THE announcement yesterday that the work and pensions minister, Iain Duncan Smith, had won his battle with the treasury over bringing in a single ‘universal credit’ has rightly been described as the ‘bonfire of the benefits’.
Under his scheme, every single benefit available to the unemployed, elderly, low paid or incapacitated – about 50 benefits in all – will be scrapped overnight and replaced with a single universal credit.
Due for the chop are housing benefit, incapacity benefit, the tax credit system for low-paid workers and single mothers as well as the job seekers allowance.
According to Smith, bringing all these benefits together is now possible due to computer technology that would even enable benefits to be varied from month to month depending on changes to a claimant’s circumstances.
The row between Smith and the treasury has been over their reluctance to agree the initial start-up costs for the ‘credit’ scheme, which Smith reckons will save the government £9 billion a year.
The treasury have now agreed to give Smith a big chunk of this £9 billion on condition that it is returned to them along with the £9 billion saving.
Nobody in their right mind will believe the nonsense being put about by Smith that these huge amounts can be obtained through efficiencies being made by collapsing the 50-odd benefits into one single universal credit, that can be varied according to changed circumstances.
Efficiency savings have never been made on this vast a scale by any government.
In truth, these savings can only be achieved through savage cuts in benefits, by repeated means testing, and by a constant state policing of the former benefit holders, with punishment for those who do not report changed circumstances.
Speaking back in August, Smith claimed that the benefit system created ‘institutionalised idleness’.
When questioned about how it would be possible to get people back into employment under conditions where jobs are being destroyed not created, he replied that he would rather get ‘workless households’ into employment than increase the overall number of hours worked in the economy.
Basically he is saying that both the unemployed and those already in employment must be pushed into part-time working, with the unemployed being used to drive down wages and hours worked by those in full-time employment.
And what does the introduction of a single ‘universal credit’ really mean, how will people be placed on it?
So far, these questions have not been answered in any detail but obviously such a ‘bonfire’ will require everyone on any existing benefit to be taken off and having to apply for a ‘credit’.
The first big saving will come when a couple of million claimants are told that they are not deserving of the new credit.
Already, this government has proved its ruthless determination to cut the welfare state to pieces. Benefit holders are to be thrown to the wolves on a massive scale.
In the forthcoming spending review, all benefits are in the frame for abolition, including even the most basic, Child Benefit.
These proposals are not about efficiency, cutting out so-called ‘benefit fraud’ or targeting the really needy, they are simply about smashing all benefits, in order to prop up the bankrupt capitalist system and its bankrupt bosses and bankers.
And what is the significance of the title ‘universal credit’ in place of ‘benefit’. A benefit, of course, is something that a person is entitled to by right. A ‘credit’ is basically a loan for which one has to beg, and which must be repaid at some time in the future.
No doubt we will be clarified shortly concerning the issue of repayment.
The TUC must not allow current benefit holders to be turned into beggars. The coalition must be told that any attempt to abolish benefits in favour of a credit will be met with a general strike to bring them down.