Gorgeous Gideon has just delivered his 8th budget.
Normally, at this stage of our five-year-long ‘democratic’ cycle, chancellors feel at ease to hand out some pain knowing they have four years for the myopic electorate to forget. This time though, Osborne knew he had to curry a little favour with the referendum on our EU membership looming (George is firmly in the ‘IN’ camp). There’s also the small matter of his desire to beat schoolmate Boris Johnson in the race to replace his other schoolmate David Cameron in Number 10. In the battle to be head boy of Britain, we’re all just collateral damage.
As usual, there was a mix of dull data, hyperbole and puff. The tradition is to leak the bad news early but to save the popular decisions for the day and this time around was no different. Osborne announced tax breaks for small businesses, a Jamie Oliver inspired tax on sugary drinks and a scheme to reduce the amount of money Emily needs to borrow from her parents when she buys her first flat. Severe cuts to the benefits people with disabilities get were announced last week.
Labour will do what they can to present this as a budget with ‘unfairness at its very core’ but this Tory chancellor has form for brushing off criticism from people who he doesn’t think of as his natural base. A report earlier this week by the Resolution Foundation think tank found that 85% of the tax cuts he planned to unveil would benefit the richest half of our nation. This is nothing new though. Osborne has been excellent at feathering the right nests in his time at Number 11. A report by Oxfam last week claimed that more than a quarter of all wealth created in the UK in the last 15 years had ended up lining the pockets of the nation’s richest 1% of people.
If we are hoping for Britain to take steps towards fairness, we will need to look beyond the Eton mafia for solutions.
Earlier this week, Tory minister Owen Paterson was busy denying claims that he wanted to tackle Eastern European immigration by recruiting pensioners as cheap labour for fruit picking. It was claimed that Paterson, the then Environment minister, had floated the idea of getting the elderly to work below the minimum wage so that farmers were not hit with high wage bills.
Former Lib Dem minister David Laws claimed in his new book that the suggestion had stunned even some of the right-wing Tories.
‘Cabinet colleagues, even the more right-wing Tories, listened in stunned silence’, Laws claimed.
Paterson was quick to refute Laws’ revelations, but for a party that seems to feel little connection to the ordinary folk of Britain, the whole thing has a ring of authenticity.
Housing Bill seeks to kill off Council flats
Every weekend there seems to a prominent protest in London and last weekend was no different.
Sunday saw thousands of people march through the capital in protest against the proposed Housing Bill. The Bill is packed full of controversial proposals but the overall impact will be to sound the death knell for council housing in the UK.
The underlying drive will be to change the perception of social housing and introduce means testing.
Secure tenancies will end for new tenants, instead, they will have to prove they are ‘poor enough’ to deserve social housing every few years. Any social tenant who dares to earn over a certain amount will face a trebling of their rents to match ‘market rates’, whatever that means. Right-to-Buy will be extended to housing associations and landlords will be obliged to confirm the immigration status of their tenants. (I’m sure this will be particularly fun for any prospective tenant who has an accent or whose skin isn’t white). Councils will also be obliged to sell off their most valuable homes leaving them with just the lowest quality properties on the skinyest of estates.
The combined effect of all of this will be to further destroy any sense of community and security for the nation’s council estates. The war that was started by Thatcher in the ’80s will finally be won and private landlords will be able to fill their pockets with impunity.
But the battle isn’t over yet. There is strong opposition to the Bill online (#killthehousingbill), on the streets with marches like this week’s and on the estates themselves where people are coming together to resist evictions.
I’ve been a council tenant for 25 years and this attack feels very personal. Maybe, just maybe, the Bill will have a galvanising effect and will bring enough people together to defend the right to rent and the notion that homes are for living in, not for profit.
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Maurice Mcleod is a social commentator with Jamaican/Swazi heritage. He is director of his own communications company, Marmoset Media, and writes regularly for The Guardian and The Spectator among other titles. He has commissioned for the Guardian, Media Diversified, Engage Magazine, Open Mind, Single Step and Voluntary Voice. Before setting up Marmoset, he had a 15-year career as a national newspaper journalist working for The Express, The Independent, The Voice, The Evening Standard and The Sunday Times among others. He is also a trustee for campaign group Race on the Agenda. Maurice often appears on Sky News as a talking head and writes about social issues, behaviour, racism, politics, diversity and housing. On Twitter he is @mowords
White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.
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