Threat of further benefit cuts falls as Tories find no support

Mon, 13/04/2015 - 13:29 -- nick

In the middle of an election campaign all parties are looking for that big policy idea that grabs the attention and brings new support to their side.

For the Tories this has meant extending their 'rich first, poor last' policies, finding space in the public finances to give money away to millionaire homeowners even as they pretend the deficit prevents any giveaways.

Only the rich get this treatment; the big Conservative idea for the poor is another £12 billion cut from the benefits bill.

Specifying from where this will be chopped isn't part of the plan, and for a very good reason. All pensioners will be protected, and their payments form half of the bill, meaning bigger cuts to others.

Having taken unemployment benefits to an unliveable level and taken them away from millions already there is little more that can be done here, so there are really only two groups that can be targeted, the disabled and working people who receive tax credits, but there is a reason why this won't work.

The Tories have spent the last five years developing stories to cover their spending cuts.

One says that the public sector has grown fat during Labour's years in government, and there is a huge amount of waste that can simply be trimmed with no loss of service standards, a fantasy that is being increasingly exposed by multiple failures in social services, elderly care, and defence.

The other is based on two fallacies: the first that the majority of benefits are paid to unemployed people, and the second that unemployed people are morally lacking, and deserve to have state spending withdrawn from them.

This story has been more widely accepted than the party's spin doctors can possible have imagined, enabling cuts to the poorest people's income while seeing strong support, an unlikely trick which has needed the support of some disreputable newspapers and TV programme makers to pull it off, combining with the Conservatives to demonise the workless.

Given the popularity of welfare cuts you might have thought the Tories would be tripping over themselves to name more of them, but the story of fecklessness just won't work when it comes to working and disabled people.

Other parties have taken notice of this: the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg has said he will do "everything in my power" to stop this shrinking of the state, and the Conservatives would have to do far better in the election than the polls are currently predicting to be able to rule without their current partner.

We all know politicians' promises can be rather 'flexible' after elections are won, but at the moment only one major party supports such swingeing benefit cuts, and they are unlikely to be able to get them into any coalition agreement.

It must be hoped that the threat to benefits has receded for now.