Scorched earth policy

Social security cuts

Who said this: “Your proposed settlement on running costs fills me with despair. The impact on operations will be devastating”?

A spokesperson from the Citizens Advice Bureau, protesting against the latest round of Tory cuts? Perhaps a cry of anguish from the Church of England?

No, completely wrong. These were the words of Peter Lilley - in a letter to William Waldegrave, chief secretary to the treasury - warning of the danger of deep cuts in the social security system. This was, however, way back in October 1995.

Now things are different. The cost of running Britain’s social security is to be slashed by at least a quarter, as sketched out in a ‘leaked’ letter by Ann Bowtell, the DSS’s permanent secretary.

We all know what Bowtell means by “business efficiencies” - attacks on jobs and services. Large-scale redundancies are expected among the DSS’s 88,000 staff, given the fact that staff account for half of running costs. Barry Reamsbottom, general secretary of the CPSA union, predicted that, “at worst”, 20,000 DSS jobs could go.

The claimants are also in the firing line. The rules and regulations governing entitlement to income support, and other benefits, are to be ‘tweaked’ - with the emphasis shifting to so-called “self-assessment”. The consequence of this would be to increase even more the pressure on claimants to prove that they are ‘actively seeking work’.

This amounts to a ‘scorched earth policy’ against the unemployed and vulnerable low-paid workers. The trend is the same everywhere: the Inland Revenue wants to ‘downsize’ up to 14,000 jobs and close 100 tax offices by 2002; and the department of transport and its agencies also wants to shed 20% of its staff over five years. Overall, since 1992 50,000 civil service jobs have gone.

All public sector workers are again under attack in this year’s pay round.

The nurses are no exception. The Tories ‘awarded’ them a 2% pay ‘rise’ last week, putting the basic starting salary of a Grade D registered nurse at £11,895.

In retaliation the health unions have formed a common front, demanding a rise of 6.5% - which would hardly deliver an aristocratic lifestyle.

It would be highly ‘unfair’ to point the finger solely at the British ruling class.

The German bourgeoisie is hungrily eyeing up pensions, healthcare and unemployment pay, confronted by the highest unemployment figures since the war.

In the US we see the same story, with the ‘compromise’ budget determined to erode entitlements to welfare payments.

To defeat this current assault will take much more than the almost farcical vacillations of the union leaderships in last year’s pay round. We could do worse than take a leaf out of the French workers’ book.

Eddie Ford