Forget the distraction of Brexit – cuts coming in this week say so much more about the UK’s national identity.
The country may still be reeling from the triggering of article 50 but it’s this week that Britain will truly define itself – and in the most shameful of ways. In the coming days, Theresa May’s Conservative government will bring in a range of widespread benefit cuts – cuts that target disabled people, young people, and parents on low wages.
The official line may be that austerity is over, but the onslaught orchestrated by George Osborne almost two years ago has been simply waiting in the wings. Go through the list of cuts coming into force this week and it’s a blueprint for the callous: from taking £30 a week from people too severely disabled to work, and housing benefit from young people at risk of homelessness, to withholding child tax credits from the poorest parents, and cuts for bereaved families.
In December, 51-year-old Alan – a dad of two – was told that his cancer of the tonsil had spread to his lung and chest, and that he had between one and five months to live. As Alan desperately tried to plan how his wife, Kate, and their 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son would get by after his death, he realised that the new bereavement policy – a cut to the widowed parent’s allowance – meant his family could lose £50,000 in support over the next decade. He’s now faced with the situation of knowing that if he survives beyond this Wednesday 5 April, it – in his words – “changes my family’s wellbeing to the tune of tens of thousands”.
This is simply barbaric, but that’s the level this country has now stooped to. Independent analysis shows this week’s tax and benefit changes will actually mark a transfer of support from the poor to the wealthy: while the richest will reap 80% of the rewards, the poorest will become poorer. Over half a million disabled people will be on average £1,400 worse off a year because of the new £30 weekly cut: people who are already so poor they’re currently struggling to afford food.
Guardian analysis found that the cuts to tax credits coming into force this Thursday will push 250,000 children into poverty. The numbers are so vast they seem unreal: a quarter of a million kids deserted, just like that.
As it gets set to make children poorer, the government is about to pay £500m to bring in a “blue Brexit” passport. The multi-million-pound contract is said to be for the “design, production and personalisation of the UK passport” after 2019. “It’s a matter of identity,” as one Tory MP put it. “Having the pink European passports has been a source of humiliation.”
Apparently national humiliation comes from the wrong colour passport, rather than failing to keep children from going hungry. And the prime minister can make light-hearted remarks about whether Britain’s going to war with Spain over Gibraltar, while disabled people, bereaved parents and children have the money they need for a home, food, and clothes taken from them.