The New Year news from the government is that, if re-elected in 2015, it will cut a further £25 billion from public spending – with £12 billion coming from welfare.
While we can rightly focus on this or that group of vulnerable people who will suffer or die as a result, the underlying story is that the scaffolding of our caring society is being deliberately dismantled piece by piece.
The economic downturn during the last five years has provided wonderful cover for a Cabinet of over-privileged people (mostly white men) to bring in ideology and policies that they have been salivating over for a long time. Dismantling the Welfare State is much more to do with political opportunism than with money.
What these rich boys want is to create a US-style country that is wholly materialistic and that sees anyone who cannot 'stand on their own two feet' as anti-social, a burden, a drag on the economy. Press and T.V. have picked up the message and skilfully rallied public opinion against workshy scroungers and benefit cheats. (There is no subtlety here. In the new vocabulary we all have to learn, to be on benefits is to be scrounging and cheating and to be out of work is to be shirking and workshy.)
As these cuts scrape into the bone, can we take heart from the rich array of charities and projects that support people in times of need? No. Not if those organisations survive on grants from their local authorities. Local authorities will simply not have the money to hand out and very many valuable charities and projects will be starved of cash and then die.
My prediction is that thousands of people now working in some capacity in support of vulnerable people in what was the caring society will be made redundant. If they cannot find a new job they will be workshy. If they have to claim benefits they will be cheats.
And now the cruellest trick. When you or I go looking for support – for a disabled relative, a school leaver with a learning disability, an ageing parent, a friend who is being bullied and battered or for ourselves – the coalition government will tell us the responsibility for providing that particular support falls to the local authority and that they have been given money for it.
When we then approach the local authority they will tell us the money the government gave them has had to be used for other things, that spending has had to be prioritised and that our need is too far down the list.
This is already happening. Cuts of £12 billion are coming. The job is only half done.
Peter Limbrick. Your comments welcome. Please e-mail here.