The budget is, let’s face it, a con. It’s purpose is to present selected aspects of government economic policy in a form that will be attractive to the media, that will reinforce those ideas that legitimise the government’s long term objectives, and that will disguise those objectives where they could be politically difficult.
So the government wants to be seen as a compassionate, but its actual objectives — privatisation of the NHS, increasing inequality — are far from it. The decision to increase tax on excessively sugary drinks can be seen in this light. Obesity is a popular target for all sorts of reasons, not all of them honourable, and the predictable protest from the soft drinks manufacturers is politically helpful since it gives the impression that the government is ‘standing up to’ industry. But we should save our cheers until it stands up to the arms industry and those who are beavering away on the privatisation of the NHS.
The government’s true colours show up more clearly in its decision to reduce benefits to disabled people. Let’s be clear about a couple of things. First, this has nothing to do with affordability. Benefits to the disabled, like benefits to the poor, are (unlike middle-class savings) paid straight back into the real economy. Reducing them acts as a brake on the economy and helps no one. Second, the needs that the benefits were intended to cover don’t go away. They still have to be met and someone still has to pay for them — often someone who can ill afford it. If no one can be found to fill the gap, the person’s health and well-being will suffer, and in the end the cost to the community will increase, not decrease.
So why do they do it? For the same reason, I suggest, that they are going to privatise the NHS. Their vision is of a country ruled by market forces, in which the rich get ever richer and the poor ever poorer. It’s time, if I may say so, that the country woke up to what’s happening.
What else? Oh yes, the usual nonsense about deficits, affordability and austerity. This is just twaddle. There isn’t space to go into the economic arguments here. Practically everything the government and most of the media tell you about economics is wrong. For example, the last thing we need after a recession is austerity – it just delays recovery. Likewise the idea that the government should aim for a financial surplus is wrong on so many counts it’s hard to know where to start! Ask any economist.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what’s wrong with the budget because practically everything about it is wrong. It’s like trying to explain to a motorist why he’s not getting to his destination by telling him (or her) how the engine works.