Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s so late there’s no-one awake on Twitter; but I don’t want to go to bed yet, because I’ve just watched Labour’s latest party election broadcast, and I don’t want nightmares.

The film has attracted some criticism, even from within Labour, for being negative and ‘over the top’; frankly, I think it’s spot on. I like the way the Tory cut-merchants look quite a lot like Tory canvassers: voters on low to modest incomes should be aware that when the chap in the blue tie asks if David Nuttall, or Susan Williams, or Iain Lindley, can count on your vote, he is asking you to  make your own life less liveable.

Some people still do remember life under the Tories. When the voter in the last scene of the film – the man in the car – says with rising panic “I don’t have weeks, or months,” it takes me back to the slow horror of the 1990s NHS waiting lists. I’ve only ever been a child under a Conservative government, but I can still remember the months of uncertainty and worry as members of my family waited for diagnosis and treatment.

And I remember life before Tax Credits. During the early 90s – I believe this was while my mother was on maternity leave with my sister, but I’m sure she’ll correct me if I’ve got it wrong – my family became briefly stuck in a loophole in the benefits system where we were entitled to nothing. No maternity pay. No income support. No Family Credit. And the financial cushion of Tax Credits was yet to exist. We relied on family and friends to help us out. At one point, our church offered us a food parcel. If this is David Cameron’s vision of the Big Society – parents forced to choose between humiliation and privation – it looks like a familiar nightmare to me.

But not everyone does remember, and we can’t expect them to. If your family was comfortably-off in the 90s and you’ve brought up your own children under Labour, you might think that provisions such as Tax Credits are an immutable fact of life. The outrage of the mother in the first scene of the PEB – “That’s not fair!” – highlights just how difficult it is for some people to believe that the Tories could take this essential support away from them – and just how much of a blow it will be when they do. Because they will.

And they might do more. What’s keeping me awake tonight even more than the PEB is this post over at Though Cowards Flinch. I’d urge you to read it all, but the gist is this:

The Tories plan, if elected, to introduce a Powers of General Competence Act which would shrink parliamentary control over local authorities.

Speaking to the Local Government Association last year, David Cameron called on local authorities to use these powers to “do more for less” by following the example of businesses. Tory-run Barnet council duly responded by following the example of EasyJet – slashing everything they didn’t see as essential, and making everything else a fee-incurring extra.

Except they didn’t quite manage to do that. When they tried to cut live-in wardens from their sheltered accommodation, current legislation meant that the High Court was able to stop them. Barnet Tories called on Cameron to free local authorities from ‘restrictions’ like the Disability Discrimination Act.

It gets worse. Another Tory council – Essex – have submitted a proposal to the Minister for Local Government that they be allowed to set local benefit rates:

The last few months of difficult economic circumstances have highlighted a number of major problems within the existing structure of the labour market in the UK. This proposal seeks to tackle one of these, specifically the problem of market distortion caused by working age benefits…We therefore propose that the duty to set the eligibility criteria and amounts payable for all working age benefits for all claimants in Essex be devolved from central government to ECC…This would put us in a powerful position to tailor the most important work-related benefits to local market conditions and ECC skills and training programmes.

As Paul says:

“It’s pretty clear what these weasel words mean. Being “in a powerful position to tailor the most important work-related benefits to local market conditions” is policy speak for reducing benefits to such an extent that people will take any job, anywhere, in any conditions…These people are ruthless anti-working class bastards who know exactly what they’re about, and are desperate to get on with out-Purnelling Purnell.  The guy must seem like Nye Bevan to them…The final decision on this proposal for local authority control over central government spending lies with the Minister. That’s why it’s important that there isn’t a Tory government, and the prospect of a Tory local government minister, on May 7th.”

Imagine a Britain in which Income Support is subject to a postcode lottery. We’d be fine in Manchester. The people I work with in Salford would probably survive. But if David Cameron wins next Thursday, I warn you not to live in Essex, I warn you not to live in Barnet, I warn you not to live in Bury, I warn you not to live in Walsall.

It’s true that there probably is a more positive way to say all of this – that instead of frightening people with the vision of Tory waiting lists, we should make more of, for instance, Tracey Cheetham’s moving personal account of the first-rate treatment she received from Labour’s wonderful NHS.

But my own positive story of life under Labour is simply that after the 1st of May 1997, life for my family got easier. Visibly, noticeably, palpably, edibly – pick an adverb, it got better. It was still very often a struggle – don’t get me wrong, there are still things about welfare benefits that grind my gears, and one or two things that make me furious – but for the past thirteen years, I have felt not only the safety that comes with falling crime rates, but the comfort of knowing that my family is better off in work, and that no matter what life throws at me I will never have to face absolute poverty.

It’s a feeling of security, and I’ve got used to it. And the fear of losing this security – the fear that my mother could lose her Tax Credits, and so have to give up work, and then claim benefits at the mercy of her Conservative local authority – is why the thought of waking up to a Tory government on May the 7th gives me nightmares.

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3 thoughts on “Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  1. Why is it always the men answering the door? That’s what I want to know…

    Overall though, very good post. I’m terrified of the fact that come the 7th of May, my family are potentially going to be much worse off. We’re on a VERY modest income, with three children to support, and should the tories get in, much of the income we rely on just to put food on the table is likely to be cut. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen :/

  2. Grace

    I think this is a really good summary of what is quite complex in terms of the legalities, but horrendous in terms of the implications.

    Well done.

  3. im sorry but what you are talking about maintaining is active government subsidy of the middle classes that was never the aim of the benefit system. closing the welfare gap and insuring that it makes more sense to work than to claim JSA keeps people out of poverty long term were as subsidizing the average household doesn’t.

    if you want to talk about food parcels look at training police men who whilst actively trying to become upstanding members of society are not paid a cent.

    were in the last 13 years has labour been to protect those who are trying to protect us.

    this idea of falling crime rates has been shown over and over again to be nothing to do with labour or its policies and instead to do with an economic inflation and expansion.

    the poor are still poor and the rich are still rich after thirteen years the only thing that has changed is its become 5 times harder to go from poor to rich.

    the only effective way of dealing with those who need a little extra help is to up the minimum wage by 4.35 times inflation but even labour new we couldn’t afford that and when we could they didn’t even try.

    you can keep your tax credits, and your child trust funds? but at what cost? will you want to keep them if inflations at 15%? or if we fast track by 10 years and we are still carrying half the deficit we are now inflation according to the university of Lincoln could be at 35%.

    as an economist (im not a Tory) i have to point out that every nice feeling we got from labour was due to a massive economic boom (created under a tory government and ended by labour malpractice) your streets got safer because there was more money, your hospitals got better because there was more money, your schools should have got better with twice the investment they had in the 90’s but didn’t because money cant fix everything.

    your taxes went up and up and up and then labour got rid of the lowest tax bracket which actively shifted nearly 100000 into poverty because the only way to take out credit is to show you can pay it back.

    you want a country fit for heroes then this country has to stop living on its credit card and start living on what it can afford public finances are just like house hold finances spend what you have and try to save a little bit but don’t spend 20% more a year than you have because when you can least afford it the bank will come knocking on your door.

    odd analogy i know (and a little close to Mrs T’s house wife thing) but its true labour actively over spent by 65billion a year in simpler terms that is the entire defence budget plus the transport budget or in other words the entire central government welfare budget plus the police, the courts and the prisons.

    labour has no plan the Tories have a plan it will hurt but will work, its ergonomically sound people need to except that that sort of boom should have done us the world of good but it hasn’t and now we have to pay the consequence’s of electing a fiscally incompetent labour government.

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