It is good to know that the government is considering modifying its ill-informed intention to limit tax reliefs on philanthropic donations. If the Big Society meant anything substantive whatever, it would never of course have been mooted in the first place. Now Cameron is thinking again after a ComRes survey found that 90% of Coalition MPs questioned said the government “should do all it can to use the tax system to encourage charitable donations from wealthy donors”. What a good thing it was wealthy donors whose tax privileges are at issue: if it had been poor families whose survival was being put at risk, it might not have elicited the same concern. Nor is this just a rhetorical point.
There have been three major back-trackings by this government. One was over the cutback in child benefit for rich families where Osborne fine-tuned the reduction by phasing it out gradually over a wider range of income rather than at a cliff-face. Then there was the infamous cutback in the top rate of income tax for the top 1% on more than £3,000 a week. This retreat on charitable donations is the third. All combine one key factor: it exclusively benefited the rich.
When it comes to measures that impact instead on poor families, and not just a diminution of their privileges but a real threat to their survival, it’s a very different story. The cut in housing benefit is expected to lead to the eviction of some 80,000 families from London alone because the tenants will no longer be able to afford the rent demanded. The budget abolition of working tax credits for anyone working less than 24 hours a week means that people currently receiving these credits for working 18 hours a week will lose them if they can’t get another 6 hours a week employment from their employer, and in current economic conditions that probably means 80% of them will lose out.
It’s not as though there hasn’t been a hue and cry about the impact that these cutbacks (and many others) will have on family budgets, impoverishing tens of thousands of families and even robbing them of their homes. But has there been an ounce of easing, let alone elimination, of the harshness of these burdens? Hardly, these apply exclusively to the poor and they don’t register on the ledger of the Coalition. This is a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.