Ian Duncan Smith (IDS), fresh from supporting corrupt and ineffective welfare-to-work companies like A4E, chopping disability living alowance and incapacity benefit for up to a million disabled persons, extending unpaid mandatory work schemes, and forcing 100,000 families out of their homes through cuts in housing benefit – all part of the government’s overall plan to cut benefits by £18bn while the ultra-rich have gained £155bn over the last 3 years but pay little or no tax – is now set to axe strikers’ benefits.
Ever since the 1948 National Assistance Act, workers who take industrial action continue to get housing benefit and working tax credits for up to 10 days. Even though Thatcher never touched these entitlements, IDS is now determined to withdraw them when his universal tax credit comes into operation in October next year. It won’t stop, for example, doctors on £100,000 a year who are this week taking part in their first strike since 1975 over a dispute on pensions. But it will hit the lowest-paid public sector workers like teaching assistants, nurses, transport workers, and cleaners.
It is a vindictive and gratuitously harsh change in the regulations, proving yet again that the Tory party is the nasty party. It is bitterly unfair when the great majority of strikes are caused by employers or management behaving arbitrarily and unreasonably and very often refusing to negotiate. This latest piece of nastiness – along with attempts to introduce no-fault dismissals and forcing down wages through regionalised pay indices – won’t stop strikes which only occur when all other channels have been exhausted, but it will certainly embitter industrial relations since it will be, and is intended to be, a fundamental restraint on the right to take industrial action in a free society.
It is often said that contemporary politics is ideology-free. Unfortunately on the Left there seems to be some truth in this, but on the Right there is the most scabrous, ideology-driven government in living memory. Three months ago Maude, Cabinet Office minister and former banker, declared in a gung-ho speech to the pressure group Policy Exchange that the government wants to end state provision of any public service, even if it means being run by private equity companies from tax havens!
Regrettably there has been far too much emphasis on Cameron’s personal foibles and far too little on the devastating impact of the government’s underlying ideological direction. How do the Tories get away with this? Sadly the answer is because Labour is too feeble in its policy positions, too lacking in confidence, too damaged by the vestiges of Blairite careerism, and too unwilling to stake out alternatives to the prevailing neoliberal consensus.