Welfare reform, poverty and inequality

The General Election 2015 results mean that the UK is to endure more years of austerity as the Government tries to reduce the budget deficit and carries on with its programme of shrinking the state.  In the firing line are those reliant on welfare benefits, with an expected further £12bn cuts to the welfare spend.  The Conservatives refused to say prior to the election where these cuts would fall, but there are concerns that young people in particular will be badly affected.   Chancellor George Osborne has announced that he will take the unusual step of preparing a second budget in July, which will set out what the Government plans to do to fulfil the promises made in the Conservatives election manifesto. Osborne said it would be a “budget for working people”, however there are concerns that working tax credits will be targeted and families could suffer further cuts to already stretched incomes.

The Government plans to run a budget surplus of £4bn by 2018/19, while currently the deficit stands at around £75m.  To reach the surplus without raising taxes, deep cuts will have to be made to public spending, however, even Conservative Councils are warning that further cuts to local government budgets will devastate services and communities.

While the overall outcome of the election was disappointing to many in Scotland, where many hoped that there would be an end to Conservative Government, the SNP’s win of 56 out of 59 Scottish seats was a disaster for the Labour Party, radically altering the political landscape.  56  SNP MPs – 20 of whom are women, are now headed to Westminster, making the SNP the third largest political party in Parliament.   The results have created a huge dilemma for the Labour Party, with commentators saying that they are too left wing for England and too right wing for Scotland, prompting calls for the Labour Party in Scotland to break with the UK Party.

The SNP has promised to fight for an end to austerity, to protects the NHS and to secure the best deal possible for people in Scotland, however, they face a daunting task in opposition to a Government that has put deficit reduction at the very core of its agenda, despite criticism from leading economists, who argue that the level of austerity in the UK is an obsession that is not only unnecessary, but is actively harming growth and putting the already fragile recovery at risk.

Writing in the Guardian, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, warned that “Harsh austerity in depressed economies isn’t necessary, and does major damage when it is imposed. That was true of Britain five years ago – and it’s still true today.”

Scottish MPs 2015

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