Category Archives: Benefits

Coalition: Arbeit macht frei and the Deserving Poor


It is sometimes necessary to shock to reveal an underlying truth. The title of this post is a well-known slogan above the entrance to the Auschwwitz concentration camp which in English means ‘labour makes you free’. In England next week the Coalition government is to give us, in the form of changes to the welfare system, an English version of an underlying truth. To draw the parallel closer I should really use the slogan about the Buchenwald concentration camp: Jadem das Seine( idomatically, everyone gets what they deserve).

Next week several hundreds of the poorest and most vulnerable families in England are to be faced with reductions in their welfare benefits. The Labour Party (admittedly a partisan source) has calculated that these families will lose some £800 over a year. At the same time anumber of members of the Cioalition Government will receice tax cuts worth £100,OOO a year.I am reliably infromed that these unknown members of our government deserve every penny of their tax cut. No dodgers there then.

It is sometimes supposed that the use of the term ‘deserving poor’ was invented in Germany. Not so, it was invented here and brought into law by several Poor Laws in Elizabethan times. I have had the opportunity to study the implementation of these Acts in Colchester, Essex (now represented by a Lib Dem MP.) The poor laws were administered by the local parish churches. Abandoned children and the unemployed on the street corners were brought under the direction of the Parish. Here they were expected to work and at 14 aid ceased although some Parishes provided apprenticeships (ring any bells now?). In some of these parishes the beneficiaries were made to carry a large red letter P on their outer garments to denote that they were recipients of care. Naturally like the Jews in Berlin in the 1930’s with their yellow labels these children were fair game for any spare abuse going on at the time. A sort of badge of shame.

It is said to us by the Coalition that only the deserving poor are worth helping and that there are a lot of scroungers, the undeserving poor, who don’t deserve to receive any benefits whatsoever. For them it is Jadem das Seine or idiomatically, ‘get a job you lousy scrounger). I wonder does the Coalition have any ideas for the introduction of a badge. Let me know dear readers if you know something.

Now of course there are many recipients of welfare who are working but they too are thought undeserving. They will continue to suffer a cut in their wages in real terms because of high inflation and many millions of people are not being paid a living wage but in some mysterious way they remain undeserving. Tough luck, I hear you say plenty of good jobs in the City of London and anyway some of them are Romanian immigrants taking advantage of our low wages.

If you think I am exagerating? I suggest you direct your letter of protest to George Osborne or Nick Clegg. But if as I suspect you are a member of the undeserving poor be careful in the language you use. These public school boys know how to defend each other.

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Filed under BBC, Benefits, Cabinet, Cameron, Child poverty, Coalition Government, Disabled, Germany, Ian Duncan Smith, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Politics, Poverty, Social justice, Unemployment

Cameron: I Have a set of Logical Prejudices


A Statement on Belief:
Some people believe that as an OLD ETONIAN I have a narrow concept of life and the everyday concerns of ordinary people. What nonsense. However I confess I do have a firm set of prejudices and I am happy to tell you something of them.
Empire, Monarchy and Neo-Colonialism
Charliechops has criticised me for a narrow nationalism. Let me be clear. I am proud to be an Englishman (or should I say Briton, however to my mind there is no difference). We Brits have colonised the world and brought our belief in parliamentary democracy, the rule rule of law, and a benificent British monarchy to vast numbers of ignorant people in other countries. I am proud of that. Today we have to be a little more careful but nevertheless we assert our right to depose rulers throughout the whole of Africa and the Middle East in the name of economic trade and investment. And why not? Better for us to get a share of unexploited wealth than the Chinese. Do you get my point? Get in first and give it a whirl.
Johnny Foreigner
I am against ‘Johnnie Foreigners’. If I had my way I would keep them all out. Well not quite all of them. There were some jolly nice foreigners at Eton from good families. Their Dads often had proper sorts of houses in the West End and invested in Britain. Good for them. No I mean the others living off Benefits in places like Southall, Leicester and Wolverhampton. We can do without them. On reflection not those who own restaurants snd convenience shops. Jolly useful those. I like a good currie. Oh, and I forgot, nuclear scientists, doctor and nurses. I’m in favour of those – so Vince Cable tells me.
Capitalist and Entrepreneurs
I like capitalists and entrepreneurs and make no secret of it. I want them to get very rich and to invest and create jobs in Britain. I know a lot about this. Many of my best friends are capitalists and I like to boast to them that in my government we shll reach unparalled heights of assistance. I want these people, some who I am proud to acknowlege as my very best friends, to get seriously rich. In this I speak for other members of my Government, in particular my close friend George Osborne who you may have heard of. Ring a bell?

Anyway I hope you get my drift. I am a man of many firm convictions and I intend to stick with them. I hope you do not mind if I remind you of them from time to time.

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The Present State of the Parties: 2


I have been very quiet in 2012. The reason: finishing a book. Now my freedom conincides with the happy beginning of a new year. The old year had a great deal to grip our interest. We were certainly not short of copy or headline. Some of these, frankly speaking were both silly and ephemeral with hysteria on all sides of the political spectrum.  However, at this stage of the electoral cycle it has not mattered more than fig or two. This year is different. As I hate  right wing rhetoric, and distrust Tory attempts to divide British society, I struggle to be fairminded. You shall be the judge.

The Coalition

I was wrong in believing that the Coaltion would collapse suddenly and violently under the pressure of its own contradictions. When times are bad people prefer to be hung together at the latest possible time. What both the Tories and Lib Dems have succeeded in doing is to speak both ways with one message to  the electorate and the other to their own members. Of course members do not like this and engage in a disquieting chorus of their own. However, commonsense suggests that the reckoning be pushed off to the future.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are better placed than I believed likely. Electoral support has levelled out at about 10 percent and in local elections in the south they have benefitted from Labour votes in areas where Labour is not likely to win. The converse is that in the Midlands and the North the party is steadily being eliminated. I do not believe the party can improve on this poll rating. The Tories would be mad to allow a leaders television debate in 2015 (not  least because UKIP might well be able to claim participation). So no bounce there. If the Lib Dems can continue to project a progressive image they are likely to avoid abject humiliation. 

Tories

The Tories still have a chance of winning (defined as a majority or a Lib Dem coalition). However, the odds are lenghtening. Can the party succeed in squaring the circle? Can a right wing posture and radical sounding speeches carry the right wing with the leadership for two whole years. There are three daunting policy difficulties:  the economy, Europe, and reform of the welfare system and none is wholly in their control. I doubt very much whether the deficit will come down, Europe will not oblige a right-wing agenda and it is an open question whether it is possible to reform  the welfare system in the midst of the longest recession in modern economic history.

Labour

If we were describing a football match we would say that Labour has a comfortable lead at half-time. I doubt whether the pundits are right in thinking Labour must do more than that to stay ahead. They are lucky, lucky, lucky. Events, dear boy, are on their side. No need for handbags at half time. Keep control of the ball, keep pressing, concentrate and pray for continued divine intervention.

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The Universal Benefits Sham


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today in such vast numbers. This is a big stadium but not big enough to accommodate the numbers clambering to come in. I want everyone to come in, to join in a scheme to get people into the world of work. To get you into work, no less. Some will say slaving away in a soul-destroying  job for a miserable wage is no way to live a life. I profoundly disagree. I am not the first person to say this: but never mind the slavery of it,  work will save you and advance the best and true interests of you and your family.

Some will say, ‘I should talk. Born with a silver spoon and a comfortable home life.’ I have to tell you that my life has not been a bowl of cherries. Far from it. My parents insisted I do my homework every night before the computer games. There was voluntary work in the Army Cadet Force and the Boy Scouts and an anxious period of seven days before uncle Jack gave me my first job.

Here I am going to say something difficult for you all. There is not enough money to go round. People like me are tired of having to support you all through the payment of high  taxes, You must do more to help yourselves. The way to do this is to get a job. Vast numbers of you have given up on work. Pull yourself together. There are jobs out there  waiting for you. You may not wish to do them BUT you must. There is no more money to keep you in fags and beer.

Now I am here to help. Before I came into this stadium I persuaded some corporate friends of mine to create some jobs. There are 167 of these jobs. As you came into the stadium you received a numbered ticket. These tickets are to be chosen at random and 167 of you will be offered a job. I cannot say where or what these jobs are. You may have to move home, retrain, go back to school to take advantage of them BUT they are jobs. No don’t thank me. It’s the least I can do.

I know some of you, despite government payouts, are hungry. Don’t despair. There are 21 exits to this stadium. At each of these will be an official with a basket containing loaves, fish and chocolate, They will give you something as you go out. It may seem to you that this is not much given your circumstances. But is not a portion of bread, a small fish and a tomato better than nothing at all? I believe in miracles. I think you will find that the food is enough for you all. And good luck with the job lottery. You deserve a little luck. Go quietly now and in an orderly manner. Britain is not North Africa and will never be so while  I am at the helm of the ship of state. (Cheers and some boos. It starts to rain.) Well that turned out well.

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Steady As She Sinks


Imagine the scene. Captain Osborn stands on the bridge of the Titanic as it hits the iceberg and shudders to a halt. ‘Panic, ye not’ , he cries, ‘this ship is unsinkable’. Stay right where you are. It is no use running to the lifeboats for there is not room for you all. It is a feature of the design. There are only two pathways: forward or down. For the moment we cannot go forward but who in their right mind wishes to go down. Have faith. We shall overcome.

Of course, it may not be an iceberg and, if it turns out to be one, perhaps only  small. This is a test of leadership. And communication – don’t forget that. Where is that chap Coulson? He is so good in a crisis.  But what if it is a large one? What if the ship is sinking and nothing can be done? Of course, we don’t know yet. One quarter’s provisional slump in GDP is not not the albatross we all might  fear. Wait a while. Courage mon brave. But it must be admitted that the economic prospects look bad.

Over the last few months, I have argued that the outcome of a crisis is usually somewhere between peoples hopes and fears, that we will not get a double dip recession but rather a long grind forward at the expense of much that we hold dear about the British way of life and a great deal of suffering by millions of people. To remain sane in an insane world requires us to think like this. You avoid the worst by confidently believing in something better. No one can say that David Cameron lacks optimism or courage. But far worse than abundance of self-confidence, perhaps they are plain wrong about the Coalition’s programme of deficit cutting, small government and a Victorian strategy of self help and charity.

I confess to an ideological bias of my own. I believe in an enabling society, universal social benefits and rights and a fair degree of central direction and management of the economy. Looking back over the last two hundred years I believe that social democratic ideals work out best. Of course this leads to some people obtaining benefits to which they are not entitled, to benefit cheats and loafing about. It is a price worth paying. That is just my opinion, of course. I would not have set sail in the Titanic or aquiesced in a design with too few life boats or believe in the invincibility of the Captain. Let us all admit it is too late to avoid the voyage we were jockeyed into last May. Each man to his own is the cry as the lemmings force their way to the upper deck and the life boats. Hold on, where’s Nick, Dave and George? Surely they will think it morally right to go down with the ship. Have they somehow slipped a way to fight another battle on another day.? Yet another iceberg, more confident assertions? After all, surely there is no alternative? Steady does it while we sink.

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Filed under Andy Coulson, BBC, Benefits, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Deficit, Economics, George Osborne, IFS, Labour Party, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, Nick Clegg, OBR, Spending Review, Treasury, Vince Cable

Welfare Compassion


The pathway to universal social benefits for those who need them has never appealed to the Right in politics. Their message has alway been, ‘very nice but the nation cannot afford it’. In their time the country could not afford a state pension, or the NHS, unemployment benefit, a minimum wage, or a guaranteed income for the disabled and the destitute. This conviction runs  in parallel with a value judgement: these benefits should only go to the deserving poor, and to its associate idea, that not many are deserving. It was once the case that poverty was considered not to be a sin but a misfortune. It was  the Victorians who branded it otherwise.

Social democrats have always considered welfare as a safety net through which the unfortunate should not fall. Human nature being infaillable it was accepted that there would always be some who abused the system but that no device of man could prevent some abuse. Taxpayers were the fortunate: after all they had income and their taxes helped the unfortunate.

Is it possible to select the deserving and weed out the spongers? One can try, it is right to attempt it, but the pathway leads to poverty, discrimination and, yes, a lack of compassion. There are a thousand reasons for some not working: mental or physical problems, looking after children or incapacitated adults – and a lack of work. Now all these people and they run to hundreds of thousands are for the high jump. If they try and fail to get a job any payment being made to them and their families will stop.  ‘Work will make you free’. Hold on, are they not the words above the entrance to the Auchwitz concentration camp? Some of these people, staring at the tellie with instant coffee to hand, know at the start they will fail. And what about the children? We shall look after them say the Coalition at the same time denying this family financial help. How will this be done? If they are shunted to a boarding house in Hastings, homeless, penniless, away from school and friends, are they being helped? Surely it is better and more compassionate to help keep this family together in its own home. It is usually better to have a home than not.

Well it is objected, I exagerate. It will not come to that. But it will for some family near to you, perhaps many near to you. What about your neighbour or your neighbour’s friend?  Let us consider the 8,500 London families whose  Housing Benefit is to be cut, some of these will lose their home and fail to find another. Not all of them you mutter, and serve them right, they, this family, should get on their bikes, assuming that they have them, and find something else. Some will, but some cannot. Perhaps no more than half, you retort, will lose out.  Oh that’s good not more than a  half, being 5,000 families in southern coast boarding houses. No problem. One would be too many, ten a mishap, but thousands of avoidable family disasters? Surely,  a shame on us all!

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The Use and Abuse of Statistics


There are maxims worth following whenever a politician makes use of statistics. In particular, in whose interest are the statistics prepared and published and are they being interpreted acurately and fairly. Let us consider the thorny issue of the effect on families in Greater London of ceilings and cuts in Housing Benefit. According to Government statistics,  and let us say they are right, there are 17,500 families and some 82,000 people. The London Boroughs speaking collectively are preparing plans for what to do if all these people could not pay higher rents, could not make other provision and were therefore forced to move.

Ask some questions:

1. Would all these tenants be forced to move? No, but no one has bothered to find out. Come on Government,  survey them first and give us the answer. 2. What proportion of these tenants are short stay anyway with agreements running up to 3 years.? Up to 40 percent of landlords, according to the Landlords Association but they would say this wouldn’t they. 3. Up to 30 percent of landlords according to the Landlord’s Association  They don’t tell us by how much. There are other estimates ranging fr0m 30-50 percent some of which come from Tory Councils. They would say this wouldn’t they. 3. Some of these tenants might be given social housing by their Councils. Source Tory Westminster Council. What is the current waiting list? Not given. It must be lengthy, say up to ten years. No chance. 5. Not to worry anyway the Government has put aside £130 million to mitigate hardship. Sounds a lot. Let’s say every family affected was a hardship case. If this was true 17,500 familes  would each get £742 pounds. Enough to pay 2 weeks rent. Whacko.  Lets be fair. Reduce the number forced to move by 20 percent as a result of lower rents that they could afford, and a further 20 percent for their own ingenuity, and ten percent for short term rentals and a willingness to move on. (Statistical point. These percentages are not additive) and we might say that 50 percent of families, 8,750,   will have to leave their homes  and most will go into boarding accommodation on the South Coast. 5.. At what cost? Not known.  Leaving this aside the Government could give the families concerned and the Councils bearing the cost £130 miillion towards the cost of this, that is £1,484. How long would this last? Are there jobs for them in places like Hastings with very high rates of unemployment? I have not seen any figures. Come on you Council’s, tell us.

You might say that the Coalition Government, in the interest of transparent administration should tell us. If Labour MPs were smart enough they could ask the Parliamentary questions that would give us all the answers. Come on you Labour MPs and Labour C0uncillors. Do your job.

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Mr Glib and Housing Benefit


‘Good morning. Terry isn’t it. Good morning to you. What’s the subject today? An interview on the effects of Housing Benefit on the poor of London it say’s here. Look, do you mind running this through with me before you record anything. I’m starting a bit cold with this one.’ ‘A sort of dress rehearsal,you mean. That sort of thing. OK. Let’s start. According to the London Borough’s these proposed Housing Benefit ceilings will make over 17, 000 families, some 85,000 families homeless. Do you agree?’ ‘ We don’t know do we. Some of these people will raise their game and pay the higher rent. A lot of concealment of true financial resources  goes on. They might take in lodgers, share with other families. Why not for a W in your post code?’ ‘ Well assuming that is out of order for most of them what then?’ ‘ Number 1. Sorry I’m reading this stuff. We have this social fund for special cases. This might buy some of them some weeks grace. Time to move home somewhere in the sticks.  No.2 They can join the Council housing lists for  a place, if they qualify. There is social housing in London you know. If they qualify they will get a place as something becomes available.’ ‘ Do you know the average waiting time for social housing in London?’ ‘No I don’t but I have a feeling that you are goling to tell me.’ ‘ Fifteen years. Goodness, there’s a thing. 3. They can negotiate with their landlord to get the rent down. These landlords take advantage. They put up the rent if they know the Local Authority is going to pay it. There is little evidence of that. Some people estimate that there are ten people seeking every rental in the London area.’ ‘ Is that right. I shall make a note of that. 4. What’s so hot about London anyway. Go North where rentals are lower. I did.’  ‘ Come off it Minister, the taxpayer pays the the rent for you.’ ‘ Come to think of it, that’s true. Special cases make bad law. Don’t you think? 5. Look. We are not unfeeling people you know. Housing Benefits have to be reformed. The whole system is costing us too much. People are resourceful. No one waits for the axe. They take some decisive action to save themselves.’

‘OK Minister, lets bring this to a rational conclusion. You maintain that not all these 17,000 families will lose their homes. How many will, do you think and what will become of them?’ ‘I can’t say. No one can. Perhaps a few thousand families.’ ‘ Now we’re getting somewhere. Say ten thousand, that is fourty thousand peope shipped into boarding houses and at the public’s cost. Is that it?’ ‘ Well, I’ll be honest with you. It might be the outcome.’

‘Thank you Minister.’ ‘ How do you think it went. I could argue another case you know. Come to think of it I could argue the opposite.’ ‘ Well, Nick. I think that might be wise. Your shout, of course.’

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Pain and No Gain


The success of George Osborne’s spending review, or otherwise, is a question of judgement. Is George right to conclude that after four years the budget deficit will be eliminated and the UK economy and total employment will have risen. If he is right we might shrug and say, as many commentators do say, that many of us may have driven to desperation but that the economic problem will have been solved. Good old George we might say. He is our saviour.

I am distressed that the discussion is so loose. It is true that earl;ier in the year the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) believed that George might be right but that the Goverment’s statistical chance of being right was 40 in a 100. In other words, if he was a horse  at that time the odds were 2 to 1 on. A gamble? Not really but many a horse loses at these odds. What might the odds be now? The OBR has another go in November. Since then many economic signs indicate the odds have worsened. Whether the OBR alters the odds (and I think they well might) is an unknown. Perhaps the odds then may be 3,4,or 5 to one. You pay your money and takes your choice. Do you want George to gamble people’s jobs,  welfare and family prospects at odds of say, 4 to 1 ? Well, not my job George, if you don’t mind, would be the likely response. To put my job and house at risk for those odds would in my mind be an unjustifiable gamble.

What do I mean? I think that George is wrong on a number of matters. First, I follow the IFS in suggesting that George’s spending review will not eliminate the budget deficit. He is relying on substantial efficiency savings in Government Departments. Come off it George it is far more difficult that you realise. We have all been there before. The worldwide economy is recovering slowly with many months of slow growth ahead of us all. What will George do  if the numbers do not work out? He tells us that he has no Plan B. I do not believe him. Rather than admit that they were wrong the Coalition will plunge on with further cuts.

Politically what will the Lib Dems do? Whatever they do, it might be argued that they are doomed. They may split with the Lib Dem ministers clinging on to the Tory coat  tails and the rest abandoned to the political wilderness. This might be very obvious by next May.

Can the Opposition in all its forms bring this Coalition experiment to an end? Not now. Next June, when we are all examining the damage? Why not?

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The Sham Society


David Cameron has given us the vision thing at the Tory Party Conference. He was strong on his daft notion of the Big Society; so daft that it is doubtful if many of the faithful in the hall or TV viewers could fathom out what he was talking about. In some ways it was chrystal clear. We were listening to the mantra of the unreconstructed right: small government, low taxes, a foreign and defence policy narrowly focussed on protection of trade and the substituion of the expert manager or official by a untrained volunteer labour force. Arisotle is resurrected from a grave where he slumbered peacefully. Now we are all  to be citizens busy about the social affairs of our neighbours and running things without expertise: a nation of professional workers is to to be substituted  by busybodies. None of this is to decry the role of voluntary associations in our national life but they can only become more useful as a caring and enabling states extends its role.

This Tory simplicity and yearning for a return to pastoral virtues will, of course, run into the ground. At the moment it is in the ascendant. There are at least three, and probably more, categories of Tory on display. There is the brutal and rather simple category which bathes in the glory of a world reduced to its own simplicities; the blustery and crude men and women on the climb are seizing their opportunity; and then there  is the sophisticted men and women of the world who understanding the difficulties of life in its infinite human variety look on us, the electors, with half smiles and a midgeon of compassion.

This world, in all its complexities, is about to inflict its revenge on those engaged in this nonsense. The revenge although in part uncontrollable does need political direction.  It must become clear to the electorate that there is a viable Opposition to the  Coalition’s half-baked solutions to national and international problems. Ed Milliband must roll up his sleeves and get down to the job of saving us all from the economics and politics of Alice in Wonderland.

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