Category Archives: Housing Benefit

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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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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Elasticity of Demand


Everyone is an economist these days and many of these new pundits have never read an economics text book. Alan Johnson is not the first to admit it and rumour has it that James Callaghan was sent  on a course at Nuffield College. Of course, some of their advisers  have read something along the lines of economics . So it was a relief to me to  tune in to a debate in the House of Lords on the proposed rise in tuition fees and hear economic terms being used.

An issue discussed was would an increase in tuition fees reduce the number of people applying for a university place particularly the ‘deserving poor’. The Coalition argues that when Labour did it applicants dropped for a short time and then the rise resumed. Well as any economist knows whether it rises or falls  depends on the elasticity of demand for university courses and their supply in the past and in the future. It is possible to calulate the numbers for the earlier period and make some reasonable forecasts now when the determinants of demand have changed. Has any one done that? if so please speak up. Obviously when Labour did it the demand for university places was rising and their provision expanded to meet this demand. The total number of applicants were on that part of the demand curve that was rising quickly.  The potential supply of students is not infinite and we would expect the rise in the percentage of the population going to a university to level off within its limits. Of course there is the issue of rising population and overseas students. No one said that forecasting was simple?

Then there is the issue of rents in London  the elasticity of demand for the properties occupied by 17, 500 hapless Housing Benefit families. What we might wonder are the demand  and supply curves for this accommodation in London. There is no doubt the population of London has been growing fast and the demand for rented accommodation has been rising. What is the percentage of these 17,500 homes to the total number of such properties in the whole of London by segment? Let’s guess. Pretty small I hear you say. And what is the demand for them? Well, you might say,  getting into the swing, the curve must be rather steep. After all who can get a mortgage these days? Atta boy you are getting the idea. What we need to predict are the growth rated in family establishments and the need and aspirations of people to settle in London. Look, you can stop at this point. I think you get the drift of this. What I am saying is that when you are seeking to change Housing  Benefit it is reasonable to predict the consequences and not make up fairy tales.

I am a prodigious borrower of books from my local library most of which comes from the British Library at £3.50 a book. My librarian tells me that the charge is to rise to £10 a book which is the real cost of the British Library lending it. I consult these books rather than read every word in them. At the British Library there is no limit to the number of books I can borrow in a day. Let us assume I work in the British Library on ten books free of charge which is quite usual for me. I can get there by train for £25. I resolve not to borrow these books  through my local library. It is a matter of elasticity of demand you see. Anyone know what it is? At the end of the year some accounting Wally will argue that there is no local demand and the Council should withdraw the facility.  And so on.

What is my gripe? The illiteracy of many people, and especailly, the politicians who debate these important public issues.

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In Whose Interest?


The members of the CBI meeting on Monday were somewhat insistent and David Cameron somerwhat compliant: a dynamic and prosperous private sector would save us from economic depression and the Coalition would do all in its power to help firms large and small thoughout the country through lower taxes, fewer regualtions flexible manpower practices and targetted Government incentives. Long live free enterprise! Had I heard this before?

Well, good luck to them is my response but not at the expense of my job, my family, my way of life. After all, is it not true that modern democratic and parliamentary Government is about the representation of interest, of all our interests. Consider the leaders of the top fifty leading British  companies who wrote recently to the press in support of the Coalition’s austerity measures. They are international companies who can locate anywhere. They have no intrinsic compulsion to invest in British industry and jobs, Some, perhaps all,  will invest elsewhere if it suits their  balance sheets. Might it be that  these companies actually benefit from unemployment: the availability of more  workers, the lower the wages that might be payable to new recruits. No one pays more than they need. Higher dividends mean richer shareholders. Of course, our pension funds benefit too, I accept, but a host of owners of capital rub their hands at the same time. Our families may suffer but surely not the Captains of industry! If the weight of public consideration is given to the owners of capital, our interests, the interests of the motley, take second best. Is that what we can expect? Is that what we shall get?

The Coalition leaders are often portrayed as non-ideological managers of our interests. Let us place our ideologies in the waste paper basket of history and solve our problems one by one. They can do this apparently. However, it is not clear to everyone that this is what they are about. In the 1980’s Mrs Thatche earned her re-elections on the backs of the unemployed. Around 1982 the economic recovery began but with it came rising unemployment for a further four years to 1986. Is this what we are going to experience now? I don’t know. Boy George doesn’t know either. It does seem to me that the world is a dangerous place. Perhaps we shall avoid a double dip depression but I do not think it is likely that we shall avoid a long period of modest growth (lower than it need be). Who can judge the outcome of foreign currency wars, of a slowing in buoyant BRIC economies, or  the multitude of wrecked family lives. No one will pay us for the long years of personal suffering. They will be years lost. I do not envy fat cats but I do not feel that they should sleep easy in their beds while some of us kip in doorways. How about you? Long live Parliamentary democracy. Two cheers for our interests!

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English Gulags


In giving you the contents of a forthcoming Ministerial speech I shall start with a Jewish joke. A man is seeking a new suit and a friend recommends a bespoke tailor. Good morning, sir, he was greeted, welcome. As you can see we specialise in grey suits. I want a blue suit was the  customer response. No problem, sir, just one minute while I change the bulb. The moral being one size (colour)  does  fit all.

I am hurt by the suggestion that the Coalition Government’s Benefit proposals will lead to the creation of areas of the country that will be dubbed Gulags. As you know, we have suggested a single  Universal  Benefit,  including a range of separate Benefits at present, and in particular Housing Benefit,  and its capping at no more than the average wage. It has been said that in areas with high rents, for example Greater London but many other areas as well,   rents are so high that families on Benefit will not be able to live the area at all. (Someone mutters from the audience, The Law of Unintended Consequences).

Perhaps this will happen. I am not saying nay or yea. But if it does will this be a bad thing? Do you think the posh people of Kensington wish to have a substantial number of poor people in their streets. Be reasonable, would you like it? If these people move to an area with others of their kind, will they not be happier. Of course they will. In these areas there will be plenty of Council Houses and we shall help the local authorities to build new low cost homes so that other poor people can move in. You cannot say that this policy will be partisan because although the high cost areas will continue to elect Tories there is a good chance that these new Gulags we are creating will elect Socialists. This construction activity will create jobs. With a bit of luck we can attract charitable funds.

What I wish to convey to you is that when considered in the round the scheme will save huge sums of public money. And we shall not be mean about this. Families migrating to a Gulag will travel in special trains. We shall provide the name tags and the lunch boxes. People will be very, very happy. Why shouldn’t they be?

You may think this post of mine  a nonsense. Hold on. Think a bit. Ken Clarke’s prison reforms will create a new class of voluntary labour. If you live in a Gulag  without a prison let me know. We can get one shifted to your town  and your community will benefit.

Do you get the message? With a little ‘here’s your uncle’ one size can suit all the poor deserving or otherwise. Cut the deficit, we are all in this together, hurrah for the Big Society.

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