What's in the box? Bad news for women, mainly. Photo: Getty Images
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Once again, the biggest losers from George Osborne's budget are women

Labour needs to have the strength to stand for a better approach – for a stronger economy with sustainable public finances and a fairer, less divided country.

 

A Budget that betrays working parents - that's what we've had from George Osborne today. 

Families with kids are going to be really hard hit by the Tories plans. Women are going to be hit more than twice as hard as men - by a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who clearly don't give a damn about working parents’ lives.

Many families are going to be thousands of pounds worse off as a result of the £4.5bn cuts to tax credits alone, with over 3million families affected. That's even before you include real cuts in the value of child benefit for the next four years. 

If you're on average pay with two children, you'll lose £2,000 in tax credit cuts next year. 

I'm glad the Tories have finally given in to our calls for a big increase in the minimum wage, but it’s not enough to compensate parents for the tax credits they are cutting. And they certainly shouldn't call it a Living Wage because it still falls short of that.

A single mum with two children working part time on the National Minimum wage will gain just over £400 from higher pay but lose £860 from lower tax credits in 2016/17.

A couple with two kids both working full time on the minimum wage will still be £700 a year worse off. And if you're currently paid more than the minimum wage, you'll be harder hit. 

Plus they are actually discouraging parents from working harder. Earn an extra pound or two and they'll claw half of it back from your tax credits. 

Remember how they said a 50 per cent tax was a disincentive for the highest paid people in the country? Yet they are quite happy to do it for the poorest paid. 

So much for George Osborne's promise to help working people. Do parents just not count as working people? Is this the "lifestyle" George Osborne claimed he didn't want to fund?

And remember David Cameron's pre-election pledge that child tax credit is “not going to fall." It was a lie. This is a shameful betrayal of parents working hard to support their kids and get on in life. In the 21st century working parents shouldn't have to go to food banks to put a hot meal on the table, as too many families now do.

But tax credit cuts aren't the only assault on working parents. The Government is saving £370m from delaying childcare plans - despite having made grand promises before the election about nursery places and tax relief. We warned at the time that their plans weren't funded - so it has proved.

Whilst George Osborne made much in his speech of promising Britain a pay rise, he also slipped in five more years of a 1% cap on public sector pay – below inflation, even though services like the NHS are already facing a serious and growing recruitment and retention problem.

And the research I commissioned today from the House of Commons Library shows that women are being hit over twice as hard as men by the Chancellor’s plans. Of the £34bn net extra money being raised from households over the next five years (taking account of the increases in tax allowances as well as cuts to tax credits and all the changes to benefits), £24bn is coming from women – even though women still earn less than men. David Cameron and George Osborne still have a serious women problem – they just don’t get the impact of their plans on women’s lives. 

Of course the deficit and the debt need to come down. Of course Labour would have had to make tough decisions to get back into surplus. That is why I identified £800m in savings in the home office budget whilst protecting frontline policing- from things like abolishing Police and Crime Commissioners. But it is also why I think George Osborne’s plan to cut inheritance tax now for some of the richest estates is the wrong priority. 

Because there is an alternative to George Osborne’s plans. The Tories approach isn't fair, and isn't good for our economy and our country in the long term. 

At the same time as hitting Britain's families, the Tories are failing to deliver the balanced growth and high paid jobs we need for the future - that also helps bring the deficit down. 

Growth has been revised down this year. So have exports. And so has productivity. That means we're not getting the high skilled jobs our country needs. We need a national mission to almost double R&D investment in our economy to match the 3% of GDP our competitors invest and there were no measures in today’s budget to do that. 

The Chancellor talks about one nation – but he doesn’t think parents are part of that one nation. He talks about a long term plan but he is happy for stagnant growth with weak exports and low productivity to drag our debt up and our economy down.

Labour needs to have the strength to stand for a better approach – for a stronger economy with sustainable public finances and a fairer, less divided country: the two things go hand in hand.

Yvette Cooper was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2009 to 2010, and is chair of the Changing Work Centre, set-up by the Fabian Society and Community Union.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue