Revealed: the cuts hit hardest where jobs are fewest

New data shows that the spending cuts are deepest in areas with the highest claimant count per vacancy.

In the latest edition of the magazine – on newsstands from tomorrow – I have interviewed shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne.  It is a revealing conversation in which he insists that, contrary to received Westminster wisdom, welfare policy will be a vote winner for Labour by the time of the next election. (The Tories are working on the assumption that voters are so filled with scorn for the benefits system Labour bequeathed that they can keep on cutting with impunity and force the opposition into unelectable defence of "scroungers".) Not so, says Byrne. "Labour will win on social security."

The reason for this confidence is, broadly speaking, that coalition economic policy is failing, the welfare bill is rising and so the real cost of cuts is felt by people in work – so by definition not George Osborne’s target shirkers. As that fact becomes apparent, voters will come to be increasingly appalled by the social impact of Osborne’s axe raid on the safety net. "The Tories have crossed the threshold of decency," says Byrne. "They’re very good at conjuring up another vulnerable group to kick the crap out of  … As working people feel the kicking they’re going to get next year and as they see the way our country becomes divided, they’re going to recoil. It will remind them of the things they rejected about the Tories in 1997."

To make that point Byrne poaches the Downing Street campaign lexicon, talking repeatedly about the impact of cuts on "the strivers". This is the low-income segment of working households who once flocked to the Tories under Margaret Thatcher’s banner of middle class aspiration but who suspect Cameron and friends are not on their side.

"It’s not Britain’s shirkers who are having to pay the cost of failure, it’s Britain’s strivers," says Byrne. "The Tories are screwing Britain’s strivers."

There’s more in the magazine, including some interesting lines on how Labour would offer a new settlement without promising to spend more money.

To ram home the point about how ill-targeted and politically motivated the coalition’s austerity policies are, Byrne’s office was keen to pass on some research in which they have collaborated with Newcastle council to match the scale of local authority cuts to the relative accessibility of work in different areas. Despite the nakedly partisan source, the data are pretty interesting and so worth sharing.

Broadly speaking, the conclusion appears to be that the cuts hit hardest where jobs are fewest. The research uses a range of data from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to draw up a league table of councils according to the value of cuts per head of population they have experienced. That was then tallied with data on the average benefit claimant count per vacancy.

What emerges is a very clear correlation between local authorities where the cuts are deepest and areas where the highest number of people are chasing the lowest number of jobs.

So, in areas where the cut per capita was £200 or more, the average number of jobseekers per vacancy was 9.3.

Where cuts per capita were £150-199, there were, on average, 6.5 claimants per vacancy.

In areas where cuts were £100-149 per head, there were 5.4 claimants per vacancy. For the £50-99 per had band, there were 4 jobseekers to every job and in the £1-49 group just 2.5 claimants per vacancy. (The national average is 3.7)


 

The top five affected councils are as follows:

Local Authority

Claimant count per vacancy Oct 2012

Cumulative change per person (scale of cuts, by Newcastle methodology)

Hackney

26.4

-£244

Knowsley

9.4

-£229

Liverpool

6.2

-£229

Newham

11.7

-£227

Tower Hamlets

10.7

-£203

Notably, they are all Labour-controlled.  There are only three Tory-controlled councils in the top 50 hardest hit areas and all ten of the least affected areas are Conservative.

Partly that just tells us that the cuts hit inner city areas, which happen also to be areas of high density unemployment. There is, no doubt, a Conservative spin on these figures which would claim that Labour councils were likely to be higher spenders and more wasteful and so are facing a more extreme belt-tightening relative to where they were in 2010.

Another way of looking at it is that the cuts are shafting people in the poorest areas and that the people out of work in those places are also the ones who face the bleakest labour market conditions. Also, that the coalition is funnelling the pain of austerity into safe Labour seats, which makes sense politically but is hardly in the spirit of keeping us all in it together.

We’ll try to get full tables up later.

A job centre is pictured in Bromley, south-east England. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.