bigoted.
It will target the poor, the disadvantaged, the sick, the working class, and the one force capable of defeating the Tories’ new laws: the trade union movement.