By Daniel Margrain
The systematic redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest which began under Thatcher, continued under Blair and currently is increasing at a pace under Cameron, is emblematic of the relationship between welfare state retrenchment and the notion of the role of the state as facilitator of welfare handouts to the corporate sector.
Farm subsidies, public sector asset stripping, corporate tax avoidance and evasion, government share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies are just some of the ways in which the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by a massive £155bn since the economic crisis of 2008.
Meanwhile, in June this year, the UK government announced £12 billion of welfare cuts that included the abolition of working tax credits to the poorest and the top down reorganisation of the NHS brought about by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act which removes the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive service. The act requires up to 49 percent of services to be tendered out to “any qualified provider” . This will rapidly lead to the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales.
The punitive attacks on the unemployed, sick and disabled have been stepped up resulting in 500,000 people using food banks in addition to increasing rates of depression, anxiety and incidences of suicides among those on benefits. In social care, a combination of cuts of around 30 percent to local authority budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets will leave millions without the support they need.
Finally, the reduction in housing benefit to the unemployed allied to the bedroom tax is a double whammy that has resulted in growing rates of homelessness and/or the social cleansing and displacement of entire communities, many of them long established.
What are these attacks on the welfare state about? The government have long argued that they are needed in order to reduce the budget deficit. But on the very same day that the bedroom tax was announced in parliament (estimated to “save” the Treasury £480 million) the top rate of tax in the UK was cut from 50 percent to 45 percent, resulting in a loss of revenue of £1 billion.
The only rational explanation is that “austerity” is being used by the Tory government as a pro-corporate ideological weapon against both the welfare state as a concept and the general population who, in one way or another, rely on it in some shape or form. Those affected are not just the poor and traditional blue collar workers but also the lower ranks of the middle classes highlighted by the fact that the cuts are now beginning to have political repercussions within David Cameron’s own Oxfordshire constituency.
An obvious example of how Tory cuts are beginning to impact on the community at large, is in the field of social care for the elderly. In an increasingly aging society, the pressure on the social care system will become more acute as demand for its services increase. But a service motivated by profit is necessarily compromised in terms of its ability to provide a universal service of care predicated on need.
Another example, are the government’s proposals to cut the police budget by 40 per cent with the predicted loss of some 22,000 front line police officers to be replaced by private security firms. These firms will be drafted in by communities in suburbs and villages to fill the gap in neighbourhood policing left by the budget cuts. In an Essex seaside town, more than 300 residents have effectively been forced to club together to pay for overnight private security patrols.
The implications of the drive towards a privatized police force motivated primarily by profit are clear. The tendency would be for any crime not committed on the patch where customers pay privately for their service to be ignored or underplayed. The potential for the creation of protection rackets and vigilantism exists in situations where people who are not in a position to be able to afford for protection live near to people who can.
Justine Greening’s Kafkaesque contention on last Thursdays (November 5) Question Time programme that the reduction in policing in areas where crime is falling, justifies cuts to those areas, illustrates further the political undermining of the concept of universal provision. It’s my view that outsourcing is part of the Tory strategy to run down public services as the precursor to their dismantling prior to them being sold off. In fact, as Noam Chomsky put it, this process is standard practice:
“[T]here is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change…
That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”
What underlies the privatization strategy are the various vested interests involved. For instance, the husband of the woman responsible for cutting police budgets – Home Secretary Theresa May – is a major shareholder in G4S. Moreover, 70 MPs have financial links to private healthcare firms, and more than one in four Conservative peers – 62 out of the total of 216 – and many other members of the House of Lords “have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England.”
For the Tory government, the ideological crux of the matter is that profit maximization for the corporations they represent is regarded as taking priority over the concept of a properly functioning and accountable welfare state and public sector. Profit has become the guiding principle for the organisation of society from which everything is judged including perceptions of success and happiness.
This is reinforced daily on television programmes and in the lifestyle sections of magazines and newspapers. Moreover, power that profit implies, is linked to the concept of biological determinism in that it tries to convince us that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, so that inequality and injustice cannot be eliminated.
Any rejection of this model is regarded by the apologists for the system as being the fault of the individual and not the social institutions or the way society is structured. The solution is thus to change – or even eliminate – the individuals, not to challenge the existing social structures.
It’s the current form of social organisation that biological determinism reinforces which ensures the David Cameron’s of this world secure their place at the top of the food chain. It also highlights to the rest of us the artificial limits that the system driven by profit imposes.