These Ceaseless Tory Attacks on the Poor

The chancellor’s autumn statement saw him take yet another opportunity to articulate his disdain for the poor, as he outlined the government’s intention to deepen its attacks on the unemployed and benefit claimants. It also confirmed the abiding economic illiteracy that underpins austerity.

When Gideon Osborne drew his comparison between those who get out of bed to go to work and those who remain in bed and don’t, he confirmed not only the deep ignorance of someone who is the product of inherited wealth and privilege, but also the cynical ploy of the government in fomenting division between the working poor and the unemployed as it sets about continuing its objective of transferring wealth from the poorest to the richest in society, having succeeded in turning an economic crisis that was caused by private greed into a crisis of public spending.

The below-inflation rise in and out of work benefits of 1 percent over the next three years was compounded by Osborne’s announcement of a cut in corporation tax to 21 percent, the chancellor boasting that this will reduce corporation tax in the UK to the lowest of any major western economy. Taken together these measures reveal a level of inequality that can only be described as brutal, one which moreover places the UK on a par with the United States when it comes to the lack of social and economic justice built into the foundations of the economy. The chancellor’s confidence in outlining these blatant attacks on the poor in the midst of the worst economic recession since the 1930s points to the extent to which the right has won the battle of ideas, given the favourable ideological environment necessary for the logic underpinning them to gain traction.

The idea that the unemployed have chosen to be and enjoy being unemployed is the product of a skewed moral compass. It amounts to a criminalisation of poverty and those whose lives have been impacted most by the recession.

The creation of the welfare state by the postwar Labour government was predicated on the need to erect a firewall between the vicissitudes of a capitalist economic system subject to periodic shocks and downturns and those impacted most – the poor and the working class. The unemployed were held to be victims of and not responsible for the economic factors that informed their plight, and as such it was deemed morally just for the state to provide a safety net in order to prevent their destitution.

But with the nostrums of Thatcherism sweeping away the philosophy that underpinned the postwar consensus three decades ago, nostrums that continue to fuel the dominant narrative politically, economically and culturally, the moral foundations of the welfare state and the social justice it represents have been subjected to an ideological assault – one that has reached its nadir under the present government.

Poverty is the worst form of violence. Those in poverty have one thing in common with the rich in that all they think about is money – about how much heating, food, and other bare essentials they can do without as they struggle to make ends meet. The idea that cutting benefits and attacking the poor could ever eradicate unemployment is beyond perverse. On the contrary, instead of eradicating unemployment it will eradicate the unemployed – and quite literally too as the suicide rate goes up.

Indeed, this is what is so easy to forget when we listen to the benign and easy establishment-speak of the political class in its depiction of the unemployed as work-shy scroungers. More austerity for those at the sharp end equates to more despair, more domestic violence, more crime, more homelessness, more mental illness, more alcoholism and drug abuse, and more hopelessness; the fate of the increasing millions who’ve been selected by this government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich to be purified with pain.

It is a government that while claiming it wishes to help those who are willing to work hard, continues with an economic policy that has and will continue to create more unemployment. The inevitable consequence is that those of the unemployed who refuse to be crushed under the weight of the economic and social injustice they are being subjected to will enter the black economy, while others will drift into crime. The law of cause and effect cannot be denied.

So, yes, the new sport is kicking the unemployed, and it is noticeable and shameful that Labour refuses to stand up for this demographic as they’re being attacked so mercilessly, instead focusing its ire on the impact of the chancellor’s midterm budget on the in-work poor and those on middle incomes.

The shadow chancellor Ed Balls’s bumbling performance in parliament in response to the Osborne’s autumn statement was panned with good reason. At a time when the nation is crying out for a clear, positive, and bold alternative, Labour remains a prisoner of its own timidity and ideological weakness. It is why this government has been successful in deflecting its culpability over the state of the economy and why it will continue to do so.

The unemployed have been offered up as a sacrificial lamb to a neoliberal consensus that pits all against all and holds poverty as a symptom of moral decay on the part of those afflicted by it rather than a result of structural inequality and the policies of a government for whom society is divided between the undeserving poor at one end of the social spectrum and the deserving rich at the other.

Nye Bevan was right. The Tories really are lower than vermin.

15 comments on “These Ceaseless Tory Attacks on the Poor

  1. Could you tell me again under which administration the zero-hour contract came into fashion?

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/15/the-unfairness-of-ed-miliband/#comment-133052

    “Where I live, there is a meat packing plant that has provided many with stable employment over the decades. Of course, with the large influx of Eastern Europeans they have steadily displaced the locals from this factory and there is a surplus of labour in the area. Employment agencies have descended on the area like vultures and almost completely ‘causalised’ the workforce around West Lothian to the extent that the job centres are littered with zero hour contract jobs.

    A friend of mine who has worked in said plant for over thirty years sees young men coming in on the Monday work for three hours, then sent home to sit by the phone in case they are needed during the week.

    This was exactly the type of thing the Labour Party was set up to tackle. These conditions, nauseatingly described as ‘modernisation’ show up the failings of the NL ‘project’. Whilst they were swanning about getting middle class men in public sector jobs paternity leave, ordinary working class people watched as their terms and conditions were slashed to Victorian levels. These people (rightly or wrongly) feel immigration undercuts their living standards. Is it right that in this Country that we have reduced people to the condition of day labourers?”

  2. jock mctrousers on said:

    #2 I’ll second that. Who cares about the workers? They’re all racists and sexists anyway!

  3. jUST SAYING. on said:

    Old capitalists rant/.What has changed, fuck all:look at them queueing for their pay/bye date of our market profits.

    Does not capitalism and its pernicious grasp make you wonder,Ugly.

  4. Michael M on said:

    Yeah, it’s just an’ideological weakness’ that means Labour support the governments war against the poorest 25%, nowt to do with them being in fact a shower of hideous cunts

  5. jock mctrousers on said:

    5 comments on the assault on the poor (including a culling of the disabled, a genocide ); 116 comments so far on sexism in the SWP. Yes, that’s ideological weakness.

  6. #6 Maybe that’s because there is a strong level of agreement and nobody feels the need to argue with what the post says or to add anything positive.

    After all, you haven’t, have you?

  7. Vanya,

    you would hope that the reason so many post on those other topics is indeed due to lack of agreement but there is this nagging doubt in the back of one’s mind that this is due to sectarian bullshit and middle class left liberalism. Not that there is anything wrong with middle class left liberalism of course, other than its lack of empathy with the unwashed masses, oh and it’s insistence that the 2 women in the Assange affair were not brazen gorupies who we should have zero sympathy for!

    PS great article!

  8. Saltley Gates on said:

    THESE CEASELESS TORY ATTACKS ON THE POOR

    The really important issue for the Left and this Blog in particular is that the Labour Party is absolutely integral to the Tory attacks on the Poor.

    If we take “Tory” as a general label for those who want see Inequality, Competition, Market, Finance, Charity and Chauvinism then Labour, its policies, leadership and ideology is a Tory Party.

    Labour gives active support, developed mechanism to achieve and runs deep ideological cover for; attacks on Welfare, Casualisation of Employment, NHS Privatisation, Privatisation Public Sector, attacks on Union Organisation, dissolution of state welfare and its replacement with Faith Hope and Charity.

    Why then given the ideological onslaught by Labour against Working Class, Claimants, Unemployed, Poor Women, Disabled, Young, NHS and Socialism , Socialist values does this Blog so assiduously support Milliband and Neo Liberal Labour Party?

    Fuck Circles and Sexism BAD Labour party collusion in the destruction of the NHS SILENCE

  9. Uncle Albert on said:

    “the Labour Party is absolutely integral to the Tory attacks on the Poor.”

    Your perception seems to be hopelessly inaccurate when the headline in today’s Observer newspaper reads: “Miliband to wage war on Osborne over benefit cuts”*

    *http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/08/ed-miliband-george-osborne-welfare

  10. Saltley Gates on said:

    Uncle Albert: Your perception seems to be hopelessly inaccurate when the headline in today’s Observer newspaper reads: “Miliband to wage war on Osborne over benefit cuts”*

    *http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/08/ed-miliband-george-osborne-welfare

    Feeble response, one article in the Observer does not change a party’s ideology
    Milliband is vacillating, as usual, on what to do about welfare
    But we can see where Labours been, Purnell and Freud that is Labours legacy to the poor and disabled

    A few small reminders of Labour in power

    Torture, Rendition and Detention without trial
    Joining Bush and Neo Cons bloody rampage through Iraq
    Supported Trident, Trident upgrade and Tridents renewal

    Labour increased Inequality over 13 yrs Govt

    Labour scapegoated Asylum Seekers, DENYING THEM RIGHT TO WORK

    Labour broke the NHS down with its Foundation Trusts,

    Labour Re-introduced the Tories Internal Market to NHS

    Labour advisor Lord Freud the key Welfare Advisor and introduced Workfare
    Increased OLD AGE PENSION BY 75p

    Labour allowed Light touch regulation in Finances leading to the crash

    Labour Bailed out the Bankers

    Labour Pushed Casualisation of the Workforce in Public Sector and other areas

    Labour Attacked any group of workers defending their Employment Rights BA Fire Fighters etc

    Labour Pushed Neo Liberal restructuring across the economy supporting IOD CBI etc

    Labour are a NEO lIBERAL Tory Party

  11. Uncle Albert on said:

    @ Saltley – 11

    No need to remind me of that, old chum. Much of that adds up to the reason why I haven’t voted Labour since 1997. But it is erroneous to suggest that Labour has one ideology. Contention occurs within Labour – as McDonnell’s letter portends (linked at #1) – as well as outside Labour.

    As someone who wants to engage in the world as it is, I’d say only a fool would write-off the party that presents the most accessible and immediate route to amelioration of the Tory catastrophe.

    Better to do something effective than resort to the starry-eyed toy-town option.

  12. John Grimshaw on said:

    Both Balls and Chukka Umunna have been on the TV in the last two days desperately trying to field questions on whether the LP will support the ConDems 1% only rise, or not (although I have to say Chukka as usual is more eloquent). Chukka followed the line which seems to be we’ll wait and see what the bill says before we really agree our position. The article that Uncle Albert refers to says “Senior Labour figures stopped short of confirming that Labour would vote against the cuts in the Commons in January.” This prevarication seems to be caused because Labour doesn’t want to be seen as being soft on scroungers. In fairness I suspect that Milliband is broadly in support of opposing cuts in benefits as opposed to the “new Labourites”. However Milliband’s crew need to firm up their positions and back the 59 charities mentioned in the Observer yesterday rather than worrying about Telegraph readers in the home counties. Whether they’ve got the bottle is moot point.

  13. Uncle Albert on said:

    John Grimshaw: In fairness I suspect that Milliband is broadly in support of opposing cuts in benefits as opposed to the “new Labourites”.

    This is spot on. Notable figures within the Right of the L.P. are attempting to elaborate an ‘Ed is the new Kinnock’ perspective, meaning that it’s best to get rid of Ed before he loses the next election. Such a move would leave Labour in the hands of the influential, Sainsbury financed, SDP-like Progress Party.

    However, if the L.P. does eventually vote against the 1% cap (as it is currently out-lined) then it will be a clear indication of Ed’s growing strength within the Parliamentary Labour Party and of a willingness to go on the attack rather than let the Tories dictate the terms of debate – as has been happening re the failed austerity programme.