A scattering of protest meetings and stalls and lobbies is beginning to grow. The TUC has called a rally for 13 March. The Labour Party has at least voted against the benefit cuts — it hasn’t voted against all the bad things the coalition has done — and some local Labour Parties have campaigned, with official approval.
But labour movement mobilisation against the benefit cuts remains small compared to the scale of the cuts themselves. A veritable wall of benefit cuts will hit us in April. Eleven and a half million children — the majority of children in Britain — will be affected. 27 million people will lose out.
Averaging out over the population, it’s £760 a year in benefit cuts by 2014-5 for each of us, including this April’s round and the previous ones. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly the worse-off, are losing much more.
Under the “benefits cap”, 56,000 households will lose an average of £93 a week between April and September 2013. Many of them will lose £100 or £200 a week. Many will be evicted and lose their homes.
Maybe the trade unions have been slow to move on this because their membership, these days, is concentrated in the better-off sections of the working class, which lose less. Maybe because they got a battering in the battle over public sector pensions. Maybe because they are preoccupied by other issues: the privatisation and cuts in the NHS, pay, local government cuts.
Certainly, in part at least, because the unions are dominated by well-off officials who are hesitant about struggle of any sort, and many of whom have now dropped all thought of anything much beyond hoping for some relief from a Labour government, maybe, in 2015.
Even bureaucratised trade unions can be pushed into action. Socialists need to push them. We should be sceptical about Socialist Worker’s ritualistic repeated claims that the coalition government is “weak”. If we fail to mobilise sufficiently, then the government will prove quite strong enough to push through these cuts. But it can be made weak.
The creditworthiness of Britain’s bonds has been downgraded by Moody’s ratings agency. The move is of small immediate economic importance, but a real blow to the credibility of chancellor George Osborne, who has made a fetish of the credit rating.
Britain’s government debt, which the coalition government said it would reduce, is rising. The deficit — the amount added to the debt each year — is probably rising too. Production is stagnant. Inflation is high.
Alternative economic policies can get a hearing — if voiced boldly — because the current policies are visibly not working on any terms other than plain vindictive utilisation of the crisis to beat down working-class conditions.
In addition to the “benefits cap”, from April most unemployed and low-waged people who currently get full council tax benefit will have to pay some council tax, probably about £5 a week.
Under the “bedroom tax”, households reckoned to have spare bedrooms will have their housing benefit cut.
Disability Living Allowance for working-age people will be replaced by Personal Independence Payments. The Government’s own estimate is that harsher criteria will throw 500,000 people off benefit by 2015-6.
The regular annual increase in benefits which comes every April will raise them by much less than inflation. The Government is imposing a cap of one per cent on increases in most working-age benefits and tax credits for three years from 2013-14.
Trade unions and the Labour Party and anti-cuts committees and the left should be organising loud, large street protests which say:
Stop the cuts!
Tax the rich!
Expropriate the banks!
• Local meetings and protests: bit.ly/cutspr
• TUC rally: Wed 13 March, 6pm, Emmanuel Centre, 23 Marsham Street, London SW1P 3DW
• Benefit Justice summit: Sat 9 March, 11am, ULU, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY