More opposition to tax credit cuts - but slowing them down does little

Wed, 11/11/2015 - 12:54 -- nick

There has been a huge amount of opposition to Chancellor George Osborne's proposed tax credit cuts.

This has come from charities, campaigners, opposition parties including Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Plaid Cymru, and even from the government's own back benches.

Today's report from the Work and Pensions Committee - the Tory-controlled parliamentary group that scrutinises the work of Iain Duncan Smith - adds to this, calling the DWP "unacceptably evasive" over how welfare changes will affect those targeted.

Having spent so much effort developing the whole 'skivers v strivers' story (itself based on the nonsensical idea that unemployed people are somehow a separate species rather than normal people who have lost their jobs) many Conservatives are unhappy at abandoning it and attacking workers' benefits through tax credit cuts.

Osborne's favoured way to get around this opposition will be revealed in the Autumn statement, but is likely to be based on slowing down the pace of cuts and raiding the Universal Credit budget to make up the difference.

The committee believes this to be wrong-headed, stating:

“The chancellor should also resist the temptation to raid Universal Credit. This would either shift the burden to different low-income families or undermine the objective of making work pay. The government’s flagship welfare reform will struggle to survive further dilution and still achieve its aims”.

Wherever the money comes from it seems that Osborne is hell-bent on cutting benefits in whatever way he can get away with, and any moral arguments developed to cover previous cuts can be abandoned at a moment's notice, something voters should remember next time they hear Tory moralising on surveillance, Trident or any other issue.

The most obvious question, though, is one that no-one is asking. If the Chancellor's climbdown amounts to slowing the cuts down and introducing them over three years, how will anyone really be helped?

Delaying the point at which you impoverish your citizens makes little difference when they are going to get poorer soon anyway. The increase in the minimum wage and tax threshold goes nowhere near covering the loss of tax credits, and most workers can't simply magic up a better-paid job or more hours at their own whim.

When George Osborne stands up to deliver his Autumn statement and his backbench colleagues cheer when he claims to have 'listened' to critics and slowed the pace of tax credit cuts, have a large pinch of salt standing by.