Budget 2016 - violence in a smart suit

By Bernadette Meaden
March 16, 2016

Gandhi said 'Poverty is the worst form of violence.' That being so, the Budget was a violent attack on people already battered and bruised. The Chancellor may have done it in a smart suit, but he inflicted violence on the least fortunate people in our society, just as surely as if he'd gone out and physically attacked them.

In fact he did worse. A physical attack is shocking and painful, but it may be recovered from. The violence of the poverty to which this government is consigning many people will put some into a state of despair from which they may never recover, for some will be fatal, and will blight the lives of their children.

By sticking to his plan to shrink the size of the state, to continue cutting public services and welfare spending, the Chancellor is ensuring a bleak future for many children. His budget, he maintained, was "a budget that puts the next generation first" but what the next generation inherits will be the shadow of a welfare state that once enabled people from disadvantaged backgrounds to thrive.

We know that despite, or because of, the so-called 'jobs miracle', workers on low incomes find it increasingly difficult to escape the poverty they earn. It is all but impossible for people with disabilities or deteriorating health, who see no prospect of ever working their way out of poverty, as they are now urged to do. They are the people for whom the welfare state was established, but now find themselves at the mercy of a merciless government, steadily and ruthlessly eroding the very ground upon which they attempt to stand. Their children, the next generation Mr. Osborne kept referring to, seem to have even less chance of escaping poverty.

Apart from all the hardships suffered by people in poverty, we are now seeing the loss of basic human dignity. A Salvation Army foodbank in Darlington has reported  that women are using old socks, handkerchiefs and even newspapers when they menstruate, as they cannot afford sanitary products. As a result, they are getting infections and need to be hospitalised. The foodbank manager said he was “shocked that this situation exists in 21st-century Britain. No woman should be in this situation. No woman should have to beg for a tampon.” This, in what the Chancellor boasts is "One of the strongest economies in the world."

Of course, there will be many who are pleased with measures in the Budget. Cuts in Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax, and an income tax cut for the top earners will be welcome to those who benefit. The Lifetime ISA which will give £1,000 a year to those who are able to save £4,000 a year will do nicely. We do have money to splash about, it seems, but mainly for those who already have money. From those who have very little, we can only take.

George Osborne said his economic policy is "doing the right thing for the next generation", but whilst failing to reduce public debt he has ensured that many of our children face a future of growing personal debt, not to live a comfortable lifestyle but just to make ends meet.

Of course, none of this will be the case for Mr Osborne's children, or the children of any of his colleagues. Their children will have an extremely privileged start in life. So they may believe that their children will not be affected. But they will be wrong.

In his 1991 crime novel 'Strange Loyalties', William McIlvanney wrote a scene in which a BBC reporter, making a documentary on a deprived Glasgow housing estate states, "If we disadvantage the present of one section of society, we disadvantage the future of all society. The children of the well-off will not just inherit the wealth of their parents. They will also inherit the poverty of the parents of others. Even self-interest, if it is wise, will concern itself with the welfare of all. Not just the poor will inherit the bad places. All of us will."  

* You can access all Ekklesia's commentary and analysis on the 2016 Budget here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/budget2016

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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.