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)













Tower Hamlets



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

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.