European governments have been announcing public spending cuts almost daily since they agreed a €750 billion bank bailout a fortnight back. Greece (€30 billion), Spain (€80 billion), Italy (£24 billion) and Portugal (£2 billion), were this week joined by the new UK government, which slashed £6 billion with immediate effect, and promised the financial markets much, much more.
In their statement, Conservative Chancellor George Osbourne and Liberal Democrat Treasury secretary David Laws (who would later be forced to resign following expenses revelations) declared there would be a civil service “recruitment freeze”, along with substantial losses for regional and university budgets. The Transport department will lose £683 million, meaning a drastic scaling back of badly needed road maintenance seems inevitable.
The coalition’s announcement was merely a starter course, meant to reassure the super rich that it means business, ahead of an ’emergency budget’ next month. Still, public sector job losses are expected to be in the hundreds of thousands. Those hundreds of thousands will join dole queues, at a time when the unemployment rate is already 8%. There, they will be exposed to the reforms being prepared by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Despite his professed concern for the UK’s “broken society”, Duncan Smith wants to cut the welfare bill, and – perhaps more importantly from the ruling class point of view – exert downward pressure on wages, by having many more desperate people fighting for each vacancy. Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants face losing benefits if they refuse to “do the right thing” and take a job offer on new “work programmes”. Meanwhile, Incapacity Benefit recipients will also be attending Job Centres, because “tougher” medical tests will apparently decide if they are capable of undertaking “desk or administrative jobs or part-time work”. On top of this, entitlement to housing assistance will be cut, and Duncan Smith wants to phase out the idea of a default retirement age altogether, so that workers “continue to keep working and contributing”.
While the corporate media routinely demonises unemployed people who get as little as £60 a week – or less if aged under twenty-five – on which to exist, it rarely questions the vastly greater handouts to those bankers at the top, who genuinely do contribute nothing to society, and have no plans ever to do so. Exposed to this propaganda on a daily basis, some working class people will support Duncan Smith’s proposal to bury the “cradle to grave” welfare state – a post-war gain which workers fought tooth and nail to secure. But the ratio of jobseekers to available jobs is growing, and that is a state of affairs which only benefits the elite. A broad-based workers’ fightback will have to extend solidarity to welfare claimants, as a matter of pure self-interest.
This article was also published on The Commune website.