Theresa May doesn’t want to be surrounded by Yes Men, and it seems she’s got what she wants. Not that she appears to listen to members of her Cabinet, anyway, whether or not they tell her what she wants to hear. Holding court in a Cabinet Office that must have had its walls removed and replaced with a giant sieve, the PM is presiding over a team that is behaving as though the collective responsibility her predecessor dispensed with during the EU Referendum still applies. Boris has been laying out his own personal manifesto via newspaper columns in recent weeks, yet Mrs May is keeping her Foreign Secretary on a very slack leash indeed. It’s a curious approach to take into the Party Conference Season, though policy promises have been raining down on the electorate during the Tory outing to Manchester, as though we’re on the eve of a General Election rather than living in the aftermath of one.
It goes without saying that what we’re getting is the usual series of suggestions designed to either attract or pacify a particular demographic that has so far been impervious to the charms of the PM’s shower. The youth vote, so crucial to the rise of Jezza, is one the Government are desperate to entice, yet even if many of Corbyn’s pledges might prove harder to implement when in office than in opposition, Mrs May is trying her best to lure The Kids into the blue corner. Don’t get me wrong – I wince whenever I hear the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant and curse the fact that the melody stolen from The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ is ruining what I think of as one of the best rock songs of the last 20 years; but the Tories trying to come on all hip ‘n’ groovy is still akin to a ‘Grime Night’ being held at a Home Counties golf-club.
Mental health is another issue the Government are keen to be seen doing something about; but, as was so memorably stated in ‘This is Spinal Tap’, money talks and bullshit walks. Throwing vast amounts of cash at public services being badly-run, whether the NHS or the social care system, isn’t good enough when the majority of the money is simply used to enhance the pension schemes and pay the mortgages of the careerist freeloaders clogging up the impenetrable layers of management that require a bloody great scythe taking to them instead of being reinforced like the rotten foundations of a stately home. But, of course, we’re in the quick fix territory of short-term solutions to long-term problems; the Government is showing the same amount of imagination as someone who gives you money for your birthday because they can’t think of a fitting present.
Another side to the PM’s character that is being highlighted during the current chaotic condition of her administration is her stubbornness on an unwelcome legacy from her predecessor’s regime – Universal Credit. The catch-all cock-up conceived by Iain Duncan Smith is supposed to group together six existing benefits – including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Income Support, and Employment & Support Allowance – under one all-encompassing umbrella benefit, but the scheme has had its critics from day one and the suspicion is that Mrs May and her DWP Tsar David Gauke are reluctant to put the project on ice and are pressing ahead whilst ignoring warnings because they’re fearful of being accused of yet another U-turn.
Many of those entitled to Universal Credit residing in parts of the country where the benefit has already been ‘rolled out’ have had to wait upwards of six weeks to receive any payments and have been pushed into rent arrears as a consequence. Dame Louise Casey, a social policy adviser to governments of both colours for 18 years, has urged the PM to take a closer look at what impact Universal Credit stands to have on individuals and families who are already perched on the precipice of poverty before the damage is done. Government estimates predict seven million households will be in receipt of Universal Credit within the next five years, but despite the Citizens Advice Bureau and several Tory backbenchers sharing the same concerns as Dame Louise, it would appear the plans are going ahead regardless of her belief that some families ‘will end up in dire circumstances, more dire than I think we have seen in this country for years’.
If, as history tells us, it was once perfectly legitimate for landlords to place the notorious ‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’ sign in the windows of their properties, it was also once okay for them to say ‘No DHSS’, and far more recently at that; I came across it myself several times when looking for somewhere to live around fifteen years ago. I learnt to keep quiet and worked out that paying my rent in person without the DHSS paying it direct to the landlord was one way to get around the discrimination; and while I’m not sure where the law stands in terms of who landlords can and cannot refuse tenancies to today, it would appear they routinely turn away anyone whose income falls under the ‘Universal Credit’ banner. For some, it’s a vicious circle; they can’t get work without a fixed abode and they can’t get a fixed abode because they’re claiming Universal Credit…on account of not being able to get work.
One of the Conservative MPs calling for a rethink on Universal Credit, Stephen McPartland, says ‘with every pound (claimants) earn, the Government’s taking 63p back off them; to me, that is an effective tax rate of 63%…so the lowest paid are effectively having to pay some of the highest taxes’. The CAB concluded Universal Credit claimants on average have less than £4 a month to pay creditors after covering the cost of living; the organisation’s chief executive Gillian Guy said ‘if the Government continues to take this stubborn approach to the expansion of Universal Credit, it risks pushing thousands of families into a spiral of debt, and placing an even greater strain on public services’.
But Mrs May is too busy pruning the remaining leaves from the magic money tree in the Downing Street garden to listen; if she can toss its off-cuts in the direction of those she assumes will translate them into a solution to their problems, she’s done her job. To be fair, there doesn’t seem much point in her looking at the long-term, anyway.
© The Editor