Hard choices - welfare cuts and defence spending

By Virginia Moffatt
November 24, 2015

Yesterday, the government published its National Security and Strategic Defence Review (SSDR). Tomorrow, George Osborne will announce his Autumn Statement which will detail priorities for spending in the forthcoming year. Both  are important documents that will critically define the direction of travel for the year ahead.

So it was with a sinking heart that I read that defence minister Michael Fallon  said this on Radio 5 live:

“We’re spending more on defence and we’ve chosen to do that as a government – to spend less on some things like the welfare system and to spend more on things that really matter to keep our country safe”.

For the last five years, the government has told us we have to make hard choices, emphasising again and again that there is no money, no alternative to austerity. They have claimed repeatedly that we can't live in a something for nothing culture whilst imposing cuts that have hit the poorest hardest.  And yet, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it seems as if we have plenty of money all of a sudden. 

There's the small matter of £10 million mysteriously available so David Cameron can have his own airplane. And the £2 billion that's somehow been freed up to increase the special forces budget.  Whilst according to the SSDR £12 billion will be spent on new equipment. Which is where Michael Fallon's comment comes in. As the eagle eyed of you will have noticed, £12 billion is exactly the amount George Osborne is committed to cutting in welfare.

Now back in the summer, we were being told that these £12 billion cuts were needed for Britain's economic security.   At time Osborne was lauded in the media for coming up with a clever budget that would put us right economically. Something that quickly unravelled when a former Conservative voter decried the impact of tax credit cuts on Question Time. The Conservatives were forced into defensive mode, but the mantra continued to be that this was the right thing to do for the economy.

Except it clearly isn't anything to do with the economy. Because if it was, the £12 billion savings would be ploughed back into the Treasury to aid growth. Instead of which it is now going to be spent buying costly equipment by a department that has a  track record  of wasting money on unnecessary purchases.

As many of us have been saying since 2010,  austerity is a con. It has been brought in by an ideologically driven government that wants to shrink the state, no matter what the costs are to the poorest, or indeed now to all of us. That has been bad enough, but now David Cameron is going one step further. Austerity is no longer about economic security, but necessary to defend the country.

In effect what that means is that the Prime Minister is now openly saying that he is prepared to spend money on weapons that will kill citizens of other countries, rather than reduce the harm that austerity is causing UK citizens every day.

One of the depressing aftermaths of 9/11 and the Paris attacks is how easily politicians and the media whip up feelings that military action is the only response, rather than offering more creative ways of dealing with terrorism.  Equally depressing is the sight of left wing commentators telling Jeremy Corbyn to stop arguing about bombing Syria and shoot to kill policies, so he can focus on fighting austerity.

Michael Fallon's comments have just demonstrated why the two things go hand in hand. Austerity is either necessary for economic growth or it isn't. Asking people to support cuts to tax credits and disability benefits to ensure the economy grows is bad enough. Suggesting that they are needed to fund a pointless war that is likely in the long run to make us all less safe, whilst letting people suffer and allowing the deficit to grow is as unethical as it is illogical.

Which is why politicians on all sides of the house should take a deep breath, step back from all the emotion and recognise that they need to oppose both.

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© Virginia Moffatt is Chief Operating Officer of Ekklesia

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