The most telling comment on Osborne's Autumn Statement this week came from Matthew Taylor in a discussion on a BBC programme. The worst thing about it, he said, was that no one, not even Osborne, believed a word of it. Those crunching the numbers afterwards came up with a terrifying vision of what the Tories are aiming at; a country which would be back in the desolate and dangerous world of the 1930s, with "the state", that part of the national income spent for the benefit of everyone, reduced to almost nothing. Certainly there were plenty of hints about slashing "welfare" even further. I was puzzled by one announcement, which was slipped through barely noticed by the commentators (because it doesn't affect them): the rates of Universal Credit are frozen for those in work (see the Independent's article on this). Now, I can't make out whether he was just talking about UC, which won't affect most people for some time, or whether he was trying to pretend that everyone is on UC and it will actually mean working tax credits are frozen as well. There's a good article in the Mirror on why Osborne's vision is so appalling.
In case you want to play the game of blaming someone other than the government and start muttering about pensioners, there was a nasty hidden surprise for many of them. The so-called triple lock should have given them an extra £2.85 a week, but most of that will be lost as pension credits are lowered; so only those pensioners who don't qualify for extra benefits, i.e. those with private pensions and / or large amounts of savings, will get the full increase.
In the midst of all the gloom and doom there was some good news for A4e. They have new 2-year contracts to deliver the New Enterprise Allowance mentoring scheme in a further three areas of Scotland.
The Scottish government is furious with the UK government over the Work Programme. As part of the devolution agreement Scotland is to have control over welfare programmes there, but not UC. The Smith Commission spelled out that this would include the WP when the contracts came to an end in March 2016. Like many English councils, the Scottish government wants to devise suitable, flexible support for the unemployed. But it was told on Tuesday that the current contracts are to be extended for a year. The UK government says that this was agreed in August, long before the Smith Commission was set up. So tough.
There are only 6 days left to get evidence to the Work & Pensions Select Committee for their enquiry into benefit sanctions. The DWP will maintain its lie about sanctions only being used as a last resort, as they've done in an article today in a Scottish newspaper. I would love the enquiry to conclude that the DWP is deliberately lying and make that known.