Further cuts would badly affect middle-income families

By Savi Hensman
May 4, 2015

Cuts in the UK have harmed many of the most disadvantaged, including people who are disabled or low-paid. If a Conservative-led government takes power, further reductions and privatisation are likely to have a harsh impact on middle-income households too.

Many who are not poor themselves have already been affected, sometimes indirectly. These include relatives and friends helping frail older people who have been refused social care, or supporting those left destitute by benefit sanctions or the bedroom tax.

Reductions in spending on libraries, the arts and culture in general have affected quality of life for individuals and communities. The harsh treatment of unemployed people may deter some employees from protesting if their wages fall in real terms, while lack of social housing makes it easier for private landlords to charge high rents.

In addition public spending cuts, amidst tax reductions and loopholes for the rich and large corporations, have damaged the economy. Money which would have gone back into the local economy, providing jobs, now sits in overseas bank accounts or has been spent in ways that do little to boost employment and economic wellbeing.

Increasing numbers of households would be harmed if already overstretched budgets were further slashed, as will happen if the Conservatives stay in charge. Though, disappointingly, the Labour leadership has largely bought into austerity, the scale is less extreme.

Treasury secretary Danny Alexander of the Liberal Democrats – the junior party in the Coalition government – recently revealed proposals for £8 billion of social security cuts in 2012, which he helped to block.

These would have removed higher rate Child Benefit from the first child (an average cut of over £360 for every family with children); cut £1,750 for a two-child middle-income family through means-testing; removed Child Benefit from 16-19 year olds (costing parents of a single child over £1,000); and limited support to two children in Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit, removing up to £3,500 from a family with three children.

The Conservatives are now set to cut one-and-a-half times that amount from the ‘welfare’ budget but have refused to say how. But there is little doubt that there would be sizeable cuts for numerous families on middle incomes.

Many patients have already been affected by health cuts, including reduced eligibility for NHS equipment and services. This would almost certainly worsen considerably, especially if whole service areas were contracted to private bidders, as is happening in Staffordshire. A self-care DVD may be of little use if you are too weak to get out of bed or need the advice of a skilled health professional.

Cuts to the criminal justice system have already hit public safety, as policing levels are reduced and experienced probation officers dispensed with. This may get much worse and, unlike the rich, people on low and middle incomes cannot generally afford to hire private security firms to plug the gap.

In addition, some people’s access to justice has already been affected by legal aid cuts, and removal of the state’s duty to repay reasonable defence costs for people on middle incomes acquitted after being tried for crimes they did not commit (though small amounts may be refunded). Protection against abuses of power by the state or private individuals and businesses may be further removed.

This might seem irrelevant to many voters – until they themselves, or their loved ones, urgently needed assistance that was no longer there. They might have worked hard and contributed much to society but this would not count.

People are interconnected at the deepest level. When the badly-off and marginalised are harmed, society as a whole is damaged, even if this may take time to become clear.

More immediately, it is apparent that people on middle incomes would not be spared. Lunch-clubs and youth projects have already largely been shut, disabled people’s benefits reduced, child protection services left so understaffed that abused children are often unprotected. Further cuts would increase the suffering of the most vulnerable but also hurt others who have not, so far, been as badly affected.

“No man is an Island, entire of itself... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee,” wrote priest and poet John Donne in the seventeenth century.

While the language may seem old-fashioned, this remains deeply relevant today.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.