Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Antisceptic re Demonisation of Benefit Claimants

I have not seen a refutation of these points made by Richard Godwin (Evening Standard 3 April 2013 IDS benefits from the lies about welfare) so let’s assume he is on roughly the right lines and apply a little healing balm to the current toxic debate about shirkers and scroungers.

He says (I paraphrase and comment on the basic statistics that he quotes):

  • There are arguments for benefits reform but the Tories are falling back on “mistrust thy neighbour” arguments instead – presumably easier to get across to those parts of the press that want particular stories.
  • Our dear chancellor talks of “£100,000 benefit claimants” — when there are only five such families in Britain.  His civil servants should keep him better informed – or is he not letting an unfortunate statistic get in the way of his political prejudices?  (What’s the value of his “council house” in Downing Street?)
  • According to a recent survey the Great British Public (you know those people who are meant to be tolerant and who stand up for the little fellow) estimate that 41 per cent of the welfare budget goes to unemployed people — actually it’s three per cent. Is this because we are ill-informed or because we have been coarsened and made less tolerant by constant stories that all those on benefits are either Philpotts or Poles who have “nicked our jobs whilst claiming Job-seekers allowance”?
  • We also believe that 27 per cent of the welfare bill is claimed fraudulently. In reality it is less than one per cent.  What percentage of tax relief is claimed fraudulently? What percentage of MPs expenses were claimed fraudulently?  We cannot assume that all spending will have a perfect effect.  After all it is said that half of all spending on advertising is wasted – and the advertising industry does not know which half!
  • Pensioners take the largest part of the welfare budget – around 47 per cent (the filthy scroungers – they should get jobs – and leave even more of the young unemployed)
  • The next largest portion goes on in-work benefits for low-paid workers, the £29.91 billion spent on tax credits – almost six times the cost of Jobseeker’s Allowance.  Well that’s OK then, our taxes are going to support the capitalist system by subsidising those companies too mean/efficient to pay their employees decently – better do more of it.  Putting tax credits up to support “Living Wage” levels will be even more of a boost to our wonderful capitalist system.

So, however much we dislike the few Philpotts of this world, let us remember that they are tiny in number compared to either the number of people who are working hard but having to get welfare to allow a minimal standard of living (that would distress most of us) or the number of people who have worked hard and are now living on pitiful state pensions.


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4 thoughts on “Antisceptic re Demonisation of Benefit Claimants

  1. The state pension is not a ‘benefit’ in the strict sense of the word. It is deferred pay via 40 years of National Insurance payments.

  2. The state pension “in theory” is deferred pay (like old company pensions were meant to be), but in reality like the rest of the welfare bill it is funded on a pay-as-you-go basis. So our current NI and Taxes are paying today’s pensioners, today’s sick, today’s unemployed and today’s under-paid.

    An economist can probably explain why a state cannot set up a “fund” in the same way as a company could set up a pension scheme (something to do with the relative utility of a state investing in investment products vs spending on infrastructure etc.)

    Any form of state welfare is therefore a trust (for pensions an intergenerational one), we pay to support today’s elderly, sick and unfortunate, in the hope that when it is our turn to be elderly etc., the following generation (inspired by our example) do the same for us. The current demonisation of those on benefits (using the examples of a feckless very few to smear the majority) is undermining that trust.

    My fear is that we are trying to sit on the fence. Either:

    • we accept a self-reliance model (possibly as seen in America) where you buy private insurance against misfortune – and you go to the wall and depend on charity if (through poverty or misfortune) you cannot afford the premiums (or lack the ability to navigate your way through the snake-oil salesmen and get yourself adequately insured), or
    • we accept that the state (as a proxy of society as a whole) will provide a level of national insurance to all.

    At the moment we are doing neither; we don’t have the first and we are undermining the latter.

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