The coalition’s changes have cost the average family more than £1,000 a year. Photo: Getty
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IFS report dispels Osborne’s myth that we’re “all in it together”

Middle to higher income households, according to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have actually escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the coalition’s austerity drive.

Low-income families with children have bore the brunt of the coalition’s austerity drive, according to a report this morning by an independent economic think-tank.

The report, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), suggests that the coalition’s tax and benefit changes have cost the average family more than £1,000 a year. It also adds that the richest tenth have lost out significantly in cash terms, though not as a percentage of income.

Interestingly, it can be taken from the report that Osborne’s mantra of we’re “all in it together” is little more than a myth: middle to higher income households have actually escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the coalition’s austerity measures, according to the IFS. And those in the same wage bracket, without children, have been left better off as a result of the coalition’s tax and benefit changes. But for middle and higher income families with children, the loss of tax credits and child benefit “has more than offset the effect of income tax cuts”.

Pensioners were relatively unaffected, on average, as the hike in VAT largely offset their gains from the “triple lock” on the state pension.

Cathy Jamieson, Labour’s shadow treasury minister, said today that the report shows that tax and benefit changes under the coalition have left households £1,127 a year worse off on average. Jamieson said: “Families with children have been hit hardest of all by David Cameron’s choices – a clear betrayal of his promise to lead the most family-friendly government ever.

“For all the government’s claims, this report shows that they have raised tax by over £13.5bn a year. And for millions of working people the rise in VAT and cuts to things like tax credits have more than offset changes to the personal allowance.

“It is clear working people can’t afford five more years of this government.”

Responding to the IFS briefing note a spokesperson for HM Treasury said:

[The report] confirms that the richest have lost the most from the Government’s changes to taxes and welfare. Treasury analysis has shown that throughout the parliament that the richest 10 per cent of households have made the largest contribution to reducing the deficit. The Treasury presents the most complete, rigorous and detailed record of the impact of this government's policies on households. At Autumn Statement this confirmed that the richest 20 per cent of households will contribute more to reducing the deficit than the remaining 80 per cent put together.”

But no mention from the Treasury of those low-income families mentioned in the IFS report. While the government claims the richest have made “the largest contribution” in reducing the deficit, the poorest have actually lost the greatest percentage of their income. The coalition’s sustained attack on the most vulnerable people in society through its relentless austerity drive has left the poorest families on the verge of destitution - but, according to the Treasury, the “richest have lost the most”. 

James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “Whichever way you cut it, low-income households with children and the very richest households have lost out significantly from the changes as a percentage of their incomes.”

“Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income, working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall.”

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.