What you do, and don’t, have to prove to get welfare from this government

One might almost think that the fake news furore over the purported de-Eastering by the National Trust earlier in the week, which Theresa May laid into, was specifically designed as a distraction from the unpleasantness of this government: how Theresa May is currently in Saudi Arabia, pitching further sales of arms to that disgusting, medieval regime; and how they are introducing massive cuts in benefits to the bereaved with children.

On this latter issue, the government’s attempts to spin their appalling cuts to families struggling with the most horrific of circumstances as not just necessary, but actually generous go beyond mere cynicism. Richard Harrington, the Under-Secretary of State for Pensions, recently suggested that cutting bereavement benefit from the entire period that the remaining parent had responsibility for children to a paltry eighteen months was an act of generosity, as the bereavement payments previous would stop people from “readjusting” to life as a single parent. Nasty, cynical? That was just the warm-up. Because his justification for the fact that cohabiting but unmarried bereaved partners will get precisely nothing was that this was in order to save them distress: that “having to prove cohabitation could be a lengthy, complex process, which could cause distress at a time of bereavement.”

This is breathtakingly cynical and vicious. To portray this removal of support from grieving and possibly suddenly impoverished people as an act of kindness… well, it’s almost a surprise that his own oesophagus didn’t spontaneously close over and refuse to allow him to utter such a hideous, distorted piece of mendacity.

Now, let us skip forward to today, and the introduction of new rules about tax credits for children. In general, I am in favour of the government discouraging families from having large numbers of children. We have far too many people on the planet already, and we certainly don’t need to be producing more at the unstoppable rate that we currently are. But whatever steps are taken to encourage less children must always balance this against the fact that not all pregnancies are volitional, and that some people have moral objections to abortion—though I may disagree with them on this, it would be as hideous to push people who genuinely objected to abortion into having one as it is for those who oppose abortion to attempt to prohibit them for others. As such, direct financial incentives tied simply to number of children seem too blunt a tool for the government to use to achieve the end of discouraging over-large families. Unless, of course, the government’s actual purpose was not discouraging volitional third pregnancies, but simply an excuse for finding further support to cut.

Because, as of today, tax credits will only be paid for the first two children in a family—unless a rape or coercive relationship led to the pregnancy with the third child. A rape, which the mother will have to prove by completing an eight-page form, and reporting the rape to a “third party organization” who will assess her claims: this for a crime so personal and traumatic that only about 15% of instances are reported to the police, and where institutional support for survivors is so desultory that precisely those Rape Crisis Centres who will be required to carry out the third-party confirmation (and who will thus be put in the position of having to make judgments on behalf of the government concerning the validity of a survivor’s claims; rather than neutrally and unjudgmentally providing support and counselling) had, as of March 2016, waiting lists of more than 4,000 people.

So, this is the state of welfare under Compassionate Conservatism. Bereavement and rape must be two of the most traumatic events that an individual can experience in their lives. But any bereavement payments at all are withheld from a unmarried person, to save them the “distress” of proving cohabitation—something that a quick glance over the electoral register would rather easily accomplish. And yet to gain support for a child born from rape or a coercive relationship, extensive and intrusive enquiries and proof must now be undergone.

Cynical, hypocritical, and just downright nasty: this government has no moral grounding of any kind. It is the most repugnant administration I have seen in my lifetime.

Nice continent you’ve got here…

Not content with using the livelihoods of four million Europeans living in the UK as a bargaining chip, Theresa May appears to have upped the ante and decided to threaten withdrawal of security co-operation with the EU as a negotiating stance in her Article 50 letter. It brings to mind an image of an inept gangster, wandering through the EU, saying in loaded terms and a dodgy fake Italian accent: “Nice-a continent you got-a here. Would-a be a shame if anything were to happen to it…” [“Accidentally” pushes Luxembourg off a cliff.]

Just as with her refusal to guarantee the position of EU citizens in the UK, Theresa May was attempting the posture that she is negotiating from a position of strength. The threat has also spectacularly backfired: partly because, of course, we are not negotiating from a position of strength at all: the EU will offer us terms and we will accept them or face the economic suicide of trading solely under WTO rules; and partly because it is a staggeringly callous threat to make: to endanger not just the livelihoods but the actual lives of the entire EU—and of course her own citizens, as a withdrawal of co-operation would be mutually imperilling.

For the record, here is the relevant passage of the Article 50 letter:

The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.

David Davis has been rolled out to claim that this was not a threat, but the Sun certainly thought it was, triumphantly declaring YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES—the Sun, it would appear, approves of threatening the lives of Europeans, though imagine the raging indignation they would have manufactured should the threat have been the other way round.

Here’s the thing though. That certainly looks like trade-with-menaces. It certainly sounds like Donna May is accidentally-not-accidentally nudging Luxembourg towards that cliff-edge. If that wasn’t the intention—and given the nine months that the government has had to draft the letter—then one despairs at the skill of our negotiators, carelessly making assertions that read, for all the world, like a direct threat. If a simple six-page letter can contain such a thoughtlessly worded passage, what hope for the detail of the negotiations? And what hope for the many, many further negotiations that Great Global Britain will have to make?

On that 2%

So, National Insurance Contributions for self-employed people are going up by 1% in 2018, and another 1% the following year.

I don’t particularly object to this on the grounds of a breach of manifesto commitments—this is a different administration to that elected and clearly has a different agenda. That’s the nature of our constitution, whereby we do not directly elect the chief executive (let alone—God forbid!—the head of state), and a whole different discussion.

I certainly don’t object to this because I will be hit by it. As a relatively high-earning socialist, I believe that I do not pay enough tax at present so cannot object to more, and as a democrat I must accept the obligation to pay my tax whether or not I approve of how those taxes are spent.

But it rankles greatly coming from the party that poses as the champion of enterprise. There is already a hidden burden on individuals starting work for themselves: people declared as self-employed to HMRC must pay their (projected) tax six months in advance, which means that, basically, a year after setting up you will be hit by an 18-month tax bill. This is hardly an incentive, but has been the case for a long time. To add the additional burden of substantially increased NIC contributions is a positive discouragement to anyone wishing to start working for themselves.

Corporation tax, meanwhile, will fall 1% in April, and another 2% by 2020.

This government is no friend of entrepreneurs, it is no enabler of the old-fashioned “get on your bike, pull yourself up by your bootlaces” narrative of the Conservative Party of years gone by. It is a shameless sycophant to big business, whilst casting ordinary people simply trying to improve their circumstances—the constituency and ideology that, in the past, has been the most appealing aspect of the party—to the wind.

In the context of Brexit, this is especially disturbing. With the Labour Party’s craven capitulation on Article 50, we are headed full pelt for a hard Brexit, and it appears that the government seem intent upon their plan of handling the resultant economic disaster by sucking up to big business and the financial sector, whilst doing nothing for the ordinary folk who were conned into voting for it and whose livelihoods will be endangered as a consequence. As what pitifully small taxable profit those businesses actually declare after having shunted the vast majority of their income through tax-avoidance schemes will be taxed at the ludicrously low rate of 17%, it is precisely those ordinary folk who have lost their jobs through the collapse of trade and who attempt to set up on their own who will be taxed up to the eyeballs in order to offset the negligible contribution paid by the Tories’ friends—and funders—in Big Finance.

In 2015 the Labour Party calculated that 27 of the 59 wealthiest hedge fund managers (according to the Sunday Times Rich List) had contributed more than £19 million to the Conservative Party. Similarly, the Financial Times calculated that 35% of all the Tories’ funding came from just eight individuals—all from a City background.

A few hyper-wealthy individuals—doubtless those who also bankrolled the dishonest and xenophobic campaign that achieved Brexit in the first place—have purchased the policy of the country, and paid out a pathetic few million—peanuts for them—to ensure that the United Kingdom (if it lasts) becomes one big offshore tax haven, with its workers and smaller, independent businesses being taxed into penury to pay for the corporations’ insatiable greed.

  1. For comparison: by that point the NIC contributions alone for self-employed people will be 11%.