Following the spending review, Liberal Left today questioned the party leadership’s commitment to fairness and the notion, expressed by Danny Alexander, that “we won’t balance the books on the backs of the poor”. Liberal Left believes that there is no longer a common understanding within the party of what we mean by fairness.
Liberal Left is particularly concerned about the lack of any joined up thinking or holistic approach to public services. While it is right to protect the NHS, savagely cutting others at the same time will have a knock on effect in both increased need for mental health services and poorer health more generally, both of which will end up placing an ever greater burden on the NHS
The CSR also takes no account of the current economic climate, preferring to pit employed against unemployed, maintaining the underlying message that if you don’t have a job it’s your own fault, despite the reality that there is a shortfall of jobs in the economy of some two million. It seems the message from Mr Osborne is “while you’re down, we’ll kick you” with his proposal to make people wait a week for benefits. It is also unclear how making people go to the job centre every week will be funded, what support will be provided, or what it will achieve. Particularly in rural areas, this will increase transport costs for people already on very low incomes.
The capital investment is to be welcomed although Liberal Left believes the figures are misleading as they refer to gross investment rather than net investment and also questions why this spending could not begin now, particularly given that the IMF has been calling for an immediate £10bn investment in infrastructure.
While it is not disputed that the top 5th of households has seen the biggest drop in income at 4% (although given the increase in wealth of the super rich this doesn’t apply to all of them), the fact that the bottom 5th are losing almost as much with a drop of 3.9% in their income further discredits George Osborne’s claim to fairness. Percentages anyway are a crude measure of fairness, a 4% drop in income for the richest may mean cutting holidays from 5 to 4 times a year, a 3.9% drop for a low income family may mean going without heating or food. And is not good enough to say they are putting more money into troubled families, as this money does nothing to increase the income of those families and also stigmatises all those on low incomes as “troubled”.
The further caps on welfare will impact even more on those on the lowest incomes, and Liberal Left is alarmed at further cuts to local government which, along with the dogmatic policy of council tax capping , is bound to impact on essential services and goes against any idea of localism. The pitting of public sector against private sector workers is also to be deplored and given many public sector workers are amongst the lowest paid in our society the 1% cap and lack of progression will again hit the poorest with no evidence of how this will help the economy.
Liberal Left therefore calls on Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg to come clean and admit that they no longer hold to the maxim of not balancing the books on the back of the poor, nor to the values expressed in the preamble to the constitution of the party, in particular the belief that “no-one should be enslaved by poverty”.