As the politicians traded their figures in the chamber – those of us listening heard a tale of two truths. The Chancellor claimed his budget would leave families £900 a year better off. The Opposition counter claimed saying families would be worse off to the tune of £1600
The voter can’t know who is right.
One thing is clear there wasn’t much in today’s budget for those who don’t contribute much economically.
Sure, there was a much needed boost to treatment for mental illness for military veterans and children. There was also yesterday a pay rise for those on minimum wage. But otherwise the coalition’s mantra was the same: to reward those who work hard, or in the case of pensioners, those who have already worked hard.
Which leaves those who don’t, or who can’t work hard enough to earn above the new tax threshold, without much to take away from this so-called Heineken Budget.
In other words, judging from the reaction of charities, it didn’t reach the parts of society where they now work supporting the vulnerable.
Charities like Barnardos, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the National Children’s Society and End Children’s Poverty all lined up to criticise a budget which CPAG called a budget which could “hear no poverty and see no poverty.”
They argued that the claim that child poverty was falling was solely because it was pegged to household incomes which are also falling.
Those who are economically dependent rather than productive as a rule haven’t done well under this coalition whose long term strategy for recovery is to reward those who work hard; to urge on the economic contributors and not the takers.
That way, they argue, everyone will be a winner in the long term as the economy grows. Bearing in mind spending on the NHS, pensions, education is untouchable it is the welfare bill that’s taking a hit, and those in low paid work, no work, or receiving disability awards are in a tougher place than they were.
But reassessing and reducing the needs of millions of welfare claimants is a formidable task and one that is bound to cause cries of “injustice” and “foul play” however the government tries to reduce the bill.
Their challenge as they reduce the bill is to wean from welfare those who need it least and target the help to those who need it most. Today’s budget signalled that the conservative’s plans for welfare reduction are far from over - should they win.
If the Government’s figures are right and we are rising from austerity to recovery then the plan is most of today’s losers will be taken over the finish line by today’s winners anyway; the “takers”, those who need help from the state, carried to better times in the slip stream of economic success.
But at the moment the slip stream is often an uncomfortable place to be where people are buffeted by cuts, welfare sanctions, and judgmental rhetoric.