Summing up: Poor Law mentality hurts vulnerable

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Picture: PA
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Picture: PA
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IT WAS unsurprising to witness overtones of Henry VIII in George Osborne’s Budget. The notion that “idleness is the mother and root of all evils” is the phoney moral authority which enables this government to punish people they just don’t like.

So the Budget gives us a higher minimum wage, but how can it be a “National Living Wage” when you are on a zero hours contract or have no job security?

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculates this policy will generate an additional £4 billion, which is dwarfed by £12bn in welfare cuts. Meanwhile, corpo­ration and inheritance tax is cut to help the deserving rich.

Housing benefit for most 18 to 21-year-olds is abolished. So many young Scots who can’t stay at home (for understandable reasons) won’t even be able to rent a room – which is all they got before. They are condemned to be homeless or sofa-surf. This is perhaps the most shortsighted aspect of the Budget.

Why don’t we properly invest in our next generation? There have been umpteen studies which confirm how difficult it is to get work or further education when you have no roof over your head. Home­lessness costs NHS Scotland millions in associated health costs too, and yet so much of this is avoidable.

The further freeze on uprating housing benefits, tax credits and working-age benefits with inflation will take an average of £5 each week from the pockets of hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland.

Limiting the backdating of housing benefit from six months to four weeks will hit those with mental and physical illnesses hardest; these are tenants who have been unable to claim in time for perfectly legitimate reasons. In real life this means a greater chance of eviction in Scotland: again, an incredibly short-sighted approach as what do we do with people who are unwell? It will cost the taxpayer much more if they end up hospitalised.

Life for those who are already finding it tough is going to get tougher with the removal of the family premium from housing benefit. This will cost low income households £11.34 extra a week in rent.

Homeowners in financial distress get to go back to the future with the reintroduction of the 39-week waiting period before any help with mortgages costs is payable upon unemp­loyment – and for added effect, any help will be a repayable loan.

The squeeze on working tax credit quite simply takes money from low-paid working households who are already living from pay day to pay day; while the restriction from April 2017 on child tax credits for third or subsequent children is an unashamed piece of social engineering.

This is a Budget that will make life much harder for those at the margins in Foodbank Britain. There is no big vision about stimulating the economy and creating opportunities and a better future for the many. Osborne’s austerity agenda continues to suppress economic growth.

While we have yet to witness the transformation of our welfare state into a modern-day Poor Law, we are in that direction of travel. The re-introduction of the workhouse has yet to be mooted, but there is always next year’s Budget.

Mike Dailly is a solicitor advocate at Govan Law Centre, and writes in a personal capacity