Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cameron's welfare reform speech

Cameron's much publicised speech on Monday about further cuts in benefits for people of working age is deeply worrying.  The issue of housing benefit for under 25s has caught the headlines, but there is a danger that this obscures the clutch of other very nasty ideas.

The model being promoted is a USA-style welfare system.  Now this is the country with the worst health outcomes in the wealthy world, the worst inequalities, the worst crime figures and any visitor to the US can tell you tales of the hordes of mentally ill, disabled and destitute people to be seen on the streets.  Over one million families in the USA are homeless and 10% of the US population have to resort to a food bank at some point each year.  It really is the last welfare system that any government with half a brain should want to copy.

Obama is so concerned about the injustice and negative economic effect of their welfare system that he has made efforts to increase the level of welfare payments in and some states have been reining in their workfare programmes and have prosecuted private welfare-to-work providers for mass fraud.  Of course, Cameron conveniently ignores these aspects.

That aside, I was deeply concerned about the wild inaccuracies about the benefits system in Cameron's speech.  Either he was misbriefed by civil servants or he chose to ignore briefings. 

I find it amazing how people in the UK are generally pretty cynical about politicians' truthfulness - lies about the Iraq War, expenses scandal, broken Manifesto promises, etc.  However, as soon as a politician slags off benefit claimants, everyone believes them!

Anyway, here are some examples of the fibs in Dave's speech:

"Tens of thousands of incapacity benefits reassessed and found ready for work".  Not true.  People are found not to meet the very high threshold for "limited capability for work", not "fit for work", let alone "ready for work".  As his Minister Chris Grayling conceded not long ago, very many coming off benefits for the sick have significant health issues.  And then we all know how flawed the re-assessment process is anyway.

"..instead of a complicated pension with endless top-ups there will be a straightforward, flat rate of £140 per week".  Not true.  Very many poorer pensioners will still have to claim the housing credit element of Universal Credit (so complex, the DWP still hasn't been able to announce details) and try their luck at claiming one of the many new local versions of council tax support.  So three bodies will have to be applied to, as opposed to the current two.

"Half of new [DLA] claimants never had to provide medical evidence".  That's because the DWP usually write direct to the claimant's doctor and/or seek evidence from an ATOS doctor - it's called efficiency.  Anyway, if this is so flawed, all you have to do Mr Cameron is to get people to supply such evidence without turning the disability benefits system upside down from April 2013 as you are doing.

"Someone can get £130 a week DLA by simply filling out a bit of paper".  Pray, what's the evidence that this is the case?  As the parent of a child who received DLA after a struggle (you said so at a reception you hosted at the House of Commons in 2007 - I know, I was there), you ought to know better.

Cameron then gives the example of a working couple without children taking home £24,000 a year with a couple down the road who have 4 children and get £27,000 a year in benefits for not working.  Of course they get more...because their needs are greater because they have children.  If the working couple had children, they'd get benefits and tax credits to help out, so it's a completely false and highly misleading comparison.  Apparently the workless couple also get £140 per week housing benefit - where does this figure come from?

As regards housing benefit, there really is a simple solution:  bring in rent controls like most other countries have and stop landlords being subsidised by and dependant on the benefits system.  Sadly government policy is going in the other direction by forcing up rents in the social sector to 80% of the private sector. 

"[19 year old young person] left college and went down to the jobcentre to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance, she found out that if she moved out of her parents' place she was automatically entitled to housing benefit".  Now which planet is this man on?  Life is not at all like this.  First, this mythical young person would have to find a landlord who accepted people on housing benefit.  They she'd have to somehow raise the money for a deposit and rent in advance (two months in practice, as HB is paid usually one month in arrear), then pay to equip the place.  And even if she could somehow do all that on her own, the DWP's own figures show that two thirds don't get all their rent paid by HB.  The evidence from DWP was published just last week and is here.  Then the young person has to feed. and clothe herself and pay her water, fuel and transport out of all of £56.25 a week (assuming they don't have a shortfall in their HB).  So Dave, please explain how your example can happen in real life?

"It pays not to work".  Again not true.  The problem is the means tested system which penalises people for trying to work combined with our high land costs in the UK, high costs of travel and high costs of childcare.  That's assuming the system actually works and doesn't screw up people's income or ask for money back because of some official cock-up.  Of course, that'll never happen under Universal Credit will it?

"[causes of poverty]...debt, family breakdown, educational failure or addiction".  What about our persistent problems of high unemployment since the 1980s and the extent of low pay?  And anyway only 4% of working age claimants have any addiction and you do get addicts in work - ask any musician.  But then putting it this way, Cameron gives out the message that poverty is all down to the financially incompetent, spouse-deserting, unintelligent boozers and druggies in our midst.

"If someone is signed off work with a bad back there's no requirement to take steps to get well to keep on receiving that benefit".  Well actually, they wouldn't have got benefit for the "bad back", even under the old system, unless it was a serious and chronic problem which could not be sorted out easily.  Anyway, what Cameron says is again not true.  People who get ESA and who are in the work related activity group can be required to identify rehabilitation they could do. 

And on it goes.  Half truth followed by distortion followed by innuendo.  Also outrageous that his "facts" have not been challenged by the useless Liam Byrne.


  1. Just found your blog. Totally agree about Liam Byrne; who needs enemies eh? Keep up the great work.

  2. This: "Also outrageous that his "facts" have not been challenged by the useless Liam Byrne."