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

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.