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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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era