Diary of a Domestic Extremist: The Final Cut?

The Con-Dem cuts, the latest attempt to dismantle the welfare state, will see massive, catastrophic changes to the social make up of the country. In his latest column, Mikhail Goldman says the fightback already under way can stop the unfolding disaster, but only through unity, courage and an awareness of past mistakes.

Diary of a Domestic Extremist, New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 11:42 - 0 Comments

By Mikhail Goldman

The UK is fast approaching a social crisis that has been in the making for some time. The imminent Con-Dem cuts, which amount to the latest Tory attempt to dismantle the welfare state, will see massive changes to the social make up of the country. And people are starting to get angry.

It’s easy to focus on the “nasty party”, Cameron’s Conservatives, but all of the main parties are implicated. It was a Labour government that spent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on bailing out corrupt capitalist enterprises, essentially creating a perfect environment for the Tories to do their dirty work. And lets not forget the opportunistic Lib Dems who saw their ticket to power in riding on Cameron’s tailcoats, and have done nothing to prevent the forthcoming hatchet job. The party political system is showing itself up as the parade of false choices it has always been. Whoever you vote for, you get a capitalist economy with its inherent crises and instability. Whoever you vote for, the poor and vulnerable will have to pay for their mistakes.

Today will see the Government unveil the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review, which will detail what is to be cut and how. Some local councils are already announcing their cuts and some indication of what to expect can be taken from them. Nottinghamshire County Council (run by the Tories under the appropriately named Kay Cutts) has announced plans to cut adult social care by £72m over the next four years. Services to be slashed include residential care for the elderly and vulnerable, sheltered housing, women’s refuges, personal budgets for people who choose to stay in their homes rather than go into care and the welfare rights service. Whilst the Daily Mail fumes about rich people getting less money to have children, the real victims of the cuts are going to be those left uncared for and abused with nowhere left to go.

I have already written about the cuts to legal aid and how that will further limit poor people’s access to adequate legal representation. Another aspect of the cuts that will hit those worst off is the shake up of the benefits system. The amount of money paid out to claimants is set to be cut drastically, further putting the squeeze on the unemployed. After local government, the Department for Work and Pensions is taking the biggest cut as a percentage of its total budget.

There’s more, housing benefit is to be changed drastically, forcing claimants into the cheapest housing, which charities have said will increase homelessness and increase ghettoisation. For those on benefits, even small changes to their weekly allowance can make the difference between coping and not. The Citizens Advice Bureau say that “People on housing benefit will find themselves between a rock and a hard place – unable to afford their rent, but unable to move because they can’t find another landlord prepared to let to them, so much more likely to become homeless.”

Those with long term health conditions who receive the Disability Living Allowance were told by the Chancellor that they would have to be reassessed and that many would no longer qualify for the benefit. Similar changes are being made to those in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance, the benefits for those temporarily out of work through ill health.

The assumption behind these, as well as many other cuts to benefits, is that those who receive them are “scroungers” who don’t work because they are lazy and are really just faking it. People with genuine health issues, particularly mental health issues, are faced by a system that disbelieves their claims and constantly demands why they don’t just pull themselves together and get back to work. Meanwhile companies like Atos Origin, which is contracted to carry out medical assessments of all claimants and also to find Pathways to Work for them, are making a tidy profit.

Atos aren’t the only company profiting from the benefits system. A whole industry has formed around the government drive to force people back to work. A4e are one of the big players and are estimated to have made over £6m profit from the contracting services to the DWP in the last financial year. As the people without jobs far outnumber the jobs available there are increasing attempts to make people work for their benefits, as is the case in the much hated American workfare system.

This is a way for employers to get work for less than the minimum wage, making paid work more precarious, and is a move that appeals to the bosses, the Tories’ natural constituency. Are the jobless going to become ‘volunteers’ for Cameron’s Big Society – forced by the threat of having their livelihood withheld if they refuse?

The net effect of these proposed cuts will inevitably be a deepening of the already stark inequalities between rich and poor. The Conservatives, like Marie Antoinette before them, are content to say “Let them eat cake”, or in this case “Let them go to charities funded by private donations”. They know full well that relying on the charity of rich philanthropists is neither realistic or sustainable for the vast majority of those in need. The Tories would sooner see poor people die than redistribute wealth and power.

Unsurprisingly, given the class war that is being waged by the Government against the poor, there are a lot of angry people out there. Campaigns against the cuts are springing up all over the country, from Exeter to Leeds University and even including the unlikely Surrey United Anti-Capitalists. The groups largely consist of a motley selection of socialists, communists, anarchists, trade unionists and even Labour party members – exactly the kind of people you’d expect to see trying to organise and direct dissent.

Apart from the obvious problems (the opportunism and hypocrisy of the Labour party’s involvement springs to mind) the current anti-cuts movement seems doomed to failure of a very old left variety. The unrepresentative and controlling nature of many of its steering groups mean that none but those old enough to remember the days when they were relevant will get involved. The official trade union movement in this country has been dead since the last Tory government neutered it, although the left sects continue to fight for control over its remains. That’s not to say that local groups won’t have an important role in resisting the cuts, but that they will only become effective once the politicos’ influence has waned.

More encouraging is the anger emerging from people with no apparent connection to the political scene. The comments section of my, usually firmly reactionary, local paper is now full of anti-cuts commentary. In Nottingham, after the announcement of the cuts, an anonymous group caused considerable damage to County Hall and left the message “Fuck Austerity! Fight the Cuts!” painted on the walls.

Sure, comments on a newspaper website and an isolated action against an unpopular council don’t make a movement for social change, but they are encouraging signs that popular unrest is imminent. That anger will surely grow as the impact of the cuts becomes apparent and people’s lives are affected.

At the moment the movement against cuts still exists in the margins of the public consciousness but this is certain to change as cuts afflict more and more people. It seems to me that the best thing those who are concerned about the cuts can be doing is making sure that there are local groups in their area to act as a beacon for those who are disenfranchised and want to take action.

It is necessary to make sure these groups are outward looking and open to new people and new ideas, rather than controlled by professional revolutionaries whose rhetoric would have looked dated in the 1920s. If we can come together in solidarity with one another and avoid being bought off by the promise of yet another ‘new’ version of capitalism, we might go very far indeed.

Mikhail Goldman, (a.k.a. The Domestic Extremist) currently focusses his trouble-making and incitement in the Midlands area. His favourite activities are bringing down the system and enjoying a good cup of tea.

His column appears every Wednesday.

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