It's going to be a cold and lonely Christmas for people on welfare.
Faced with cuts in benefits, the unemployed and the working poor have little to look forward to in 2013 – or the years after that. The Chancellor says he won't allow welfare claimants to "lie in bed living a life on benefits". That kind of stigmatisation is unjust and economically illiterate, since the problem isn't laziness but the lack of jobs. The vast majority of people in Britain don't want to lie around idle; they want to do useful work.
The Coalition's deficit reduction has failed the most crucial test of all: delivering the greatest good for the greatest number.
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It isn't even working on its own terms, because Government borrowing has actually been rising, if you ignore the smoke and mirrors of the autumn statement. Not only that, there is a real risk that Britain will lose its cherished AAA credit rating in the New Year. As for the national debt, even on the Chancellor's optimistic assumptions it is expected to rise to £1.5 trillion by 2016.
This is unacceptable. What is the point of pursuing an economic policy which is clearly failing? The apparent inability of the Labour opposition in Westminster to hold the Coalition to account over this is most regrettable.
George Osborne, has been allowed to insult the unemployed and the millions of people working on poverty wages, while cutting taxes on the super rich and pursuing a policy of fiscal contraction that has left Britain lagging among G20 nations in terms of growth.
This newspaper has consistently argued for a change in policy in order to stimulate the economy out of this slump, which the Chancellor admits will now last until 2018 at least. By then, an entire generation will be on the scrap heap, because more than one million young people are currently out of work and out of training. This is a national scandal and a criminal waste of human capital.
Not only will these young people be deprived of the disciplines of work, they will not be able to use their skills for the benefit of society. The cost of unemployment is not simply the cost of their benefits – though that is bad enough at around £3 billion a year. It is the lost earnings now and in the future that is the real scandal. Their lost tax revenues will only make the deficit harder to erase.
The Government has been pursuing policies that protect bankers bonuses, that allow international companies to avoid paying corporation tax, that cuts taxes on the rich while cutting benefits to the poor.
The Coalition has lost sight of what an economy is for: to allow hard working families to earn a decent standard of living. Yes, the national debt is a problem – but it won't go away under a regime of national idleness. It's time that, like Starbucks, the Chancellor woke up and smelled the coffee.