Wednesday, November 03, 2010

PoliticsUK: House of Lords: Baroness discusses the unequal burden the new budgetary cuts will apportion to the poor

Hansard is a daily publication of Britain's Parliament.  Steve Bishop in his own daily presents Hansard's transcription from the House of Lords for Nov1,2k10 [Nov 2k10 (pt OOO3).  I found a passage in which Baroness Gould of Potternewton gives her verbal analysis of how the budgetary cuts of the new Coalition govt (Tories and Lib Democrats) will affect the most vulnerable in British society.

My Lords, it gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill, on her very thoughtful and excellent maiden speech. I should also like to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, for it must be a unique occasion to be able to welcome two such good friends -- both of whom I have known for more than 30 years.

Fairness, we were told earlier today, runs through the heart of the Government's decision-making. I make no apology for repeating that there is certainly no fairness to poor families, pensioners, women or the disabled in either the emergency Budget in June or in the comprehensive spending review. It is difficult to comprehend how, using the Treasury's own figures, it can admit that the poorest 10 per cent of the population will bear the brunt of the cuts, and then have the audacity to say that that is fair.
-- EconoMix

Click on the t+mstamp to Read more ...

There is another element to the package -- the increase in VAT. I need to refer to the Prime Minister. He said -- I paraphrase -- that an increase in VAT is very regressive; it hits the poorest the hardest. It is a great pity that he has forgotten those words. Nor is it fair that direct support for children is being cut by £66 billion -- three times more than the banks. Is it fair that almost half a million low-income families are to be affected by cuts in childcare support and lose up to £30 a week? That may seem to be a small amount to some, but, as my noble friend Lady Sherlock said, for families on low incomes it is an enormous amount of money, which they certainly cannot afford to lose. It is the difference perhaps between being able or not to put something decent on the table to eat. The loss will also make it harder for parents to be better off in work. We have been told about the ladder of opportunity, but where is the ladder of opportunity for those parents?  Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
The analysis by the End Child Poverty campaign makes it clear that,
  • "these compensating measures don't go nearly far enough to stop this being a dark day for any family struggling to stay out of poverty".
A consequence of the lowering of standards of living will be that such families will need greater support from health and social services. We also find that for the health service, which we are told is to be protected, the baseline has been changed, and money switched from health into social care, and the personal social services budget moved from the Department of Health to [local township] councils, which are to be strapped for cash. What guarantees will there be that the social services budget will survive?
We are told that work pays -- and that is right -- but it pays only if you have a job to go to. Not only will there be job losses in the private sector, as we have heard, but the Government forecast half a million job losses in the public sector. We have heard that the job losses, on any analysis, will impact more heavily on women, who make up 65 per cent of public sector workers, 77 per cent of the National Health Service workforce -- many thousands of whom will be affected by the cuts in public health front-line services and the abolition of primary care trusts and SHAs -- and 75 per cent of local government employees. The Local Government Association predicts that the cuts will mean the loss of many dedicated women workers in local government. These measures are already taking effect. In September, 79 per cent of those newly signed on for unemployment benefit were women. We need to ask why. However, it does not stop there. That loss of income will go on to affect future pensions. Will these women be joining the older women who are currently facing cuts in pension credit, public sector pensions, attendance allowances and carers' allowances?
Many other noble Lords have referred to the effect of cuts in public services. But it is the poorer households and women who need public services the most -- because of pregnancy, longer life-expectancy, lower earnings and assets, and assistance in managing caring responsibilities. There are already signs of crucial services under threat, including children's services, support for teenage parents and midwifery support. Similarly, because of women's relative inequality and poverty, women are the main recipients of benefits and tax credits -- they receive 70 per cent of tax credits, 60 per cent of housing benefit, and 94 per cent of child benefit. In spite of the importance to women of receiving those benefits, it is proposed that there be a universal benefit to be paid to the main earner in the family, which is almost certainly, in the vast majority of cases, going to be a man. This move will put women's access to an independent income under threat and reverses at a stroke all the redistribution from wallet to purse -- mostly in recent years, but it was a redistribution that was started with the introduction of child benefit in 1977. That date is fixed in my mind, because myself and other colleagues on these Benches fought very hard with the then Labour Government to ensure that child benefit -- which had previously been the family allowance -- went from the father to the mother. How important that has been over the years. That independent income has been crucial to so many women and has on many occasions enabled a mother and her children to escape an abusive relationship. That is going to be impossible for her in the future -- a very backward step.
To me this argument is powerful.  No adult shoud be made so utterly dependent upon her spouse that she is tied to him by the most basic financial constraints, constraints subsidized by the govt to the women's further disadvantagement.  She may stay with her abusive man only for the children's welfare, not having
the wherewithall to support the kids on her own.  With the welfare subsidy going to her, rather than to an abusive husband, she may be able to take the children and run.  That woud be only a first step in such abusively dysfunctional "families" which are misnomered horror houses in all too many cases.

Yet pulling back from the worst kind of instances, to the situation of all families at the bottom of the income scale, redress of the statistical group's income situation woud mean, under UK's present coalition govt, further cutting of subsidies and services to banks, medium- and large-scale enterprises, and numerous nonprofits -- whether schools, hospitals, or others.  The argument for subsidizing businesses, at least on this s+d of the Atlantic, is always that they create jobs.  Most often, over here, that argument in recent t+ms is deployed to keep taxes low on smaller businesses, becaws that's where new jobs are created.  Then, on second thawt, we hear that argument undone by expanding it to include medium- and large-sized businesses as well.  By that t+m in the argument, we are back at subsidizing the very banks which approved mortgages to people who had no ghost of a chance of keeping up the payments.  To the "crown corporations" like Fannie Mae and Freddie which are said to have triggered the near-depression of the recent global meltdown, to suchl+k goes tax support at a rate that exceeds by a huge proportion what the truly needy .
I'm not able to be so specific regarding British banks, but the speech of noble Baroness Gould of Potternewton gives us such a hint when she informs us that "direct support for children is being cut by £66 billion -- three times more than the banks." One can't help wondering whether tax monies under the condition of the necessary cuts to the Kingdom's budget, whether the taxes shoud be directed away from the needy to the demands of the greedy.  What's wrong with the banks that they need subsidies at all?  The argument for underwr+ting the banks comes down to the "too big to fail" notion.  The banks shoud be competing among themselves, earning profits or losing investors and failing when they're wasteful and luxurious.  Not taking funds from the public treasury that shoud go to the most vulnerable, l+k mothers with deprived children.
I see no remedy in socialist utopian schemes (l+k Zygmunt Bauman's) nor in unregulated activity of enterprises that can't sustain themselves without govt assistance (l+k GM, AIG, and the vast array of others).  To find a normative path between these all-too-consistent ideologies is difficult to be sure, given the present (lack of) quality in public-policy reflection, at least here in North America.  Wh+, over here, the poor, middles, and rich all have to pay taxes to maintain courts and h+pr+cd judges just to provide corporations with neutral public space in which to sue one another as, simply, their corporate way of doing everyday business with one another.  Here's a place to cut, perhaps.    

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