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The Cost of Tory Tax 'Cuts'

Updated: Apr 23



As the general election looms, our increasingly fatigued and desperate Prime Minister has whipped out the tried and tested, albeit lightly weathered, Tory spiel: “Vote for us and we will cut taxes”. In the run-up to the election, the government is avidly slashing taxes and reminding the electorate that they will be poorer under Labour. 


After over a decade in power, the Conservative government has made more than 1,600 alterations to taxes in the UK – the majority of these being tax hikes, and mostly in ways that disproportionately hurt the pockets of people with lower household incomes.  


For example, in a classic Tory move, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak slashed taxes on champaign, allowing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cronies to indulge in further law-breaking debauchery at a cheaper price. Beer drinkers, on the other hand, have had to pay more per can. 


Similarly, council tax, car tax, postage stamps, NHS dental prices, and water bills have all been increased in price this month, owing, in part, to the economic fallout precipitated by the government’s abysmal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These price increases, introduced flatly for everyone, disproportionately impact people with lower incomes – including the very same key workers whom the government applauded each Thursday evening during the peak of the pandemic.   


PM Rishi Sunak has pledged that if – and it is a huge if – he wins the next election, he will introduce reforms to the benefits system in order to fund the eventual scrapping of national insurance. Every person with an income above a set amount pays national insurance, which goes towards supplementing the allowances provided to people on state pensions, maternity allowances, or job seekers' allowances. In essence, it is a national security blanket that protects people unable to work from destitution – and of course, no person can be completely sure that they will never lose their income. 


Naturally, the assumption of community care inherent in national insurance is subject to perpetual condemnation by people on the right and this denigration has become especially fervent under Rishi Sunak’s leadership. If Sunak’s proposal is implemented, this will reward the rich and punish the poor, create an even deeper wealth chasm between the rich and poor, and have especially dire consequences for those living in extreme poverty. With full knowledge of these consequences, Sunak says that these reforms will “build the kind of society I think is right”. Nice.     


The benefits system is subject to constant beratement by right-wingers who are obsessed with the conspiracy of “benefit scroungers”, a criminal group in society that exploits the generosity of the welfare state by making false claims for benefits. Highly suspicious of these national “enemies within”, Sunak recently expressed contempt and disbelief that “We now sign off three times as many people to be out of work than we did a decade ago.” Yep, it must be because more and more people are joining the benefits-scrounger gang. It has nothing to do with ten years of austerity; the increased retirement age; the impossibly long NHS waiting times; or, the fact that in the last three years, half a million more working-aged people cannot work due to long-term illness, some caused by long-Covid.  


People unable to work and reliant on benefits have long been hounded by the right-wing press and the punishment of people experiencing poverty with belligerent and relentless benefit cuts made by the UK government has become normalised, and even commended, by many thanks in part to the ‘poverty porn’ programmes such as Benefits Street, and On Benefits and Proud. Collusively, the media and politicians have propagated an image of benefits users as apathetic, lazy scroungers who choose to abuse the welfare system rather than work. Therefore, it seems just to reform the benefits system and to make sure, as the Prime Minister puts it, “everyone who can work, does work.”


But what does that even mean when almost seventy per cent of children living in poverty in the UK had at least one parent working? 


After over a decade in power, the Tory Party have decimated the pockets of most of the population. Having slashed almost £4 billion from the welfare system in the last decade, the government has created a tight-fisted, cruel, and unjust social system to pair with the crumbling public infrastructure and failing economy. The ensuing statistics are dire. In 2022, six million people were in very deep poverty – meaning households living below 40% of the median national annual income  – which is one and a half million more people than twenty years ago. 


The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that in October 2023, 4.2 million households were going without essentials (such as energy, bedding, food, clothing, shoes, and toiletries), and 3.4 million households reported not having enough money for food. In the last year, 300,00 more children have been plunged into absolute poverty, meaning households living below 60% of the median national annual income. Undernourishment weakens the immune system, making people, and especially children, more susceptible to infections and illnesses – which in the long term means that in the future, more people in the “working age” population will be unable to work due to long-term health conditions resulting from malnourishment in childhood.  


Those who are unable to work full time due to illness or disability must navigate a punitive, overly complicated welfare system – an experience that many people have described as traumatic and precarious, with the constant fear of their benefits being prematurely stopped without warning. In his complaints against the benefits system, nowhere has Sunak mentioned the billions of pounds lost due to government errors and underpayments. And whilst the right accuses benefits users of draining public funds, they conveniently gloss over the £35.8 billion lost to tax evasion – perhaps that crime is a bit too close to home. 


Rather than eroding the social security system, maybe the UK government could introduce a more caring social security system that ensures adequate incomes for everyone and that guarantees no child goes to bed hungry or cold. Maybe the government could invest in providing stigma-free community support and advice services. Maybe everyday essentials like water, gas, electricity, and transport could be subsidised so people have more disposable income to ensure they can buy enough food, and clothes, and engage in leisure activities. Maybe – and this is a long shot – the government could consider rolling out the four-day-week which will create at least five thousand new jobs, reduce stress, create a better work-life balance, and even increase work productivity. 


But then again, I don’t think these ideas will help build the kind of society Rishi Sunak thinks is right.  



Image: HM Treasury

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