Monday, 22 June 2015

Working poorer

David Cameron will announce today, Monday, the bad news for everyone who did not vote Tory. He will announce what the FT calls "an assault on tax credits" as part of his plan to cut £12 billion out of part of the economy.  

The part of the economy from which he and Giddy Osborne will cut £12 billion is not the part that has a lot of money. It is not the bankers, or the well-heeled-and-toed voters of the Home Counties. It is £12 billion from the poor.

What does that mean for Scotland?

The focus will be on Working Tax Credits (WTC) and Child Tax Credits (CTC). These are payments made to people on low wages or no wages. The system is designed to taper so that families in work whose total income is £6,420 or less receive the full benefit, with a reduction of 41p in each additional £1 they earn above this level. In 2013-4 the Government paid out £29 billion in tax credits, according to the National Statistical Office. It is unlikely that they will take the full £12 billion from this one area (although only "unlikely", not "impossible") but even half of that would represent a 20% reduction in tax credit payments.

The statistics (here) are clear. In Scotland 351,900 families received Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits in 2013-14. In these families there were 526,300 children. In 2013-14 these families received on average £5,832 in tax credits. A quick review of the constituency data shows a map of poverty in Scotland, with Eastwood, Pollok, Rutherglen, Hamilton South amongst the places where the poorest people received the largest Working Tax Credits

Imagine that Mr Cameron sticks to a vow. Imagine that he cuts 20% off tax credits. Here is the maths:

In Pollok in 2013-4 there were 6,100 families including 8,800 children, who were receiving either WTC or CTC. This represented a total of £36.6m for the Pollok economy. Imagine that Mr Cameron sticks to this new vow and cuts, say, 20% from that total. He would be taking £7,327,320 out of the Pollok economy. More than £7m from an economy that is already on its knees.

Now translate that figure into income for small businesses, shopkeepers especially. They will cut staff. How many staff? Around 700 full-time jobs in Pollok (basing the calculation on National Minimum Wage and a 35 hour week).

So rather than, say, put a penny on income tax for the people of Surrey and Hertfordshire, Mr Cameron will impoverish the in-work poor and, as a consequence, chuck a lot of people out onto the street. 

Donchalove him?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Weasel words

Yesterday's debate - reported here in Hansard - on the Scotland Bill 2015 has some high points - Tommy Sheppard is good even if he avoids the ridiculous "Honourable Gentleman" convention of the House of Commons. 

It is Mike Weir, SNP MP for Angus, who pinpoints the Bill's key flaw when he says, of the veto:

"a Minister here in Westminster will have to give agreement to when a change will take effect. That Minister is not obliged to give any agreement, so consent could be withheld and it is effectively a veto."


Why is this important? Why not just all trust each other as Heidi Allen MP (Conservative, South Cambridgeshire) says?

Because we may trust only one thing in Westminster politics: it is a game and the Tories are its keenest, and most wily, players. The anodyne phrases in the Bill and the assurances from Scotland's only Tory MP that we will play fair are all part of a weasely game.

The game is especially dirty this time because it is focused on welfare payments. The veto (not the Vow) will mean that poor people in Scotland will continue to suffer under a government which they did not vote for. 

The veto will ensure that the cuts that will finally shred the welfare system in England will tear it apart in Scotland too.

This is starting to feel like Westminster's Referendum Revenge.

Friday, 5 June 2015


Enter the camp of the enemy, and read about it in The Telegraph. That is where you will learn their tactics.

Yesterday's report that George Osborne will cut £177m from the budget for Scotland this year illustrates how the Tories will work. They are going to spend the next four years harrying the (relatively) tiny group of 56 in Westminster. They are going to use their majority to force the SNP into a series of political corners.

The sound-bite writers have given them the phrase to use, and we can expect Osbameron to use it again and again: "put up or shut up".

Righteous indignation - "Scotland voted against austerity!", "Scotland didn't vote Tory!", "No more cuts" - is no use in realpolitik. This is not a moral or ethical issue, in Westminster. It is politics as chess, using the Westminster machinery (including, eventually and inevitably, the unelected House of Lords) to beat the Scots again, and again, and again until they acknowledge their impotence.

Operation Fear will be like a stroll in the Botanic Gardens compared to this. The Tories will play it out with no consideration for its impact in Easterhouse or Possil Park. Who cares if some poor woman loses her welfare long as we, the Tories, can crush the opposition.

The SNP will have to be very clever, and very agile, to avoid the political traps at Westminster.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Puir women

Not now. Not in a modern Scotland. 

Surely we can do better than this. This is a picture with women at both ends. On the left it is about women and poverty, and on the right about the glass ceiling.

The graph is from the well-researched statistics of Close the Gap, the Scottish group working on the gender pay gap. Their Working Paper 14, published in April 2015, explains the challenges of calculating the gap between the wages and salaries paid to men and women in Scotland. It explains the calculation of "average" differences in pay and the relevance of calculating gaps in median pay.

In the graph the people earning the lowest wages are on the left - the 10th percentile - while the people earning the most are on the right - the 90th percentile.

Women in Scotland on higher salaries are typically earning between 10% and 15% less than the men in the same jobs. This is the glass ceiling.The graph shows that between 2013-2014 the glass got a bit thinner - women on the highest salaries were earning 17% less than men in 2013, and this gap closed to 14% in 2014. The same pattern happened across the four higher paying percentiles. This looks good. But it is still a huge gap. Why should a woman CEO earn almost a sixth less than a man? Not in modern Scotland, surely?

But it is their poor sisters who are the real concern. Because here, amongst the lowest paid women in Scotland, the gap widened. Poor working women were worse off in 2014 in relation to poor men than they were in 2013. 

Poverty is women.

Whether that is women on low wages, or as The National points out this morning, women on benefits, it is women who are hit hardest by poverty.

Poverty in women is (as poverty always is) a complex mixture of rights, of attitudes, of rules, of child and adult dependents, of education, of benefits sanctions, of poor housing... It is not easy to tackle. It requires the men and women of Scotland - from the 10th to the 90th percentile - to work together to close the gaps between women and men, rich and poor.

Surely we can do better than to leave our puir women, puir.