Ex-PMs Gordon Brown & John Major condemn Osborne’s attacks on welfare
Brown, who was architect of the tax credits, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Mirror on Wednesday in which he said Britain would soon have some of the highest poverty rates in the Western world because of the Conservatives’ policies.
The former Labour PM introduced tax credits as chancellor in 2003, but Osborne has bet his political career on drastically reducing them as part of a wider clamp down on welfare spending.
In a separate, more subtle attack on Tory austerity, ex-Conservative Prime Minister John Major warned on Wednesday that the impact of inequality in Britain is “shocking.”
Osborne has come under fire from both right-wing and left-wing critics as a result of his plans to cut £4.4 billion from the tax credits system as part of a wider measure to slash welfare payments by £12 billion.
If implemented, the reforms will make a low-earning single parent £1,000 a year worse off and a low-earning couple with two children £850 a year worse off, according to the Resolution Foundation.
Brown called the cuts “frightening.”
“Everything Britain stands for – hard work, independence of spirit, savings and compassion for children – is [all] about to be undermined by George Osborne’s tax credit cuts that will plunge almost another million families into poverty.
“When the number of British girls and boys in poverty is now projected to rocket from 2.3 million two years ago to 3.9 million by 2020 and reach a level far in excess of any other time during the past 50 years, you could be forgiven for asking: Why take it out on the children?”
The former Labour PM went on to say most of Britain’s poor are working families, who even after “laboring all hours” cannot get by.
“Now Britain is about to have one of the biggest poverty problems in the Western world and it is government-induced poverty stemming from the Conservatives,” he said.
In a rare example of two former prime ministers from opposing parties criticizing the government, both Brown and Major accused Osborne of basing his reforms on the “wrong assumption” that poor people are lazy.
“The reforms arise from wrong assumptions – that we have a Britain divided between strivers and skivers. They are founded on wrong claims – that the majority of our poor are work-shy and live in chaotic families,” Brown wrote in the Daily Mirror.
Major echoed this sentiment in a Hinton lecture, ‘A nation at ease with itself?’
“Let us cast aside a common misconception. Everyone out of work is not an idler. Everyone in receipt of benefits is not a scrounger,” Major told the audience in London.
“Of course idlers and scroungers exist – and governments are entirely right to root out the cheats who rip off the taxpayer. But the focus must not be only on those who abuse the system; we need equal concentration on those who are failed by the system.”
The former Conservative PM, who continued Margaret Thatcher’s welfare reforms of the 1980s with Job Seekers Allowance in 1995, said he had become more concerned with inequality as he grew older.
“Policymakers must understand how hard it is to escape from such circumstances. It is not inertia that keeps the unemployed immobile: it is simply that, without help, they are trapped,” he said.
Osborne’s tax credit reforms were passed by the House of Commons last month, but were rejected by Labour and Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords.
The chancellor suffered another setback on Wednesday when the Conservative-controlled Work and Pensions Select Committee published a report warning the government against rushing cuts to tax credits.
“The government is reaching the limits of cuts that can be made to the working-age welfare system, and particularly on those who are strivers,” MPs said.
The chancellor is now expected to lessen the impact of the cuts in his Autumn Statement later this month.