Why has Osborne uprated benefits by 5.2%?
At first sight, the most surprising statement of Osborne’s Autumn mini-budget is this:
I also want to protect those who are not able to work because of their disabilities and those who, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs and are trying to find work, so I can confirm that we will uprate working-age benefits in line with September’s consumer prices index inflation number of 5.2%.
Why would the government be so keen to protect those on benefit when they are content to batter the ‘squeezed middle’ by freezing most elements of Working Tax Credit?
I think the answer may lie on the Tory backbenchers. Here’s Harriet Baldwin MP.
The economics of being on benefits varies across the UK. With median weekly earnings of £432 in Jarrow and median earnings of £733 in Chelsea, the benefits of working relative to one national rate of benefit is much clearer in Chelsea. Localising Universal Credit to a labour market’s median average wage could be a sensible next step.
But Baldwin is just the messenger, and is behind the times anyway.
As I set out in some detail here, the recent coming into law of the Localism Act now provides the perfect platform for the localisation of benefit rates and eligibility. By localisation, I mean driving down. This is something the right of the Tory party has been committed to since at least 2009, when the leader of Kent County Council was canvassing support in eight regions on England. Patrick Wintour said at the time:
Similar proposals to take responsibility for setting benefit rates from the Department for Work and Pensions have been made by Essex County Council….. In a paper tabled this week, the council proposed that councils be given powers to set eligibility criteria and payment rates for all working-age benefits within the county, including income support, jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance.”
I have no proof of what’s afoot yet, but there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that Tory councils are planning to drive down benefit rates and restrict eligibility just as soon as they can.
I suspect this is all part of a Tory-wide plot to create further destitution, while enabling Osborne and co to distance themselves from the scene of the crime.
Be wary. Local benefit cuts could be hitting your area sometime very soon, whatever Osborne says about “protecting” people. I suspect he can afford to play the compassionate Conservative today because he knows the savage cuts are due to come from elsewhere in his party.