How cuts will hit the poorest hardest

New research shows how the poorest areas of the country will suffer the greatest loss of income.

In recent weeks Nick Clegg has attempted to reassure voters about the coming cuts by promising to deliver what he describes as "progressive austerity" and to prevent the emergence of a new north-south divide.

But new research by the Financial Times shows just how unrealistic and disingenuous this promise is. The analysis looked at how different regions of the country would be affected if social security benefits were reduced by 10 per cent and if public-sector areas, excluding health, were cut by 20 per cent.

It found that the poorest areas would be disproportionately hit on both measures. For instance, benefit cuts would make household income in west Wales and the Welsh valleys fall by 3.6 per cent, compared to a drop of less than 0.5 per cent in inner London. Areas such as Northern Ireland, the north of England and the south-west would suffer the greatest fall in income, while regions such as the Home Counties and London would suffer the least.

Given that public spending follows need, it is the poorest areas of the country which are most reliant on the state. It therefore follows that across-the-board spending cuts will hit them hardest. The Tory minister who, in a rare moment of honesty from this government, recently admitted that "those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt" was spot on.

The danger to the poor is magnified by the coalition's decision to rely on spending cuts, rather than tax rises, to plug the deficit. The government's deficit reduction plan envisages a 4:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises, rather than the 2:1 split favoured by Labour. By comparison, during the last big fiscal tightening undertaken by a Conservative government, Ken Clarke split the pain 50:50 between tax rises and spending cuts.

Targeted tax increases on middle- and high-income earners offer a progressive alternative to spending cuts of a size not seen in the postwar era. But those hoping that Clegg will make this argument around the cabinet table will be disappointed. In an interview with the Spectator before the election, he pledged to reduce the deficit through cuts alone, a position that put him to the right of David Cameron.

So it's not that Clegg has been "turned" by the Tories -- he was never a progressive to begin with.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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