Opinion: Does the difference between a cut and a slash even matter?

Leader of the Opposition WillShakespeare99 writes his weekly column for the Guardian.

The Government has suggested there will be cuts, but no “slash”, to the Negative Income Tax system.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Guardian.

At Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Chancellor Toastinrussian, standing in for Leafy_Emerald, told the House of Commons when asked about any potential cut to NIT, “This Government can commit to NIT… We will not see this system slashed as some have predicted we would do.” And yet, just a few days later, Work and Welfare Secretary told the House in his question session “the government is committed to the existence of a Negative income tax, we have not ruled out a modest reduction in the Negative Income Tax,” before moving to a party political rant in which he tried to suggest that the Chancellors commitment to no “slash” did not rule out all cuts. That’s surely a difference that will be of great comfort to those who rely on the NIT system to put food on the table.

The Chancellor, in his own question time, was once again asked about the issue by Classical Liberal Leader Twistednuke, and once again played up the semantic difference. “I am proud of this government’s commitment to not slash NIT and I will once again confirm it in this Question period. This government will not be slashing NIT.” In response to a follow up from Mr Nuke, Mr Russian once again stated “I would like to make sure the Right Honourable Gentleman knows that a slash and a cut are vastly different. This Government continues to rule out a slash to NIT.”

It all reads more like a social policy essay discussing the differences between a slash and a cut in spending or an academic exercise in defining the two terms, rather than a series of deliberately vague statements by senior Government figures about the money the poorest in our society rely on. Either the Chancellor’s initial statement ruling out a “slash” was an error that they’ve spent the week trying to row back on or it was calculated obfuscation to simply kill the question and wrongly make us all feel better.

While the Government may think the difference between a slash and a cut matters, it all adds up to lost money for working people. It does raise the important question of where the ministers in question think the distinction is. Where does a slash end and a cut begin? Seeing as the cabinet are now very interested in turning question sessions into semantic arguments its very worthwhile noting that semantic arguments scarcely end well or with agreement. What one person might call a slash, another might call a cut. It is therefore extremely bold to hang their entire argument on that.

We’re yet to get even a figure from any Minister about where they think that line might lie. The Deputy Prime Minister said he was unable to comment on specific amounts when asked at his questions yesterday. The Government likely know that this clumsily drawn distinction will come back to severely hurt them the moment they start to talk numbers for one simple reason – for someone with nothing, for whom NIT is their livelihood, through no fault of their own, any cut is a slash.

The Government is playing a political, PR game with people’s lives either because the Chancellor got it terribly wrong, because they want to play down the potential damage, or because they want to set themselves up for when the criticism of their “slash” eventually comes, deflecting by calling it a “cut”. But all of this just confirms that this Government is already, after just a couple of weeks, out of touch. They think that it’s somehow better to be considering a moderate cut than a “slash” or that the difference really matters outside of Westminster.

I don’t know whether it’s a u-turn, or a fudge, or a master chess game – we will work to find out very soon – but I do know, from my own personal experiences growing up and as a young man, that it will be striking fear into millions of hard working or sick people across Britain this week. They don’t care if you want to call it a slash or a cut, they want to know how much they’re about to lose, and the Government should stop making themselves look better, and tell people the truth.

Written by WillShakespeare99 for the Guardian.

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