Chancellor George Osborne yesterday announced the UK’s Budget for 2014. In a country plagued by recession, those on middle and lower-income wages have been struggling with the impact of this government’s cuts. By the time we reach the next General Election in 2015, estimates state that the average family will range from being £1,600 worse off to £3,500 worse off a year.
After yesterday’s announcement, Grant Shapps, the Conservative Chairman, tweeted an advert highlighting the cutting of Bingo Tax and Beer Duty as part of this year’s Budget. The online advert said the 1p cut in beer duty and the halving of bingo duty to 10% would help “hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.”
The government’s understanding of working class Britain is both patronizing and insulting if they truly believe that a cut in beer and bingo tax will assist in making life less difficult. If they want to help ‘hardworking people’ do more of the things they enjoy then they have to make the price of living affordable.
Cuts to council budgets have seen hundreds of vital services taken away from those that need them most and it is no coincidence that London has seen a 62% rise in rough sleeping from 2010 to 2013. What ‘hardworking people’ need is affordable housing, affordable child care, free health care, money invested in schools and job-creation. And yet the welfare budget for child benefit, incapacity benefit, winter fuel payment and income support is to be capped for the next two years. And whilst the Help to Buy equity scheme for new-build homes has been extended to 2020, that has little noticeable impact on the majority of us who cannot afford to have a savings account to raise the initial deposit, due to paying extortionate rates for rent.
We have a Political Class comprised of multi-millionaires who have no experience or understanding of what it is like to be poor, or even to live from pay-cheque to pay-cheque. Those deciding the nation’s budget are part of the ‘haves’ and therefore Britain’s widening gap between rich and poor is of no consequence to them.
On Monday, Oxfam revealed that Britain’s five richest families are worth more than the poorest 20% of all families. The inequality in this country is farcical and yet as Wilkinson and Pickett document so brilliantly in The Spirit Level, with increased inequality comes a barrage of social problems.
This peace offering from the Conservatives is what Paulo Friere describes as ‘false charity’ in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. “True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.” We do not need cheaper alcohol and bigger bingo prizes; we need wealth to be distributed fairly so that half a million British people are not reliant on food banks.
Grant Shapps justified the cuts by saying that the Beer and Bingo Industry employ thousands of people and therefore the cuts will ensure job retention. However, the more cynical amongst us are worried that there is a more sinister aspect to this. As I was writing this article on the bus, a woman looked over my shoulder and told me that she believed this was an attempt to wipe out the working class. She stated that this tax was aimed at working class families like hers where both her and her Mother have full-time jobs and yet they still sometimes have to choose between keeping the heating on and eating.
There is a moving speech from the character Furious Styles in the film Boys in the Hood where he points out to his son just how poor communities are being left to rot:
“There’s a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why?” They want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills, you don’t see (them). But they want us to kill ourselves. Yea, the best way you can destroy a people, you take away their ability to reproduce themselves.”
The Conservative’s announcement that the freezing of the duty on alcoholic Spirits is aimed at Scotland, makes me concerned at the rationale behind this decision. Scotland has twice the number of alcohol-related deaths as England or Wales and a man in Glasgow can expect to live fifteen years less than a man in London. With all this considered, the government’s Budget plan is at best insulting and at worst hateful.
Rebecca Joy Novell is a Qualified Social Worker working with gangs in central London. She graduated from The University of Sheffield in 2012 with a Masters in Social Work. Rebecca has been involved with Youth Justice since 2008 in a variety of voluntary and paid roles and is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Criminal Justice. She was elected to the Professional Assembly for The College of Social Work, is part of the Criminal Justice Reference Group for the British Association of Social Workers and regularly blogs for The Guardian’s Social Care Network. She is also the author of Starting Social Work: Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker. Her blog can be found at www.charitynovelll.wordpress.com.