Wolf: Theresa May’s policies ’make a mockery of her rhetoric’. Are they also provoking ‘generational jihad’?
Martin Wolf (FT) reminds readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continues: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”.
The work of the increasingly high-profile Resolution Foundation, a charity funded by Resolution, a successful insurance investment firm founded by Clive Cowdery, focusses on low earners and the policy responses required to lift their living standards. Cowdery was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to children and social mobility
However, Resolution’s new ‘Executive Chair’ is David Willetts, a former Tory minister, described as a pioneer of generational jihad – revealing “a country that is choosing to give priority to the well-off over the poor, and the old over the young” (see https://twitter.com/resfoundation)
Wolf comments that whatever such a country might be, it is not one that, in the prime minister’s own words, acts “to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people”.
Willetts should heed Richard Smerdon (Letters, FT):
As I and many others can testify, millions of ageing men and women in this country are supporting their struggling children (themselves in their 30s and 40s but struggling nevertheless) in a huge variety of ways: childcare, money (in lump sums, guarantees and regular payments) and accommodation. This at a time (since the banking collapse) when returns on one’s savings have been negligible. We’ve been clobbered as well! The mess the government has got itself into over the crass handling of the tax credit issue (reform, yes, but wholesale impoverishment, no) is entirely its own fault, but many pensioners will be bracing themselves to help out yet again — which we do out of love for our children of course — but it seems an unfair additional penalty to pay for government incompetence.
Using the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to project household incomes up to 2020, the picture is one of rising inequality. Wolf asks, “Why is this happening?” He gives several reasons, including the impact of Brexit and the tax and benefit plans inherited and maintained by Mrs May.
Theresa May, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”. To those who have, the government has decided to give
The significant cuts in benefits for those of working age, notably the freeze on most benefits in cash terms are being exacerbated by the rising post-referendum prices. Also important are substantial tax cuts for the relatively well-off. FT View (editorial) adds: “By pressing ahead with these inherited policies Theresa May, prime minister, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”.
Wolf states: “This outcome makes a mockery of the government’s inclusive rhetoric”.
Mary Dejevsky refutes the Resolution assertions (echoed by MSM) that government is prioritising the old over the young
Wolf writes: “The government is giving priority to the well-off and the old over the poor and young”, but Mary points out that the average pensioner still has an income 25% below the average worker, adding: “You wouldn’t guess that from the media”. She points out:
“The state pension is one of the last truly contributory payments. To present it as just another handout and part of a ballooning benefits bill is an invitation to the young to resent the amount spent even more — and to the recipients to feel that they are being patronised. The state pension should be separated from the overall benefits bill forthwith”.
A graph compiled by Aegon Insurance shows that though the income gap has narrowed substantially, working households still have a higher disposable weekly income than pensioner households.
The Foundation’s latest report includes housing costs to back up its announcement that pensioner incomes (most mortgages paid) have overtaken working-age households (paying rent or mortgage charges).
A year after Mary wrote this article, the Western Daily Press reported on a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
“The elderly are dying from heart attacks and strokes because of the stress of cuts in their pensions, according to new research. Rising mortality rates among over 85s has been linked to reductions in spending on income support for the worst off. The study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests some vulnerable older people have paid the ultimate price for austerity measures in England. Almost nine in ten of the 4.6 per cent increase in deaths in 2012 can be explained by the decline in pension credit beneficiaries, say scientists. In England, total spending on Pension Credits, income support payments for low-income pensioners, reduced by 6.5 per cent in 2012”.
Wolf concludes that the UK confronts huge challenges. Not only is productivity stagnant, it must also navigate Brexit: “It is hard to believe wise choices are being made for a country that wishes to secure a better future for its people. It is still harder to believe these are moral choices for a country forced to share out losses imposed by a massive financial crisis and weak subsequent growth” ending:
“The government may be brazenly hypocritical. But it also seems likely to get away with it”.
But the FT editorial adds a stark warning:” There is little chance of Philip Hammond, chancellor, reversing his predecessor’s regressive policies in next month’s Budget. Yet he should keep them under review. If the outlook darkens, a combination of falling living standards and rising inequality would be an extremely dangerous one in today’s febrile (Collins: intense, nervously active) politics”.
In other words: a roused public might rock
the corporate/political boat.