Too much welfare?
Jim O’Neill surveys a UK government dragging its heels on investment and economic policy, and a Scottish government failing to deliver. Again.
Well, the decisive May government is now showing itself to be one of drift, drift and more drift. Having been a senior member of the Cabinet for six years, and having been party to all its major decisions, at the very last moment the new PM decides to postpone a decision on a new nuclear reactor at Hinckley Point on the day the contracts to be signed, thus offending the French and the Chinese, who were going to pay for it. And not a Boris in sight.
She has also angered the power industry, and put 6000 jobs at risk, not counting those companies who had already signed pre-contracts as sub-contractors, and who had already geared up to supply the developers. As an exercise in good governance, this would seem to be a prime example of how not to do it.
At the same time, research is published that shows that many workers have actually lost wages in real terms as a result of austerity, and I am not speaking about Cameron and Osborne’s ministerial salaries. So much for “we are all in this together”.
So how is the new Chancellor, the comatose Philip Hammond, dealing with it? We don’t know. And we will have to wait until the Autumn Statement to find out. But that is four months away in November! Funnily enough, Hammond has also been a member of the Cabinet for a long time but he is unable to say whether we will have more and more austerity or whether he will follow an investment route out of the self-imposed financial strictures.
It is said that all good things come to those who wait, but I think that is the capitalists’ method of keeping the workers down. Their motto is, of course, “What do we want? Lots of money. When do we want it? Now.”
Meanwhile, in Scotland, it has been discovered that the SNP government’s Welfare Fund has been underspent by £1.5m. Or as the SNP house journal, The Herald, put it “Fund given £1.5m more than it needed”. That comment is a disgrace to a once great paper and whoever is responsible for it should be sacked immediately. However, the fact that the fund was underspent at all is also a disgrace.
It’s not as if we have no need for welfare in Scotland. Louise McPhater, our terrific Labour candidate in the Irvine West by election, could have spent that money many times over in her role as co-ordinator for Vineburgh Community Centre, where she has run drop-in days for people in the community who are struggling to cope. I don’t suppose the previous SNP councillor who lived in Kilbirnie, or the current candidate (Nicola’s Dad, who lives in Dreghorn) would have noticed the real poverty within Irvine West. They have hardly ever been here. Surely it would not have taken very much thought to spend that last £1.5m. Or maybe, like the Herald, the Scottish Government thought that it had already spent too much on welfare!
But, just to show that I am not completely down on the government, I see that the removal of the right to buy has come into force. This Thatcherite social engineering completely skewed the housing market against those in the social rented sector and it is to the Blair government’s disgrace and to the SNP government’s credit that it has taken until now to remove it. The only piece of credit that Labour can take from this episode is that, when it was brought forward in the Scottish Parliament, they supported the removal. Now, we need some positive investment in social housing which not only will provide much needed homes but will also help to kick start the economy by boosting the construction sector. The people of Scotland are waiting.