Not only that, but the target is potential prime ministerial candidate George Osborne. What are his hopes worth now, when he’s busily turning his entire party into a gang of hypocritical exploiters of the poor, just to save his own face?
The Chancellor has run out of good options. He must now either abandon his plans to find £12 billion of savings by targeting the working poor – or stick to his guns, and destroy the Conservatives’ claim to being the new “workers’ party”.
Like all of the worst political messes, it was created by a pile-up of accidents. Its origins were during the election campaign, when Mr Osborne said he’d find £12 billion of welfare cuts and, as a result, run a budget surplus.
The Chancellor never said where he would find such extraordinary savings, because he didn’t know. It was a ruse, a figure designed to be bargained down by Liberal Democrats in coalition talks that, then, seemed inevitable.
Osborne ended up as Chancellor in a majority Tory government, saddled with a pledge that even he had never really taken seriously. But to admit as much, he calculated, would be too embarrassing – so he got to work on the tax credit budget which subsidises low salaries. In other words, the “workers’ party” would be coming after the workers.
Taking money away from millions of working families already on the breadline has proved politically horrific. These are the people doing everything the Tories have asked of them, and can’t now understand why they are being penalised.
No moral thread runs through his plans for working tax credit cuts. For most who claim them, the £9 an hour living wage will not repair the damage. Not only does it punish the strivers, but it’s not even needed to balance the books.
He is proposing to come after those claiming Universal Credit, the Government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme.
It was designed so no low-waged worker would pay a higher tax rate than 55 per cent. It’s a rather high rate, but as the Prime Minister put it, the beauty of Universal Credit is that this rate could be cut in future Budgets. His Chancellor, however, disagrees. The Treasury demanded that the first workers on Universal Credit would face an eye-watering effective tax rate of 65 per cent. And now, to pay for a partial retreat on tax credits, the Chancellor is planning to take this to 75 per cent – and perhaps even higher.
Such a high rate, of course, destroys the whole point of Universal Credit. The low-waged would be swapping one welfare trap for another.
How will a Tory Chancellor, with ambitions to be a Tory Prime Minister, explain why he is raising taxes on poorest workers – especially after lowering taxes for the richest?
Yet again, we can see the Chancellor’s biggest political weakness – he is so clever that he’s downright stupid.
The thrust of his reforms flies in the face of everything the Conservatives purport to stand for.
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