The Real Benefits Scam

With the House of Lords voting to approve the coalition government’s truly awful welfare reform package which will plunge thousands of families below the poverty line, and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party already stating that they’ll vote for amendments to the bill, and won’t actually oppose it, Britain took a considerable turn for the worse today. And the worst of it is it’s a bill based on out-and-out lies and pure, vicious ideology.

Let’s start with the £26,000 cap on household benefits, and how the Government arrived at that figure. Iain Duncan Smith claims that this is the average household income in Britain, but this is extremely misleading, as the Guardian points out (the article as a whole is an informative Q&A piece on the consequences of welfare reform):

Critics say it is excessively draconian. The Children’s Society says the cap confusingly compares non-working household income with average household earnings. Were it to align the former (more fairly) with average household working income – which includes tax credits, and a range of benefits – the cap would be set at £31,500. This would mean thousands of poorer households would not be pitched into poverty by the cap.

What the Conservatives have successfully bludgeoned out of people’s minds is that housing benefit is not actually income. It does not in fact go into the pockets of the people receiving it, but goes to pay the rent their private landlord is charging.  And as housing benefit makes up the bulk of the average household on welfare’s payments, the right wing’s justification for this horror of a bill, namely that people on welfare at the moment can earn more than people who work, is shown for the pack of lies it is. If you want to blame anyone for ‘excessive welfare spending’, as our dear Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, blame the landlords who jack up the rent to ridiculous levels. After the banking industry, the housing industry is probably the next most in need of regulation. But of course, the Government’s attitude to this is: if the rent is too damn high, move!

Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the reforms were not designed to “punish” families.

He told Sky News: “I simply make the point to them that the purpose of this is not to punish people but it is to give fairness to people who are paying tax, who are commuting large distances because they can only afford to live in the houses that they have chosen.”

It’s particularly galling that this dismissive ‘just move to a cheaper area’ message is coming from a group of people to whom moving house involves using taxpayers’ money to finance the mortgage and furnishing of a second home in London. Unfortunately, poor people don’t have the option to put the costs of upping sticks on expenses. And, of course, there’s the fact that moving house would have a serious impact on children in myriad ways; being uprooted from a place they call home, having to change school and start all over at a new one with no friends, living in reduced circumstances (but hey, you and your siblings, who may be of the opposite sex, being packed together in one bedroom is no big deal according to Duncan Smith, who also lies about the charity Shelter defining this as homelessness on its website; it doesn’t). And there’s the problem of finding another house. As anyone with any actual experience of the real world will know, a great many landlords refuse to accept people on welfare as tenants. Finding a house that suits your family’s needs is not easy either. Hard as it may for the green-eyed monsters of the Daily Mail to believe, the reason those large families they pin on their front page in their idea of public shaming live in large houses is – this will come as a shock, I know – large families need more space.

A one-size-fits-all plan is a supremely cack-handed approach at the best of times, but when it impacts actual human beings, the results are even more horrendous. A single parent family with, say, 3 kids in London will have very different needs to a two-parent family with one child in Liverpool. To force the same cap on everyone receiving benefits, regardless of individual circumstances, is not only incredibly stupid, it’s unfair and yes, contrary to what Iain Duncan Smith says, punishes people. Because that’s what this is all about, really. The Tory approach to winning elections is and always has been: further improve the lives of their traditional voting bloc, the rich; then get a big slice of the middle-class to vote for them not by making their lives better, but by fanning the flames of resentment towards those on welfare and making the poor’s lives shittier, to make the middle feel better about themselves. It’s the same dynamic you see in the battle over public sector pensions; instead of encouraging the private sector to offer their employees better deals, the Tories instead dishonestly bash public sector employees and work to strip them of the pension rights they have earned by accepting reduced salaries during their working lives. It’s disgusting, it’s despicable, and tragically, it works.

And here’s the most depressing thing about this whole sorry debate:

All three parties are behind the benefits cap in principle – but there are disagreements over the details.

And then there’s this, which makes you wonder what the fuck the point of even having an opposition party is:

Labour reacted cautiously, suggesting that it would try to find a compromise. “Labour won’t be voting against the benefits cap, but we will be seeking to amend the Bill.”

That’s the sort of bold, principled leadership we’ve come to expect from Ed Miliband’s Labour!

In Britain, people on welfare are now everybody’s whipping boys – not just the right wing’s. And this a prime example of why I laugh my head off at the idiotic liberals in America who whine when a bill that is inherently progressive whatever happens to it gets watered down. Here, the only thing that gets watered down by our allegedly ‘left wing’ (ha!) parties is right-wing political and economic theory.

 

 

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