To look at the headlines in most newspapers (you know which ones) you could be forgiven for thinking that George Osborne was the new champion of the poor: a Robin Hood character who was demanding that big corporations give a fair rate of pay in return for a fair day’s work.
This, of course, was the sort of spin that Osborne was seeking as he pushed through a budget of aspiration, that aspiration being his own move from Eleven to Ten Downing Street sometime during this Parliament.
This is a budget that, more than anything else since the General Election, sets the tone for the next five years of Conservative government, a tone that is full of the sort of rhetoric and measures that are designed to blunt the attack of those within his party, especially Boris Johnson who was the butt of an aside in a speech notably short of such frippery; and steal the thunder of an already defeated looking opposition, a number of whose policies Osborne took and made his own.
So before moving on let’s give Osborne his due because as a political event this was a highly effective budget, it ticked pretty much all the boxes that he would have wanted. It was a budget that contained measures that could be termed centrist with the introduction of a ‘Living Wage’ and the removal of Non-Dom status.
This was a budget that left Tories jubilant, and the sight of Ian Duncan Smith cheering in the Commons was one of the least edifying political spectacles for many a year, and has set Britain on a new political course, but a course where the veneer of humanity soon loses its sheen when we see what lies below it.
This was a budget that is about getting the votes of those who the Tories have identified as being aspirational (and I will come back to this notion of aspiration in a future column) and getting the support of those former Labour voters that UKIP have already prized away.
It is a budget about creating a feel good factor for some, but for the most vulnerable in our society it represents another step towards the edge of society, the removal of another support for a safety net that is looking increasingly insubstantial and threadbare.
- If you are a single parent unable to work more than the part time hours you are currently doing you are going to lose out;
- If you are sick or disabled, yet deemed eligible for work even though you physically cannot, then you are going to lose out;
- If you are one of the estimated 60,000 unskilled people who are likely to lose their jobs as a result of these measures, then you are going to lose out;
- If you are on minimum wage (and let us not kid ourselves that this represents a living wage), then you are going to have to work many more hours in an effort to try to claw back the huge amount of money that you will be losing in the cuts to tax credits;
- If you are poor and dare to have more than two children, procreation it seems is now a lifestyle choice, then you are going to lose out;
- If you are from a less well off family and aspire to go to University, then you are going to have to incur the sort of debt that will represent many years of your family’s annual income;
- If you are an 18-21 year old you are going to have to work incredibly hard (and let us remember that the increase in the minimum wage does not include the under 25s) to be able to afford inflated private rents, and are going to struggle to access a shrinking social housing sector…no housing benefit for you.
Within and between these statements, and I could have included more, are people within our society that are already struggling. People who are already having to swallow their dignity and go to food banks. People who are already in situations which they feel are desperate and hopeless…situations that this budget has just made an awful lot worse.
So let us not kid ourselves that this budget was about enabling people to pull themselves up to make a better lives for themselves. It was a budget to give those who support the Tories enough of a line to hang the most poor and vulnerable in our society out to dry for the sake of small state ideology. It was about further marginalizing Labour and the Lib Dems and setting Britain on a track which could make the Thatcher years appear compassionate.
Most of all, however, it was a budget whose primary aspiration was that in less than five years time we will be uttering the phrase ‘Prime Minister Osborne’. And that is a bitter pill to swallow.