While I was going through this month’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) employment statistics for my monthly analysis of what you won’t see in the headlines, I came across a very interesting piece of information. This info doesn’t bear directly on employment/unemployment levels, but it does bear very directly on the government’s narrative on benefits – the same narrative that Cameron, Osborne, Duncan Smith and co have been using as their chief justification for their decision to cap benefit rises at 1% for at least the next 3 years. And this information catches them all in a Big (Fat) Lie.
For example, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, arguing for the government’s then-planned (and now implemented) 1% cap on benefit rises, said:
It is unfair for benefits to rise at a faster rate than wages
while David Cameron said on Twitter:
The Commons vote to limit benefit rises to 1% while pay is only rising at 1% is fair.
Whatever you think of that argument (and I think it’s a nonsense), it only stands up at all..
if pay is only rising at 1%.
But the ONS earnings stats (click here if you want to download the spreadsheet and see for yourself) tell a completely different story.
According to the January ONS release, the average pay increase over the past year (up to Nov 2012, the latest month covered) was 1.5% in the private sector and 1.9% in the public sector. Woeful, pitiful increases, and employers (including the government) should be ashamed. But still 50% and 90% higher, respectively, than the cap imposed by the government on increases to benefits.
Don’t forget that 60% of benefit claimants are working people, so the government is compounding the effect on those people of pathetic pay increases by capping their benefit increases at a rate well below inflation. And the effect on unemployed people claiming the UK’s far from generous unemployment benefits is even worse – we must not let this government play ‘divide and rule’ by setting working people against the unemployed, most of whom would love a job but who outnumber the available vacancies by more than 5 to 1.
You might think, ‘So what? That’s just a single year – the overall story is probably different.’ You’d be wrong.
The graph below, which I created using the ONS’ figures for percentage pay rises since 2001 (the first year in their table which shows a percentage figure), shows the average pay increases (excluding bonuses, so that the figures are not bumped up by obscene bankers’ bonuses etc) for the private and public sectors, and the resulting overall average.
As you can see, sometimes the public sector has fared better, and sometimes the private sector – but in only 1 year out of the last 12 has average pay risen by less than 1%. In only 2 years – the 2 years of this Tory-led coalition – has it been below 2%.
Until the government forced through its ‘uprating bill’, benefits were increased in line with inflation – or, to be more precise, with the ‘Consumer Price Index‘ (CPI) inflation rate, since this is normally lower than the alternative ‘Retail Price Index‘ (RPI) rate. The graph below, which I took from a BBC news site article, but which uses ONS figures, shows the RPI and CPI rates since 2000:
That tells an interesting story – but since the 2 graphs don’t cover exactly the same period and are not to the same scale, you might have difficulty spotting what the story is. So, because I like to be helpful, I’ve stretched my limited graphics skills to the limit to re-scale and crop the inflation graph, and to remove the irrelevant RPI blue line (as cleanly as I can), so that it matches the period and scale of the pay rise graph:
What leaps out – or should – is that benefits increases have lagged substantially behind pay rises in almost every year covered by both sets of data.
If benefit rises in line with inflation have outstripped pay rises over the last couple of years, then it can justifiably be argued that this is merely a much-needed ‘catch-up’. But what the graph also shows very clearly – and which anyone who considers him/herself a ‘striver’ needs to understand is this:
The Tories call themselves ‘the party of the strivers, of those who work hard and do the right thing‘ – but 3 of the 4 worst years for the pay-packets of working people have been under the Conservative-led government.
We’ve caught Cameron and co in several blatant lies, any one of which merits the descriptors ‘Big’ and ‘Fat’:
Benefit claimants, with their inflation-linked rises, have not outstripped wage rises except in a very short period – and even then only because of the actions and decisions of the government. On the contrary, for most of the past 12 years – and probably further back – pay rises have consistently beaten benefit rises.
Pay has not risen by only 1% over the past year or at any point under this government, as David Cameron has repeatedly and emphatically claimed.
Last, but not least, the claim – repeated ad nauseam – of Cameron and co to be on the side of the ‘strivers’ is the most pungent bullshit imaginable. Working people have suffered risible pay increases, in spite of steep rises in the cost of housing, fuel and other essentials, while the Tories continue to claim ‘we’re all in it together‘ as they cut taxes for the wealthiest.
The Tories claimed their 1% measure was about ‘fairness’. All the while they were lying through their teeth in order to attack not only the vulnerable and unemployed but also the very people whose side they claim to be on: low-paid workers, parents, people exploited by greedy employers and by greedy landlords. They exploit Josef Goebbels’ ‘Big Lie’ principle shamelessly.
Some might argue that these irredeemably vicious and deceitful ‘leaders’ belong in prison for what they are doing to ordinary people and to the most vulnerable in our society. At the very least, they belong in the electoral dustbin for good.