Will 2013 Be a Year of Social Unrest in Britain?

The potentiality of 2013 proving one of the most convulsive and ugly in Britain’s social history is real.

The brunt of this Tory-led coalition government’s assault on welfare and public spending come on stream in April. Swingeing cuts in child benefit, housing benefit, and a cut in council tax benefit will plunge millions of UK families into the abyss of destitution and despair. Add to this a one percent freeze on Jobseekers Allowance, tantamount to a real terms cut, and the conditions for social unrest in the UK have hardly been more propitious.

Since coming to power 2010 this Tory-led coalition government, aided by its allies in the right wing press, has been diligent in its efforts to prepare the public for the economic tsunami that it intends to unleash on the public sector, the poor and benefit claimants. It has engaged in a concerted and determined propaganda campaign designed to demonize the unemployed, people on disability benefits, and public sector workers, the main targets of its attacks with the objective of turning what was and remains an economic crisis caused by private greed into a crisis of public spending. Pitting one section of working people against another has been a key plank of the Tory strategy to minimise resistance to the most egregious and brutal assault on the incomes and lives of poor people in living memory.

Save The Children calculate that currently in the UK 1.6million children are living in what they describe as severe poverty. Households mired in severe poverty are forced to make a choice between heating and eating each winter on an income of £15,000 or less. The extent of child poverty in the UK is a badge of shame in the word’s seventh largest economy. Indeed, along with food banks, it is this badge of shame and not the Olympics which is Britain’s lasting legacy in 2012.

Given the criminal lack of social and affordable housing in Britain, a consequence of Thatcher’s decimation of council housing stock throughout the 1980s, a policy continued throughout the nineties, wherein tenants were able to buy council properties at huge discount, and New Labour’s failure to address the yawning gap during its 13 years in office, millions of people are currently living on the edge of homelessness, victims of the inflated rents and insecure and short term tenancies offered by private landlords. With the collapse in the mortgage market, demand for private rented accommodation has spiked, which with the government’s intention of scrapping housing benefit for under 25’s and restricting it for everyone else is a recipe for disaster.

These facts, no matter how shocking, do not come close to describing the stress suffered by those on the receiving end of the government’s assault. This is a crime in itself, a cruel and brutal attack on the welfare of millions of men, women, and children, punished for daring to be poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

Meanwhile, as 2013 gets underway, those same rich have never had it so good. Last year’s Sunday Times Rich List confirmed that the 1000 richest people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by a staggering £155 billion over the past three years of the worst economic recession since the 1930s, enough to wipe out the entire deficit with around £30 billion to spare. Yet thanks to the government’s decision to reward those earning £1 million a year or more with a £42,000 tax cut starting this spring, the rich can look forward to their wealth increasing still more. As for the corporations and businesses which many of them run, those are set to enjoy a two percent reduction in corporation tax in 2013, while VAT remains at 20 percent, a tax on consumption with a disproportionate impact on the poor.

Thanks in large part to the unstinting efforts of the campaign group UK Uncut when it comes to shining a light on the immorality of tax avoidance by the rich and big business, we now know the full extent of the theft committed by multinational companies such as Asda, Ikea, Starbucks,Vodafone, Google, Amazon, and others when it comes to exploiting tax loopholes to avoid paying anything like their fair share of tax on UK revenues. Plugging these loopholes at any time, never mind in the midst of the deepest recession since the 1930s, you would think would be done as a matter of urgency by a coalition government whose mantra since it entered Downing Street after the 2010 general election has been ‘fairness’ and ‘we are all in this together’.

The opposite has been the case. In fact, worse, the government has turned its guns on the poor and working class to make sure that the wealth and profits of the rich remain intact. It is class war by any other name.

The lack of investment by the private sector has led to a collapse in demand, which in other words means we are living through a crisis of underconsumption. It is a crisis screaming out for an investment-led response by the government to fill the vaccum left by the lack of private investment in the economy, specifically via the banks, the beneficiaries of billions in taxpayers money to keep them afloat at the height of the financial crisis.

The result is an economic shambles with injustice at its heart and the wonder is that we have yet to witness wholesale riots and civil unrest in towns and cities all over the country in response. 2013 may well see it erupt.


10 comments on “Will 2013 Be a Year of Social Unrest in Britain?

  1. It is a telling criticism of Ed Miliband and the Labour front bench that John did not feel compelled to refer to labour’s opposition in writing this article.

    If Labour don’t intrude on the consciousness of someone as politically observant as John, then they are asleep at the wheel.

  2. George Hallam on said:

    Law enforcement agencies use the term ‘civil unrest’ to describe one or more forms of illegal protest by a group of people. These include: occupations of public buildings, sabotage, riots and attacks on the police.

    Is this what was meant?

  3. Andy Newman: If Labour don’t intrude on the consciousness of someone as politically observant as John, then they are asleep at the wheel.

    Maybe you’re being kind here, Andy. Maybe I’m ‘asleep at the wheel’.

    But I think you raise an important point. Labour and Ed M have yet to make the impact they need to if they are to win back the support the party has shed over the past few years. I listened to Ed Balls on R4 earlier, discussing Labour new proposals surrounding welfare, and I have to say I found him weak. It’s clear to me that when it comes to these issues, Labour’s front bench are pandering to a public perception shaped by the right instead of seeking to re-shape it.

    Lack of confidence, too concerned with the priorities of swing voters, a paucity of ideology, or is that Ed M and his team actually believe that the centre is where the masses are?

  4. Jimmy Haddow on said:
  5. Blaker on said:

    Increase in rich’s wealth is a paper one – mainly down to rise in share & property prices not down to accumulation of capital. This wealth is at best semi-illiquid and could not be easily turned into cash. Even if it was it would only take cars of one year’s deficit and not the future years deficits or the £1.2 trillion public debt. An annual tax on wealth plus progressive taxation policy and closing tax avoidance schemes like receiving share awards which are only taxable on capital gains would all help reduce deficit.

  6. Uncle Albert on said:

    Blaker: down to rise in share & property prices not down to accumulation of capital.

    I’ve always thought most capital is accumulated as shares and property (rather than money in the bank – the banks themselves convert cash into shares and property or loans secured on such asap).

    I’m sure those standing on the lowest rung of the affluence ladder would find their prospects considerably enhanced if they went cap-in-hand to a bank with the title deeds of a property worth £1 million in their back pocket, rather than a handful of premium bond certificates or a even a used fiver.

  7. Blaker on said:

    But the increase in wealth is just down to a rise in asset prices not the accumulation of new capital. It’s paper wealth which just as easily evaporate if asset prices fall. It’s not wealth that can fully or easily realised. It is wrong then to say as John and Seamus Milne think that it could eliminate the deficit. Better to levy a wealth tax annually that force the rich to sell a slice of their realisable assets.

  8. Blaker: But the increase in wealth is just down to a rise in asset prices not the accumulation of new capital. It’s paper wealth which just as easily evaporate if asset prices fall. It’s not wealth that can fully or easily realised.

    No, I think the Sunday Times Rich List includes both liquid and illiquid wealth in its figures. It’s a combination of both. Certainly, your point about simply offsetting the deficit against the wealth held by the richest 1000 people in Britain is correct. But assets are realisable, the appreciation in wealth revealed is not or has not been curtailed via progressive taxation, and the result is economic injustice.

  9. The solution must be a total and if neccessary a revolutionarychange. At the very least we must have a 21st Century version of the Magna Carta setting out and enforcing the rights and responsibilitiesof the classes. If our ruling class will not agree to these just demands then wemust removeour rulers,by force if that is the way it must be. If they want class war then we must fight one. Our rulers will not know what hit them.