The welfare state in Britain faces the most drastic reform in its history and the aftermath of that action will be less advantageous conditions for those who depend on it. The British society has traditionally been proud of a system that combines the postwar period liberality of its market with a strong network of social benefits.
The first package of measures approved by the government of David Cameron in order to offset the deficit, entered into force on Monday, with a reduction of aid to social housing, so more modest families will have less cash to pay the hefty municipal taxes, for example. The move also means there will be less money to pay for court litigation, with a remodeling of health management where strict expenditure controls will prevail.
Beyond the demands of a precarious economic situation, the cuts promoted by Cameron pose a philosophical reality that sees support for the weaker sections as a drag on the recovery.
The reform of the welfare state is a “fair” decision to boost employment, reduce dependence on the state of those who “should return to the labor market” and “help those who really need it”, argued George Osborne, Minister of Economy, in an article published today. Along with him Iain Duncan also believes that the cuts are a good call.
The article by two of the heavyweights of the Cabinet appeared as a response to the wave of protests in recent weeks that have taken to the streets of many cities in the UK, and that last weekend was endorsed by four Protestant denominations, including influential Reformed Church of Scotland, that criticized it as “manipulation of [conservatives] to perpetuate the myths of poverty and justify cuts in the public services”.
Not only the poor but also the middle classes suffer due to the reduction in their purchasing power which will increase because of the loss of social benefits, denounced the Labour opposition, in its effort to characterize the coalition government comprising Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as representative of the interests of the wealthy.
The budgets presented in mid-March contemplate a reduction in taxes on this sector, with a further reduction of taxes on higher incomes who pay a rate of up to 50%.
While Duncan Smith claims that the government will not reverse the current welfare system that dates from the last half century, but that it will only “manage” its unsustainable growth, many British families prepare for the black scenario: The one that in the most extreme cases, just brings them aid of about 53 pounds (62 euros) a week.
Among the set of measures that have come into force this April, the one that has caused a special reaction is the “bedroom tax”, which will tax the residents of social housing if one of its rooms is empty. Such is the scrutiny to which social assistance recipients are subject to today by the British state.
People of working age living under official assistance will have their subsidies cut if they have a room empty which under the new proposals means that it is exceeding the needs of a family room, without taking into account other uses that may be allocated thereto.
The Government suggests to those affected by this measure, nearly 700,000 citizens, to move to another house with just the right number of rooms. The Labour opposition has said that there is a need for more alternative homes.
“That cruel tax will destroy neighborhoods and people in the hands of loan sharks,” claims spokesman of the opposition Labour, Liam Byrne, who is believes that it is essential for a family to be rooted in a community to avoid social dislocation.
Then comes the so-called unbearable municipal burden. The administration is preparing to reduce support for the 5.9 million families with scarce state resources to cover the municipal tax on housing, one of the heaviest burdens faced by the ordinary citizen. This will increase the monthly costs of those struggling to make ends meet, usually residents of some neighborhoods where the tax rate is higher than in other wealthy parts due to the volume of social benefits that are provided in these areas.
The support system managed so far by the Department for Work and Pensions is transferred to local governments, whose funding has been reduced by 10%.
This general decline in social benefits occurs for the first time in the history of the British welfare state, with benefits and credits at the state level that will no longer couple with the increasing cost of living. Starting next Saturday, a measure takes effect during the next three years that reduced to 1% the annual increase in subsidies, well below inflation. These are restricted to a maximum of 500 pounds a week (590 euros) the amount a family can receive from the State of Britain, regardless of their circumstances.
Although both pensioners and the disabled are exempt from that barrier of 1%, they are the first to mobilize against a new tax (the so-called granny tax) on the check you receive every month.
People with disabilities will be also affected by the Government’s decision to redefine their status: when talking about economic support the issue will no longer be about whether people are handicapped, but about how this affects their life and livelihood. A million people could lose their entitlement to the benefit and how it is interpreted as there is a new semantic difference.
When it comes to health, the state gives, starting Monday, the management of health budgets to the respective local medical committees, made up of doctors, nurses and other professionals, for a reform of the public system that critics branded as semi-privatization, but that in reality add up to the feared death panels. Decisions regarding medical care will no longer be made by patients and doctors, but by ‘special panels’ of people who are handpicked to approve or deny care.
These committees will be to decide how to control spending. The measure is particularly shocking when an investigation commissioned by the Cameron government determined that the scandals that have plagued several British public hospitals in recent years, where mortality rates are well above revealed the predicted mean, responded to a policy that prevailed economic performance against patient care.