Just before his untimely death at just fifty-nine, the anthropologist David Graeber wrote: “At some point in the next few months, the crisis will be declared over, and we will be able to return to our “nonessential” jobs. For many, this will be like waking from a dream.”

“…Because, in reality, the crisis we just experienced was waking from a dream, a confrontation with the actual reality of human life, which is that we are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another, and that those who do the lion’s share of this care work that keeps us alive are overtaxed, underpaid, and daily humiliated, and that a very large proportion of the population don’t do anything at all but spin fantasies, extract rents, and generally get in the way of those who are making, fixing, moving, and transporting things, or tending to the needs of other living beings. It is imperative that we not slip back into a reality where all this makes some sort of inexplicable sense, the way senseless things so often do in dreams.”

This was a portent worth holding onto as the world watches the atrocities at Kabul airport and the disintegration of Afghanistan as British and American troops pull-out in chaos. The Cost of War project at Brown University estimates that between 2001 and 2021 the war cost the US $2.26 trillion dollars. The official figure given by the British government for our involvement in the debacle is put at £22.2 billion, though unofficial researchers point to a far higher sum. The final cost is likely to be even higher because the bill disclosed by Defense Minister James Heappey only counts cash from a special Whitehall pot for the conflict.

Revealing the cost in a written parliamentary answer, Heappey said: “As at May 2021, the total cost of Operation Herrick to HM Treasury Special Reserve is £22.2billion.” Herrick was the Ministry of Defense’s codename for the deployment of British soldiers to Helmand Province in 2006 – five years after UK troops were first sent to Afghanistan with allies.

It’s in this context that we should look at the cuts to Universal Credit that’s been announced which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has called: “the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state.”

In March 2020, as we were faced with the first economic fallout from the pandemic, the Government recognised that our social security rates were too low to protect families when they need it. The Government did the right thing and increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £20 a week. However, this £20 a week is scheduled to be cut, coming into effect for families on Universal Credit from 6 October. For all the chatter about “the end of the pandemic” and “getting the economy going again” the reality is that this Autumn furlough ends and the effect of these cuts is going to be massive.

Chris Birt, Deputy Director for Scotland at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “In just over a month, in the face of widespread opposition, the UK Government plans to impose the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War. Cutting Universal Credit will have deep and devastating consequences for a huge number of families with children across Scotland.”

“Child poverty was already rising before Covid-19; it is a scandal that the UK Government’s strategy for economic recovery is to plunge families who are already struggling into deeper poverty and debt. Now is the time for MPs and MSPs of all stripes to step up and oppose this cut to their constituents’ incomes. It’s not too late for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to change course and reverse this decision.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundations figures are galling:

More than one in three (37%) families with children in Scotland will lose £1,040 per year if the planned cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit goes ahead in October.

This impact will be felt extensively across Scotland. In 52 of the 59 Westminster constituencies, over a quarter of working-age families with children will be impacted by the cut, which will strip money from families’ pockets and local economies.

The independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation has used the latest official data released last week to produce a comprehensive analysis of which UK parliamentary constituencies will be most affected by the cut which is scheduled for 6 October.

The looming cut will have the most severe impact in Glasgow, which contains the three constituencies in which over half of all families with children will be impacted: Glasgow central (63%) Glasgow South West (55%) and Glasgow North East (54%).

But the cut will have far-reaching consequences across Scotland. Among the constituencies in which over four in ten families with children will lose out are Dundee West (49%); Kirkaldy & Cowdenbeath (44%); Aberdeen North (42%) North Ayrshire & Arran (43%).

Interviewed by the BBC Boris Johnson said: ‘“My strong preference is for people to see their wages rise… rather than welfare,” as even two Conservative MPs urge him not to cut universal credit payments from October.”

Johnson has defended the planned cuts by suggesting claimants should rely on their own “efforts” rather than accept “welfare”. Unsurprisingly Johnson’s suggestion that the six million people on Universal Credit, including many people facing illness, and people who are on pitifully low wages (around four in ten claimants are in work) are not making an ‘effort’ is completely insulting from a man who has known nothing but obscene privilege. These cuts come from a government whose Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, lay on a beach on a £40,000 holiday, too lazy to make phone calls that could have saved lives, once accused British workers of being “among the worst idlers in the world”.

Whilst the media has been curating a story about the pandemic that it’s over and gone away it clearly hasn’t and it clearly isn’t. We’re entering a new phase of the pandemic in which a largely vaccinated population suffers the economic hit and the devastating social impact of the virus is revealed. At the same time food prices are on the rise and our fragile and precarious food-chain teeters on the brink of collapse. The Tories and the Brexiteers have created a perfect storm, the CoronaBrexit, a concoction of self-harm by a deranged cadre of British nationalists.

This crisis is a precious one and we must learn the lessons it’s revealing to us. We are ruled-over by an elite as incompetent as they are venal. They run a war economy whilst slashing meagre support to the poorest in society. Let’s hope that we are not all so stunned and stressed and traumatised to gather the strength required to overthrow them.

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Comments (10)

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  1. Jacob Bonnari says:

    Good piece. The only thing I’d disagree with is the idea that they are running a war economy. WW2 saw rationing and the diet of the typical family improve. This lot are trying to run wars on the cheap and spend only where it benefits their pals (whizzy new toys).

    1. Fair point, though The government’s decisions to increase Britain’s warhead stockpile by 40%, from 180 to 260 warheads, as part of a £10 billion defence programme is – IMHO – a moral obscenity.

  2. Wullie says:

    Meanwhile the likes of Kenny McAskill think the poor should be shafted further by the imposition of a 15p increase on alcohol minimum pricing, a sum which will be unlikely to reduce alcohol sales but will mean less cash for foodstuffs.

    1. Malcolm Kerr says:

      There is a well-established evidence-based consensus that minimum pricing of alcohol reduces alcohol consumption, benefiting almost everyone in society (unless perhaps you are manufacturing alcoholic drink), but especially benefiting alcohol consumers, including addicts. A 15p “imposition” would restore the devaluation of the minimum price effected by inflation, and is well overdue. For a large majority of people, spending on alcohol is not obligatory. “The poor” (your phrase) are capable of exercising choices, however limited. It’s not clear how anybody is being “shafted” by this proposal.

  3. gavinochiltree says:

    The most unequal industrialised country is heading toward deeper inequality.
    While “bread” becomes scarcer, the Murdoch oriented media give us the “circus” of Olympic medal tables, Royal tales, and castigating the “boat people” crossing the channel.
    Meanwhile those who still agitate agin Brexit are “anti-British” says Camerons old Prof in the Torygraf.
    And pundits and politicos are raging against Biden, his age, sanity and Vice President, who happens to be female and non-White.
    This will be noted in Washington. Biden remembers Boris and his snide comments against Obama.
    American Trade deal, anyone? Be just like the one we don’t have with the EU.
    I doubt Biden will run again, but Harris will—and remember Perfidious Albion.
    Boris leads the most incompetent and corrupt regime in history.
    And the media don’t call him out.

  4. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    The government and their friends in the media continue to peddle the false dichotomy that it is a choice between jobs or ‘welfare handouts’. The latter, they claim fosters ‘scrounging’ and ‘encourages the ‘work shy’. In a book written some years ago by Truss, Patel, Kwarteng et al, they described British workers as the ‘laziest in the world’ and they needed harsh medicine to make them ‘shape up’. Hence, ‘slash benefits’ to force the ‘workshy’ to take jobs, but the Tories also ‘slashed red tape’ which really means, strip workers of all employment protection and trade Union rights, so that costs, i. e. wages are ‘driven down’ to increase profits and ‘shareholder value’.

    The huge majority of people on ‘welfare’ are in work, sometimes with two or more jobs.

    And still Labour cannot find a ‘narrative’.

    1. Wul says:

      I have to agree Alasdair. Labour’s failure to raise hell over the institutionalised unfairness and moral corruption in our government is unforgivable.

      My exhausted 82 year old mother was struggling bewildered over the twenty nine page claim form for Attendance Allowance today. Trying to get some meagre help with the costs of caring for my demented father. Twenty nine pages!

      It doesn’t seem fair that a quick text to the Chancellor can net the right kind of chap a few million quid for not providing PPE during a pandemic, but an elderly woman has to jump through hoops to prove her eligibility to save the state hundreds of pounds a week by nursing her husband at home.

  5. Wul says:

    So, our “Operation Herrick” adventure has cost us (UK, tax-paying subjects) £22.2billion.

    However, that is also a £22billion pay-day for those who peddle the apparatus of war. It’s not all doom and gloom.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Wul, yes indeed, I was thinking that as well as the costs of war, the article might provide some assessment of the profits and where they went. And perhaps, how well spent they money was for value obtained. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/27/afghanistan-nato-mission-corruption-military-soldier
      Apparently opium profits were booming at various points too.

      @Editor, Kirkcaldy has a ‘c’.

  6. Colin Robinson says:

    ‘Let’s hope that we are not all so stunned and stressed and traumatised to gather the strength required to overthrow them.’

    Not to worry. Most of us are diddling along the precipices of life nicely. And we’ll have the opportunity to ‘overthrow them’ in a few years time, at the next general election, should that turn out to be the collective will.

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