Rare it is when the real world manages to penetrate the cocoon in which our political system and political class exists – which is why when it does it gives us pause to think, really think, about the state of our society and the centrality of politics to it.
On the last episode of BBC Question Time the real world not only penetrated the aforementioned cocoon, it did so with the impact of a Cruise missile.
When the woman in the audience, identifying herself as a Tory voter at the last election, almost broke down in the process of skewering Tory minister Amber Rudd over the government’s scheduled cuts to tax credits, despite promising not to during the election campaign, she articulated the almost sociopathic cruelty of this Tory Government in a way that a mountain of written polemic and speeches never could.
If anybody was still in doubt when it comes to the human wreckage that David Cameron and his crew are intent sowing over the next five years, the pain that was etched on that poor woman’s face as she described the impossible financial predicament she is facing surely clarified the issue once and for all.
This Government has turned its guns on the poorest and most economically vulnerable in our society, intent on rolling over their lives like a juggernaut as it continues with an austerity programme which is not only economically illiterate, it violates every moral principle worth having. While cutting the income threshold above which tax credits end, from £6,420 to £3,850, may in their eyes help to bring the deficit down – which in fact it will not given the knock-on and detrimental impact on demand that will ensue – the human cost involved absolutely negates it. Millions of children living in low income families will have to go without even more than they already are, which in 2015 is nothing less than an indictment.
The idea that the introduction of the National Living Wage will counterbalance its impact on the three million families who will see their annual incomes cut by £1000 is risible. For starters, though it is being introduced in April next year the National Living Wage is being rolled out in incremental stages and the full £9.00 per hour rate will not come fully into force until 2020. Working families will fall through the gap created as a consequence, unable to pay their rent, utility bills, and still put food on the table. It is tantamount to punishing people for the crime of being in low paid employment when low paid employment is all there is.
In the perverse worldview of the likes of George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, welfare is a measure of how flabby, soft, and morally deficient a given society is, ergo the larger the welfare bill the worse it is for the country and its economy. The truth, however, is the very opposite. Rather than a measure of how flabby, soft and morally deficient a given society is, the welfare system is an indicator of how caring, compassionate, and morally just it is.
In a civilised society the economy is a servant of the needs of the majority of its citizens, while in uncivilised Tory Britain the economy is a tyrant; its primary role not to protect the most vulnerable or those who fall on hard times, but to punish and hound them to the depths of despair.
But even placing to one side for a moment the human and moral aspects, economically these cuts will have the egregious effect of weakening, as mentioned, an already sluggish aggregate demand, thus deepening a crisis of under consumption among the least well off. Businesses will suffer as a consequence, particularly small and local businesses, which means unemployment will increase and economic growth will continue to stagnate.
Here let us be clear. This cut to tax credits, as with the rest of the Government’s austerity programme, has less to do with economics and more to do with an ideological commitment to the interests of the rich and most well off. Key to ensuring their interests are prioritised is cutting public spending in order to pay for the tax cuts that they do not need – for example, the cut to inheritance tax. Just so long as this small and narrow constituency are okay then all is right in Tory wonderland. And for proof that the wealthiest in Britain are doing well under the Tories, just take a look at the Sunday Times Rich List, which came out in April. It revealed that the richest people in Britain have seen their wealth double over the past decade, immediately begging the question: Economic crisis, what economic crisis?
The woman in the Question Time audience, almost reduced to tears with the pain and fear of what the cuts to tax credits will mean for her and her ability to provide for her children, provided us with a long overdue jolt over the human suffering which the Tories are doling out to millions of British families with such insouciance. “Shame on you!” she shouted at Amber Rudd on the panel, causing the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to cast her eyes down in the manner of someone who’d just been exposed for defending the indefensible.
In years to come, when people look back at this period in our history, and mull over the legacy of David Cameron’s government, this short but powerful protest against injustice will tell them everything they need to know.