3 Jun 2013
Benefits; call for fairer reform
The language around benefit cuts has got nasty. The government is cutting billions from welfare benefits that they wrongly insist are needed to cut the budget deficit and borrowing requirements. To justify these gargantuan cuts and punitive welfare-to-work policies, the right-wing press screams headlines about scroungers, shirkers and skivers being to blame.
This myth, for that is what it is, divides people against each other and creates a scapegoat. If people are finding life difficult they can blame a whole army of lazy scroungers. Yet the real story is this governments unpopular and damaging economic policies.
Many people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. We should be supporting each other through the hard times – not embarrassing, punishing or demonising them. ‘Getting tough on welfare' is lazy politics. It relies on conning the public into thinking the system is much more generous than it is and is full of fraud. The facts show otherwise. For example;
• The TUC found on average, people think that 27% of the benefits budget is claimed fraudulently; the official government figure is 0.7%.
• At least four people on Job Seeker’s Allowance are chasing every unfilled Job Centre vacancy.
• The vast majority of people not working are doing so because of disability, caring responsibilities, or because there are no jobs available.
• The number of households with two generations who have never worked is 1% – no, not of all households – 1% of unemployed households.
• The talk of 120,000 'troubled families' turns out to be the figure of deprivation, not behaviour.
Indeed we have one of the least generous unemployment benefit systems in Europe, and it gets meaner every year. Increasingly people are struggling with spells of unemployment, dire zero-hours contracts and short-term, low-paid insecure jobs. For the first time ever, in-work poverty has overtaken workless poverty. Yet the government instead of tackling the problem of low income, is subsidising employers offering poor quality employment through working tax credits. Taxpayers are picking up the bill by topping up wages so that paid workers can feed and house themselves and their families.
There is nothing disreputable about being dependent. Yet our culture fosters independence; seeing people who give as stronger and, by inference, the ones receiving, as weaker. This is a complete fallacy if there ever was one in an inter-dependent world. As someone who has spent some years with chronic illness that necessitated relying on others any delusion of self-sufficiency was shattered.
We need a benefits system that respects and understands this – not one that fosters division, competition and looking after ‘number one’. We need to stop blaming the victims for this mess, and start building a fairer society.