A U-turn on disability cuts, but not on government policy

24th March 2016 / United Kingdom

The massive cuts in benefits to disabled people included in last week’s Budget, listed alongside the tax breaks for the most well-off, have proved a step too far.

This was confirmed by the resignation of Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith – who said the books are now being balanced on the back of the working age poor and vulnerable – and his replacement Stephen Crabb’s decision to drop them.

After six years of swingeing cuts to health and welfare, austerity is getting harder to sell both in and out of Westminster.

Welfare saved, for now

The decision to drop the proposed cuts is an important victory: the changes to essential Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) would have hit 370,000 ill or disabled people, leaving them each an average of £3,500 worse off.

But does this U-turn really mark a fundamental change to the government’s policy?

Crabb has said he has “no further plans” to make welfare savings in this parliament – but what does this really mean for our already threadbare services?

The government’s commitment to austerity remains, as does the fixation with reducing the deficit and meeting self-imposed spending targets – a fixation which led to these proposed cuts in the first place.

The people behind the numbers

We’ve heard a lot about building a strong economy – but an economy is only as strong as what it delivers.

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In his announcement on Monday, Crabb acknowledged that ‘behind every statistic is a human being and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that’. This is true, but there are some statistics that give us a better picture of human beings than others.

Last year we published a set of five headline indicators that measure progress against the outcomes that the UK public has said they want to see the economy delivering – good jobs, wellbeing, environment, fairness and health.

NEF and the 25 organisations that endorsed the set of indicators believe that performance against them, not GDP and arbitrary deficit targets, should be used to judge how our nation is really doing.

It’s clear that this Budget isn’t going to deliver the outcomes that the UK public really care about. The prioritisation of the interests of the well-off, corporations, the fossil fuel industry and banks, over the interests of the most vulnerable, suggest the government has lost sight of what it’s all for.

Will the cuts to corporation tax and capital gains tax, which overwhelmingly benefit large firms and well-off individuals and which the proposed disability benefit cuts made room for, also now be reversed? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Yesterday’s U-turn on cutting PIPs is far from a commitment to safeguarding our increasingly threadbare services that are essential for so many in our society.

To paraphrase David Cameron himself, we need government policy that is more focused not just on the bottom line, but on all those things that make life worthwhile. We want to see policy-makers focussing their attention on the things that genuinely matter to the public, and taking a headline indicators approach that broadens our view of national success is one of the best ways we can hope to achieve that.

By new economics.org

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