Fresh from showing he has little respect for healthcare professionals, Jeremy Hunt has proved he abhors the poor. That is the only explanation for his recent defence of the government’s tax credit reforms. Hunt has said the cuts (and, lets be clear, these are cuts, no matter what the Conservative’s Victoriana rhetoric of ‘social reform’ suggests) will send out a “cultural signal” to low paid workers; a signal to work harder, longer and, in Hunt’s eyes, more like the Chinese and Americans. A signal to buck up, pull the socks up and get that nose closer to the grindstone. Because, obviously, the reason once-Great Britain is playing catch up to the world’s two dominant economic superpowers is because of the poorest families, because they are simply not trying hard enough.
There are so many things wrong with Hunt’s statement it is dizzying to think where to begin. Perhaps an explanation of just how low paid ‘low paid workers’ are will help crystallise the issue. Before George Osborne’s welfare cuts, the income level at which working tax credits were eligible to be claimed was £6,420. From April this will drop dramatically to £3,850, meaning far fewer people will be able to claim, meaning anyone earning over £3,850 will have their income reduced more steeply. To be clear, working full-time on the minimum wage would gross £13,124 – already under half the average national wage. The Conservatives are lowering the rung of acceptable assistance to less than a third of this. So do not let Tory spin – from either the government or the right wing media – fool you. Tax credits are not allowing people to lie in the lap of luxury, even at the current levels they are barely making life possible for families in poverty.
So what of David Cameron’s “assault on poverty” pledge just days ago at his party’s conference? A barefaced lie. Even the introduction of a ‘living wage’ (which will be less than the calculated actual Living Wage) cannot cover for the effects of the planned welfare cuts. The Resolution Foundation (headed by former Conservative minister David Willetts no less) has published a report revealing the changes will lead to 200,000 more working households living in poverty by 2020.
The Tories may have attempted to eradicate child poverty through a massaging of definitions, but there is no way to twist these figures. No matter how many times Tory ministers attest that tackling the roots of poverty is at the heart of their national mission, the facts are plain. This is not about ending poverty. This is about an ideology that fundamentally views the poor as lazy, feckless scroungers. It is a Victorian era belief that those at the bottom are simply not working hard enough to get themselves to the top. This is about dismantling the state and returning to a laissez faire attitude, pimped up with modern multinational capitalism, (the same attitude Hunt’s idolised Americans take to healthcare), which leaves the poorest to struggle while the richest sit back, benefiting from inheritance tax breaks and congratulating themselves on their ‘hard work’.
Hunt’s comments reveal the true core of current Conservative policy. The way to incentivise the rich entrepreneurial class is to pay them more, while for the poor it’s cuts and the stick. He may have said he was “wilfully misinterpreted” by the media (that aggressive left wing popular press, right Jeremy?), but how is it possible to misinterpret his suggestion that those receiving welfare lack “dignity” and “self respect”?
The cuts themselves are a flawed and punitive injury; Hunt’s contempt is an insulting slap in the face. Cameron has said multimillionaire Hunt has been “rather unfairly” treated. How very ironic.