The announcement of an across-the-board 1 percent cap on benefit rises is the latest salvo in a capitalist offensive against the working class.
By pretending to champion the ‘workers against the shirkers’ (ie, the employed versus the jobless), the government hopes to divide and undermine the working class. Labour’s feeble response, pointing out that the benefit cut will hit low-pay working households dependent on tax credits too, merely ropes off another section of the working class (‘strivers’, a 21st-century version of the ‘deserving poor’), further reinforcing the debilitating notion that some capitalist cuts are ‘fairer’ than others.
Meanwhile, the salami slicer grinds on relentlessly in every borough, regardless of which party is turning the handle.
Birmingham city council intends to cut £600m from the £1.2bn budgets under its control. More than a thousand council workers have already been made redundant, with another 1,000 to follow this year, and council leaders predict that by 2017, 7,000 jobs will have gone.
The leader of the Labour group on the council refused demands that the council should defy central government and pass a ‘deficit budget’, instead announcing “the end of local government as we know it”, entailing some services being completely wound up and others pared to the bone – eg, fortnightly or monthly rubbish collections.
In their account of this meeting, Birmingham Against Cuts reported that “One young person from Handsworth who was there with the Save Birmingham Youth Service campaign talked passionately about how his youth worker had helped him, and without the youth service (which faces further cuts this year) he would probably be following a life of crime. He said he could see another riot and asked ‘Do you really think you can handle what will happen if you cut youth services?’”
Or, as the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Yves Daccord, puts it in a wider context: “If the economic pressure on people goes on, yes it will have a social impact on people. And if young people especially don’t see any future, any options, you might be confronted also with unrest – like in 2011 – and there is no reason that this unrest will not repeat itself one day.” Daccord went on to draw a parallel with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Even if the council in Birmingham relents over youth service funding under this kind of pressure, this will only mean £1m being taken out of another budget, raising the economic and social pressure somewhere else. Something has to give.