April Fool’s Day

April 1st is traditionally the day when everyone goes mad and plays practical tricks on each other. But the date has a more sinister connection in the U.K. for traditionally it’s when the new fiscal year begins, and decisions made in the Chancellor’s annual Budget begin to take effect. In addition most government departments have been warned to expect a ten percent cut in their funding in order to meet an £11 billion savings target. That means job losses and severe curtailment of local services. One Trades Union estimates 11.5 million households will lose support. At the same time millionaires have a £100,000 tax break.

Maintaining the increasing division between the wealthy and the poorer members of society appears to be a guiding principle of the Coalition government. Social need is described as a ‘welfare trap’, implying that people choose to be poor. In their own vernacular, the government talks of ‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’ and people on a ‘something for nothing’ trip and ‘hard working families’, thereby demonising people who cannot be so described,.

Work is just not there for many people and especially disabled people. The Company employed to determine dependency has apparently been told to remove 500,000 people from registration, and there are cases where massively disabled people have been told they are fit to work.

Many people, and that includes me, are appalled at the loss of liberty for people who rent their homes and receive housing benefit or live in social housing. The government will reduce their benefit by 14% of the weekly rent if the occupants have one ‘spare’ bedroom. If they have two or more spare bedrooms, they will lose 24%. Such families will be encouraged to find alternative The National Housing Federation say the new legislation is ‘wrong in every respect: bad policy and bad economics’.

These are not just buildings, they are people’s homes! It’s positively Stalinist.

There are plans to cease giving money for food for the needy, supplying cards instead, which in some cases can only be ‘spent’ in specified supermarkets; an added humiliation. Moreover Legal Aid has been removed for advice on benefits, housing, divorce, debt, education and employment and today the budget for Citizens Advice is being reduced from £22m to £3m. Local Councils who are losing much of their income from the government have to implement these changes, and consequently will bear much of the blame. And pensioners? The system is being tightened which will mean some loss of income, but in the main we, like the Health Service, Overseas Aid and Schools, are reasonably protected. Perhaps we shouldn’t be.

In 2009 David Cameron before coming to power said ‘as long as there is deep poverty living systematically side by side with great riches, we all remain the poorer for it’.

Indeed. But the poverty of the poor is not notional, it hurts. We are all involved in an appalling fiscal crisis, but the ultimate folly of these budgetary changes, is that those least able to defend themselves are being most severely punished. It is a scandal.