Over the weekend, we heard a good deal of talk about radical reforms planned for the social security system. No longer would there be umpteen benefits, each with a separate application process, different rules etc. One, simplified system would encompass all circumstances.
Let us leave aside the suspicion that this ultra-rational, rule-bound and (dare I say it) bureaucratic approach to defining people, their lives and their entitlements to assistance would not work. Instead, notice the stink caused by an apparently minor change to Child Benefit, a relatively small cul-de-sac in social security terms. Cutting benefits to those families paying higher tax rates seems a no brainer. Yet the very point of Child Benefit is that it is, for some women, their only source of income independent of their husbands. To plan to remove it without understanding this and the likely reaction is a pretty basic error. So, once again, we hear the Tories revising policies within minutes of their first announcement.
But what of the politics of all this? The cut to Child Benefit looked like a political winner. A very public example of the way the middle classes were sharing in the pain of retrenchment. But they are resisting and they have political clout. The police are resisting by offering up cuts to frontline services as the only way to meet the reductions in budget demanded. The Ministry of Defence complain that cuts would undermine national security while we are at war.
Who is left to carry the burden of cuts? Those who are really dependent on the state’s support. Pensioners and other welfare recipients, those in long term care… Where is their voice trumpeting doom and resisting these cuts? And as the axe begins to fall on only those who can’t fight back, how long will the coalition hold?