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“We're all in this together” has never seemed so cynically mendacious as it does today (30 November) – the day after the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and the day on which public service workers are taking part in the largest organised day of action for a generation.
George Osborne yesterday made it clear that his government stands with the 'one per cent'. All his austerity measures fall heavily on the most vulnerable while the wealthy are left almost untouched. The Resolution Foundation, an independent research and policy organisation, reports that the poorest will bear 16 per cent of the new cuts and the richest just three per cent.
There was no mention of tax evasion and avoidance – the former costing the economy around £25 billion a year and the latter £70 billion. We heard no condemnation of those who can afford this creative accountancy nor of the spiralling boardroom pay which even the Institute of Directors has called “unsustainable”.
The wealthiest 10 per cent will continue to get 25 per cent of all tax relief on pensions; there will be no 'mansion tax' on high value properties, despite the news this week that only nine of the residents of 1 Hyde Park, described as “the most expensive and exclusive apartment block in the world”, have registered to pay council tax.
Public service workers are striking today over a raid on their pensions. The extra three per cent being taken from what are already low to modest pay packets will go straight to the Treasury and not into pension pots. At a time when fuel and food costs are rising rapidly, their pay has been frozen and the government announces its intention to cut over 700,000 more public sector jobs in the name of paying down the deficit. In the light of such blatant hostility to the services which define the kind of society we want to be, it should not surprise anyone that David Cameron is said to be “delighted that the unions have fallen into the trap."
But the climate is changing. The Prime Minister will eventually have to realise attempts to portray public servants as greedy and irresponsible while leaving the bankers unscathed, is bound to backfire. His 'divide and rule' strategy is failing. But the damage it it is doing to poorer citizens, to social cohesion and to the very concept of trust in the democratic system is profoundly dangerous.
The only sign of hope is that with every day that passes, the failures of this callous administration are becoming more and more apparent. And judging by his almost hysterical performance at Prime Minister's Questions today, David Cameron knows it.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet