So now we know. The IFS predicts today that austerity will last till at least 2018, and a TUC report released at the weekend reveals that since cuts in benefits and tax credits are reinforced by cuts in public spending on which the poorest depend most, the combined impact will reduce the annual income of the poorest households by a third by 2017. That works out at a loss for them of £4,000 a year, or £77 a week. For those on benefit or on the minimum wage, that is a very big chunk taken out of a very meagre daily subsistence. For the richest tenth of the population, who anyway start from a hugely higher income that can much more easily absorb loss, the cut in their annual income is just 2.5%.
The Tories have sought to mitigate the harshness of this injustice by claiming that it is levelled against idle and lazy people who simply don’t bother to get a job. In fact the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have just assembled the evidence, which ought to startle IDS & Co. but of course it won’t, that the really big increase in poverty is among those in work. They found that 6.1 million people in working households live in poverty, rather more than the 5.1 million who live in working-age households where no-one has a job. This reflects the fact that wages at the bottom have steadily fallen behind the average, let alone the top, over the last 30 years and that low-paid working families can only escape poverty if at least two members are employed, which unemployment at 2.5 million makes unlikely.
Even that conceals the shock of what is just about to happen. With housing benefit capped next April, tens of thousands of families will not be able to pay the rent. Previously they would then have to be rehoused as homeless by the local Council. But the government has now changed the law. The Council only has to find a private landlord – anywhere, it could be 100 miles away – who can offer a 1-year lease, and without any more ado can then say goodbye to them. Of course rents may be lower because there are no jobs there, in addition to children being taken out of their schools and families separated from relatives and friends and plonked down where they know no-one. Even then the new rents may well still leave them with scarcely enough money to survive on.