In his autumn statement (Report, 6 December), the chancellor claimed “we are all in it together”, yet his announcement that working-age benefits will rise by only 1% for the next three years means people like me are unfairly penalised. I have been unable to work for 16 years due a chronic illness (ME). I hate not working and it has severely affected my sense of self-esteem. I currently receive employment and support allowance (ESA) at £105 a week which will increase by only 1% in the next three years. The latest 2012 CPI inflation rate is 2.7%, which over three years would become 8-9%, so this decision would cause me a loss of 6% in real terms. The only income I have comes from ESA and disability living allowance. The chancellor has “balanced” this cut in benefits by reducing tax-free pension contributions to £50,000 a year for the richest 2% of people. This is presented by George Osborne as evidence he has ensured that “everyone pays their fair share”. Really?
• Labour’s two Eds are on shaky ground when criticising the government’s income tax policy. Both were enthusiastic bag carriers for Gordon Brown when he cut the standard rate and failed to increase higher rates. Like many otherwise sensible people, he seems to have fallen for rich men’s propaganda. For decades they’ve been telling us it’s disastrous to tax rich men and, across the globe, they’ve succeeded in getting their dubious theories accepted.
The days when progressive taxes were accepted as being the least-worse option are becoming distant memories. Nostalgic lefties might even yearn for Margaret Thatcher’s time, during most of which the highest rate of income tax was 60% and standard nudged 30%. Slashing these rates has left a huge annual hole in the exchequer while much of the untaxed income has been spent by the allegedly “squeezed middle” on purchases such as imported consumer goods and multi-channel TV subscriptions. Meanwhile the genuinely hard up increasingly struggle to pay for essentials, public services become shabby while the super-rich party on.
Until sanity and political courage return, the gap between rich and poor will go on growing and governments will have to continue using regressive and/or stealthy ways to fund all the infrastructure and services that complex nations increasingly require.
• At last, someone has written it the way it is (Our political class clings to the delusion that growth will return, 6 December). As the pundits rake through the minutiae of Osborne’s autumn statement they stick to the impossible dream – continuous growth and the promised pot of gold for everyone at the end of the coalition rainbow – not this year, or next, but as soon as we get “back on track”. As Suzanne Moore points out, continuous growth is impossible with limited resources. What is required is a redistribution of wealth and living within our means.
And as, in our fantasy world, we cut benefits to the poor and ringfence the wealth of the super-rich there lurks in the background the unmentionable – the hundreds of billions we squander on wars, our armed forces and Trident.
• I listened with familiar dismay to the chancellor’s autumn statement. Particularly demoralising was the announcement that schools can now decide to pay staff based on performance. This was welcomed as “balanced” by the headteachers’ union, the NAHT. I can’t say I am surprised as it means a headteacher can now use a measure that they deem appropriate to rule on how much teachers should get paid.
I have been rated as an outstanding teacher by Ofsted, so in theory should be optimistic about my impending pay increase. Yet I get the feeling this is going to act as an excuse for schools to save money rather than reward staff. I am sure the government will analyse and produce figures on the overall changes to the average amount teachers are paid. But until then, am I the only one who thinks this looks distinctly like a stealthy pay cut?
Head of religious studies, Bournemouth School
• A lot of the debate about the autumn statement hinges on the failure to meet growth and debt reduction targets and fails to challenge the apparent “necessity” for further austerity to get the economy back to health. But this misses a fundamental point. The Tory-led coalition is clearly using the crisis as cover to reduce benefits, dismantle the welfare state and erode employment rights. By their lights, the government is actually doing well. The NHS and state education are being privatised. High unemployment keeps wages down. And the poor are paying for a crisis of capitalism.
Until there’s more widespread recognition of this elemental point, I fear little will change. The left needs to challenge the current terms of debate more clearly and articulate the case for an alternative economic strategy based on a reversal of the financialisation of our economy, an active industrial strategy and withdrawal from the EU (without which none of this is possible).
Crowborough, East Sussex
• I wish to assure George Osborne that when I worked shifts and had to get up early to catch the 3.30am staff bus, I felt grateful to have a steady job, which paid quite well and which I enjoyed doing. In no way was I envious of those unfortunate people who faced one bleak day after another without work, no matter how long they were able to stay in bed.
• Please can a stop be put to the use of this oxymoron “negative growth”? Contraction would be a better term; recession better still.
• Where on earth do the Tories get that horrible, mirthless laugh from? Do they teach it in Tory training school?