I agree with the main thrust of Caroline’s response to Osborne’s Summer 2015 budget, which will penalize rather than help many of those it claims to help. But I would have made two points she didn’t.
It would have been difficult for Caroline to use the Basic Income as a devastating attack on the whole strategy of this budget. That would have needed an effective launch of the principle, starting with that disastrous interview of Natalie Bennett by Andrew Neil in January. I am still angry because the damage has still not been repaired, and this is another important occasion where that failure matters.
What the whole anti-austerity movement fails to understand is that the government strategy, reinforced today by the Chancellor, is underpinned by the fact that means tested benefits are wrong in principle. Unless you have an answer to that, welfare cuts make sense to almost everyone not directly affected by them. The Benefit Cap is popular. If there is a better answer than the Basic Income, no one has yet thought of it.
On the Living Wage, George has joined Caroline on one side, sort of, though real supporters of the Living Wage are not impressed. I remain against it. Osborne can easily weave a higher Minimum wage into his hateful plans, but the Green Party falls into his trap because it is still fighting the class war. What is wrong with subsidising jobs? Everything, if you have not thought of the Basic Income, or, what amounts to the same thing, you have not grasped all its implications. What matters to an employee is total take home pay, not who pays it. Topping up from a true Basic Income (more on which in a moment) can be left to the neo-liberals’ market forces once persuasion, not force is the rule. Some nasty jobs may well reach quite high rates per hour, and be done by large numbers for a few hours each week.
Nigel Farage made a valid comment on Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’ recently. Large corporations will cope quite easily with a mandatory Living Wage, but what about the little guy trying to start up, or even the big guy considering re-location abroad? Are they still the class enemy, or potential Arbeitgeber? (The German word for employer translates ‘work-giver’).
Osborne was especially underhand and dishonest when he took the Universal Credit for granted. It isn’t going to happen. Even the few supposed to be receiving it often don’t get it when they need it, and so are still dependent on food banks. But, and this is something Caroline can pursue, I think the Public Accounts Committee, a Treasury watchdog, will confirm that the UC is extremely unlikely to happen. But even if it was a reality, Caroline could pour scorn on a scheme which would have reduced the claw-back rates on lost means tested benefits from in excess of 80% to 65%, still higher than the top tax rate. I offer her an epithet: “The UC is an emaciated version of the Green Party’s Basic Income Scheme”.
Tax Credits The second disaster in the election campaign was the Green Party’s total capitulation following a Guardian article saying that a Citizens’, or Basic Income would make some low income families worse off. Tax Credits do partially alleviate the poverty trap created by means testing. Well, it seems that small and easily dealt with problem is now to be removed for us. Has Natalie Bennett already issued a Press Statement pointing this out? My apologies to her if she has. But failing the Universal Credit, Osborne’s assurances that this budget will not hurt the low paid are simple lies. And the work disincentive of means testing will return with a vengeance.
Housing Benefit. The Green Party would have introduced a Basic Income at JobSeekers Allowance levels. That is fine as a first step, to get the public used to the realization of just how evil is the effect of means testing. But until housing costs are included the poverty trap/scroungers’ charter effect (choose according to your mind set) will remain for many. My first bid, once people are used to the JSA level BI, is to introduce a full BI at a rate appropriate for Leeds, which would be circa £175 per week for an adult. Housing Benefit would no longer be necessary for any area where housing costs are no higher than Leeds. In passing, this is another area where market forces will have a beneficial effect which will surprise many due to the ‘persuasion, not force’ principle of equal bargaining power. Like the BI principle more generally, I await better suggestions, but all this should be used by the Green Party in response to this budget.
But the ‘Wow!’ Factor for me was not the Living Wage, but the two-child limit on some benefits. In the context of benefit cuts it is just as nasty as all the rest, and the Chancellor’s proposal does look a bit ‘cold turkey’. I would still give something for later births. But the notion that people who have more than two children should not expect the same support as for the first two is something the Green Party might have seen as natural in its ‘Limits to Growth’ days. And as part of the Basic Income, it would apply to everybody, not just the poor. Btw, it would apply to immigrant families.