Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Welfare

There’s been a lot of twittering about the welfare state this week. In the week that child benefit ceased to be a universal benefit, and the week that the Government are voting to cap benefit rises at 1%, it’s a major topic of discussion.

First, let me make it clear. I believe in the welfare state. If I lose my job, I agree completely that the Government should throw me a safety net whilst I find a new job. Certainly, in the past there are many examples of the Government not doing this enough. The Miners are a prime example. Thousands of people unemployed, with no hope of a similar paid job. Areas of the country left to rot. A national scandal.

But. When I hear on the radio, a woman complaining she is losing her child benefit (it’s her child’s actually, but never mind), and then going on to explain that it affects her because she is putting away to pay for education, I get angry. Child Benefit, surely, is to ensure your kids have clothes, shoes on their feet, food at lunch. It’s not to give your kids an unfair advantage over poorer families when they leave school. If you are putting it aside, then… and I’ll spell this out… “YOU DON’T NEED IT.” If you haven’t got £20.30 a week spare when you earn £60,000 a year, then you are spending TOO MUCH.

In fact, the majority of complainants seem to be people on 4 times my salary complaining their kids will lose out. Er, no they won’t. You earn over £60,000 a year. When you are on holiday this year, tell me you don’t earn enough whilst I’m sat at home counting pennies. It’s a middle class non-problem.

That’s not a complaint about my salary, by the way. I earn a reasonable sum, not as much as I would like, but combined with my wife’s salary we’re ok – still way off £60k a year mind. We are entitled to absolutely zero benefits. Nothing. And I’m not really complaining.  EVERY penny I’ve ever had is mine, I’ve earned it through graft. I never felt it was my right.

I repeat that statement. “I never felt it was my right”. I’ve worked in many jobs over the years, and not always in desirable areas. I’ve met many people for whom state assistance is a way of life. Two, three generations of families who are all so used to the welfare system that they plan it into their lives. This creates two problems. Firstly, it creates a class of people entirely dependent on state support. Secondly, it means that the employers of people who do work, but are subsidised by state support, don’t have to give their employees a decent pay rise. Why bother with a 4% rise, if the Government will fill the gap with tax rebates?

It’s barmy. It’s crazy. It encourages state interference, and means we have to spend more to administer the system. It also keeps people trapped in low-end jobs. I’ve seen so many people working 16-hour weeks, because any more hours and they’d lose tax credits, so they never progress, never get on, continue to be reliant on the state.

That’s why I agree with welfare reform. That’s why I agree with scrapping universal benefits – pension excluded – and means testing them. Some say that people on higher wages get bitter about this, but seeing as high-end tax payers just had a reduction I don’t see the problem! It does, however, create a subculture. That means all benefit claimants get treat as scroungers. That’s just not the case. (there’s very little in this article I disagree with)

However, I think, what we actually need, is a proper discussion and debate about what we want the Welfare state to do. It cannot continue as it is. It costs too much. The problem is, there’ll never be a proper debate. Labour say pay out more. The Tories want rid of it. The Liberals sit between the two. The Press go for headlines that are designed to wind up the public. People with jobs complain they don’t get anything back. The low paid and jobless complain they don’t get enough. Everyone has a viewpoint, and so we just end up with a blazing row and nothing ever gets done. We need to decide what we want the Welfare state to do, and stick to it!

So, Welfare reform is required. It won’t happen. It’ll continue to keep people locked in low pay. It’ll continue not to be fit for purpose. It’ll continue to label claimants as scroungers, and it’ll continue to cost the entire country a fortune without solving the real issues of low pay and poor conditions by employers .