Yesterday the Queen outlined the new government’s plans and top of the list was tackling the soaring deficit and restoring economic growth. Cuts to deal with the deficit are absolutely essential, although not everyone agrees. The Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS) posted on their website that the planned £6.2 billion in initial cuts combined with the Queen’s speech means the new government have “begun the process of dismantling key elements of the welfare state”.
This is a complete overreaction considering the major talk on welfare reform was as follows:
"My Government’s legislative programme will be based upon the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility...
The tax and benefits system will be made fairer and simpler... People will be supported into work with sanctions for those who refuse available jobs and the timetable for increasing the State Pension Age will be reviewed."
The reality is that we can no longer afford welfare spending as it currently stands - the welfare bill is now running at £200bn pa, around 15% of GDP, and increasing rapidly. It is completely necessary that welfare is reformed, particularly pensions, incapacity and unemployment benefits, which together account for more than £95 billion of the total welfare bill.
Welfare reform should obviously be done carefully, ensuring the most vulnerable have a safety net. It is wholly irresponsible of the PCS to suggest these reforms and cuts are being done on whim “to punish the vulnerable for a recession caused by greed in the financial sector”. Reform of welfare and spending cuts are needed to get a hold of a deficit that is currently greater than Greece’s and is due to years of spending taxpayers’ money as if it was bottomless pit.
It has also strongly criticised the £500 million in cuts from non-departmental public bodies, even though the functions of these public bodies can be performed elsewhere and do not require extra and costly layers of bureaucracy. For example, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) – a quango that has been cut saving £80 million – oversaw IT procurement and technology strategy for schools in England and Wales. Schools can however run their own IT procurement so that it is better tailored to their individual needs. And with plans to introduce more Academies and Free Schools, which have more freedom from constraining bureaucracies, quangos like BECTA are entirely unnecessary (for more detail on cutting unnecessary quangos see How to Cut Public Spending (and Still Win an Election).
It is not surprising however that essential reform of public spending is opposed by the PCS considering it is a union that represents people that are paid by the taxpayer. The union is “calling for a major coalition of trade unions and community groups to come together to fight these cuts and defend public services.” Expect a more severe backlash from the unions after the emergency budget and the spending review this Autumn.