As the Tories try to plant their flag firmly in the centre ground, they have one major obstacle: their cuts to tax credits. These will hit the very people – “strivers” and “hardworking families” – they’re supposed to be championing.
Ministers have been attempting to sidestep questions about this policy, in the hope the working public won’t notice a raid on their incomes. But Jeremy Hunt’s blown it. At a fringe event during the Conservative party conference, the Health Secretary gave what must be the dodgiest defence of the tax credit cuts so far. He said they should make the British work as hard as Americans and the Chinese.
The Guardian reports his comments:
“We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal. We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years’ time. There’s a pretty difficult question that we have to answer which is essentially: are we going to be a country that is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard? And that is about creating culture where work is at the heart of our success.”
Not only does Hunt seem to be forgetting that those who receive tax credits are in work, but the lack of employee protection in both the US and China seems to have slipped his mind.
Fewer than 12 per cent of US employees are union members, and America is the only industrialised country with no statutory requirement to provide paid holiday. And an abysmal federal minimum wage means low-paid workers have to rely on tips to make enough to live. China’s low-cost, low-human rights labour market is world-renowned. There is no law permitting industrial action there, and much of its economic advantage is powered by exploited workers, many of whom are subjected to harsh factory conditions.
Is this the “hardworking”, post-tax credits utopia the government is dreaming of?