Manifesto pledges new assaults on principle of universal welfare
EYEING a breakthrough in some historic Labour areas in the 8 June General Election, the Conservative party is saying that it is the new workers’ party.
Some commentators are asking if Theresa May is the archetypal ‘red Tory’, introducing a new breed of working-class orientated rightwing politics.
CommonSpace looks at the new Tory manifesto and asks what it’s impact will be on the working class.
The manifesto introduces more areas of universal welfare to means-testing. The winter fuel allowance will be means-tested, meaning it will no longer be available to wealthier pensioners.
This follows similar measures in other once universal areas of welfare, for example, the Tories introduced means-testing for child benefit in 2013.
Attacks on the principle of universalism are always pitched as a kind of class-conscious form of welfare – ‘why should working class people pay benefits to wealthy people who don’t need them’?
But critics of this approach worry that the ultimate target of breaches to the principle of universalism is the working class. Once the principle itself is gone, and once wealthier people are divested from the welfare system, the argument goes, more welfare will be eroded, destroying a lifeline for working class people.
Furthermore, means-testing doesn’t just exclude better off people from universal benefits and services. The process of means-testing is long and complex and, critics say, designed to reduce the number of claims. Many, typically less well educated, less informed or simply less confident people are more likely to simply not apply.
The bottom line with public services is this – working class people need them, rich people can afford to pay for them elsewhere.
Reduce corporation tax
The Conservatives have pledged to cut corporation tax to just 17 per cent by 2020. They claim this will attract business to the country, and therefor economic activity and jobs.
But tax cuts for powerful corporations make a stark contrast to cuts for working class people and an economy dishing out shrivelling wages and underemployment.
Paying for social care with assets
As the UK population ages, the costs of social care expand. Many more people than before are suffering long-term, debilitating illness, requiring care.
The manifesto’s answer to this situation is to force people to pay for care themselves through assets – principally their home – until their assets value £100,000.
The Tories claim this will mean the asset rich paying for care rather than the tax payer.
Critics claim it will mean a generation of working class people who, unique in working class history, were able to save enough money to buy a home, will now see their own valuable asset liquidated by their own infirmity.
Free school meals
The Tories want to subject access to free school meals for children in the first free years of primary school to means-testing.
Not only is this a further erosion of universalism, it also curbs a policy designed to act as a life line for some of the most deprived children in the country.
Opposition politicians have estimated the loss of the free meal would set the average family back by around £480 per year.
End of the triple lock
The manifesto will also see the abolition of the triple lock for pensions. The triple lock saw pensions rise with the highest of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5 percent. With the 2.5 per cent floor removed, pensions could feasibly fall lower than since the policy was introduced in 2010.
One of the Tory policies, trailed for maximum exposure before the manifesto launch, was to give workers the right to take a years’ unpaid Leave from their job in order to care for a sick relative.
They claim this will help working class people adapt to a situation where more and more have an elderly relative requiring care (see above).
Critics point out that very few could afford to go without a year’s pay.
Reduce net migration to tens of thousands
In large part the Tory claims to be pitching to working class voters rest on certain populist appeals, including anti-immigration rhetoric.
A belief exists in society that immigration pushes down wages. There is some evidence that it has a minor influence on wages in certain industries – usually ones where there is a very high turnover of low-skilled labour. But by a very long way the greatest pressure on wages is employers seeking greater return, austerity freezing pay in the public sector, and the growth of under-employment and new forms of working class self employment in the economy.
It is rarely acknowledged that immigrants are themselves working class. Needless to say restricting their rights would not be in their interests.
Furthermore, a climate of draconian measures to reduce immigration and control their movements in society, such as a register of foreign employment, could also impact the rights of domestic workers at a time when government is passing legislation, such as the Trade Union Act, to restrict worker’s rights.
Somehow the guiding policy basis of the whole manifesto has become side-lined by a focus on specific items of policy.
Every cut in the manifesto is being made on the basis of a need for “tough choices” necessitated by public debt. But both public and private debt are rising after 7 and a half years of austerity.
Many commentators have also asked why pensioners, school children and sufferers of long term illness are being asked to repair the national finances when the crisis was triggered by the financial speculation of the wealthy.
Picture courtesy of Number 10
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