UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Queen’s speech: We may have lost a battle - There is still a war to fight

“Where there is discord may we bring harmony. Where there is error may we bring truth. Where there is doubt may we bring faith.  And where there is despair may we bring hope.” Remember that nauseating quote from a newly elected Margaret Thatcher on the steps of Downing St on her first day in office in 1979?

This was a woman who went on to put troops on the streets of the UK; who declared class war on trade unions and open war on the miners and mining communities; who presided over almost 15 years of police corruption, most of which is just now seeing the light of day through events like the Hillsborough inquiry; and who caused untold damage to British industry and those who worked in it.

The dread that those words stirred in some of us who heard them was more than confirmed by her actions. Similar emotions have recently been evoked by recent statements from David Cameron, quoted widely from his first cabinet meeting as saying;-

“I call it being the real party of working people, giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a pay cheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family. And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.”

Anyone listening to that would have had to wonder if he was about to repudiate the entire manifesto on which he had just been elected. As Charlie Chaplin once noted, words are cheap, and with respect to Charlie, weasel words are even cheaper.

Instinct always reminds Socialists about how to tell when a Tory is lying - their lips are moving. But their actions always speak louder than their words, and the Queens Speech announced yesterday reminds the world that the Tories remain a party committed to rule by the filthy rich for the filthy rich and hell mend the rest of us.

The most devastating measure is probably the finance bill that will legislate to stop the government raising income tax, VAT, or national insurance for five years after the election. Locking down taxes in this way locks down the ability to raise spending, particularly on vital public services that the majority of the population rely on.

It will of course ensure that the top rate of income tax on the incomes of the highest earners remain at its current low rate. This is the party after all that reduced the top rate to 40% and earlier this year raised the thresholds where it applies. If, or some economists would say when, the next financial crisis strikes, Gideon Osborne will find his hands tied.

There is a promise in the Queens Speech to ensure that people working the minimum wage will pay no income tax. So no tax on your on minimum wage. True, but only if you are on 30 hours a week or less. Most working weeks are considerably longer. The average in UK is just over 39 hours a week.

The minimum wage rate from October 2015 is £6.70 per hour for adults. So anyone working a 37 hours a week would earn about £13,000 a year, and would still be liable to income tax. As for the higher personal allowances it will help the middle-classes.

What hits the poor is a tax they cannot avoid VAT. The VAT rate of 20% is the same for everyone. The statistics don’t lie. According to the government’s own statistics the poorest 10% of households pay nearly 47% of their gross income in direct and indirect taxes, while the richest 10% pay 35% of their income in taxes. So who are they really looking after?

The so called social security “reforms” are simply a continuation of existing Tory policy that has seen fuel poverty and food bank usage go to unprecedented levels. So there are further cuts through the decrease in the benefit cap, and a freeze on benefits. This freeze includes the in-work benefits that the working poor rely on, including child benefit and tax credits. So those already suffering through insecure work caused by zero hours contracts, and minimum wage rates are going to see their incomes flat line. Young people are singled out for attack through the removal of entitlement to housing support.

Social housing itself comes under threat through the pledge to extend the Right to Buy scheme to housing association tenants, extending the Tory bribe, sorry “discount” to this sector. For the millions stuck in private renting, on waiting lists, or currently homeless, such news means nothing more than continuing housing misery as it will not create a single new social tenancy but rather a drastic decrease in availability. Or to update Marie Antoinette, “Let them watch “Location Location Location”, or other TV property porn.

In a final throwback to his revered successor, Cameron seeks to emulate his mistress in shackling the only representatives able to stand up for the working people of this country; the trade unions. By hampering their ability to take industrial or political action, Cameron hopes to trample underfoot the opposition to his policies.

So the message is really clear. May 7th was a defeat for progressive policies. We have had time to lick our wounds and ponder our failure. But for those who want to challenge inequality, to fight for a fairer distribution of wealth and power in this country, and to reject a society based on the protection of wealth for one based on rights and protection for the many, the fight must go on.