New feature: Piggy banks and budget cuts

// 16 December 2009

Cuts have become politically popular again, but the new thrift is targeted at the most not least vulnerable, says Clare Gould

Thrift is a virtue. As the days shorten and we begin our swift decline into winter rains, politicians’ thoughts have turned to self-improvement. More specifically, your self-improvement. Electioneering fodder and party political buzz words have fizzed with the rhetoric of belt-tightening, restraint and stoicism. Complacency and comfort is out; upright puritan denial in.

No longer a dirty word, the budget “cut” has taken on a glamour of its own. Now it is an article of faith and a mark of observance for politicians of all colours. The Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable is moved to nostalgia, mooning over “childhood memories of piggy banks and those stiff-backed books which recorded our first savings, filled in by bank clerks using ink pots” in the Daily Mail. Meanwhile others talk of ‘values’. Politicians laud in the perspective of the comfortable middle-Englander, revelling in a return to old-fashioned virtue.

However, it may come as a surprise that the cuts are not to be directed against those who can most afford to bear them. Two debt-busting strategies have slipped under the net with little or no debate. However, the pockets being picked belong to those among the most vulnerable in society and those who should readily inspire a spirited feminist defence.

Instead, the strategies have garnered enthusiastic support. As I sit writing this the Labour conference has erupted in cheers as Gordon Brown proposes mother and baby homes for teenage mums in order to instill and teach ‘responsibility’. Core to the issue of teenage pregnancy in Brown’s eyes is the queue jumping for council homes. “It cannot be right,” he states and is echoed by the party rank and file leaving the auditorium. Alan Johnson goes further, criticising those who do not take responsibility, as he opines: “We don’t want them having children at 16…[they] cannot be provided with the keys to a castle.”

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