Hard to reconcile words with economic activity

First published in Salisbury Letters

IT is difficult to square Salisbury MP John Glen’s avowed support of fairness (View from the Commons, May 29) with his membership of a party that has systematically attacked the least well off and vulnerable members of society.

Of course, his Tory chums cloak this attack in a spurious claim that they are really being cruel to be kind – that by making life on benefits as miserable as possible they are forcing people out of their selfimposed “benefits dependency”.

Their use of language makes it sound as though people in receipt of benefits are like drug addicts, sleeping it off behind drawn curtains as “hardworking people” drag themselves into work.

All that is needed is a dose of cold turkey to shake them out of their torpor.

This topsy-turvy description is designed to conceal just plain cruelty.

As Tom Clark points out in his book Hard Times, unemployment is not driven by social security policy.

What really matters are the “great swings of the macroeconomic cycle”.

And in a comment that goes to the heart of this wretched Government’s attitude, Clark adds: “Threatening benefit recipients with destitution in order to force them to take the first unsuitable job that may come along is thus not so much being ‘cruel to be kind’, as is often pretended, but simply being cruel.”

As Mary O’Hara writes in her recent book Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK the “welfare state is not about dependency: it is about opportunity…it is a life raft when times are tough and a springboard to better things.”

More serious Tory MPs like Mr Glen attempt a more nuanced approach like his recent articles on food banks and child poverty.

But when, for example, he refers to a “poverty of aspiration, a poverty of supportive positive family relationships or a poverty of parenting and life skills” there is a danger that he conflates symptoms of poverty with its fundamental cause, which is lack of money.

Much negativity swirls around the previous Labour Government’s spending, but it is instructive to read a report called Labour’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 1997-2010 led by Prof Ruth Lipton.

Although mistakes were made and improvement was not uniform or results unequivocally positive the report states that “the overall picture of progress on the kinds of outcomes that Labour could influence by its policies on public services is very clear”.

Meanwhile, and contrary to popular belief, before the Great Recession “social security spending was about the same as it had been for most of the period since the early 1980s” and there is, according to the report “no evidence that increases in spending on health, education and other services caused a crisis in the public finances preceding the global financial crisis and recession of 2007/8.”

Compare that record to the cruelty draped in dismal piety that drips from the current administration.

Dick Bellringer, Salisbury

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