[Ben Reeve Lewis considers the problem of benefit scroungers – what should we do with them? …]
I work for a local authority. Things are tough. Like many local authorities we have another £30 million to find in cuts over the next year. Do we cut services or do we cut jobs? There’s the rub.
You just can’t win …
If you try to maintain services and jobs, then council tax goes up. Local residents kick off and so do government, saying the council is being inefficient.
If you cut jobs and services to make ends meet then again local residents kick off and so do government, this time saying the council is mis-managing.
So its basically un-winnable (Microsoft Word dictionary tells me that isn’t a word, but what the hell, lets enjoy ourselves).
But wait until 2013 …
Councils have long been stuck in this particular philosophical Moebius strip but come 2013 when Universal Credit is introduced everyone on benefits is going to be forced to make the same kinds of lose/lose decisions.
Who to pay first? Who shouts the loudest? Who threatens the most? Who among their creditors will be putting them on the street if they don’t pay them?
Of course the introduction of Universal Credit was made easier by the slow but persistent demonization of people on benefits that has taken place in the past few years.
Every newspaper and TV documentary trotting out their own stories of “Benefit scrounger with 10 children who says “I will never work”’ – “Woman too fat to sign-on” and “Foreigner claims sick benefit while world war 2 hero starves”.
Making it seem that everyone on benefits is like these extreme examples.
What people think
This week I came across the informative website “British Social Attitudes” who have been surveying the nation’s collective views in 2012
- Apparently 37% of Brits think people on the dole are fiddling
- 35% of Brits don’t think people on benefits deserve any help
- A huge proportion of the population believe that unemployed people could find jobs if they wanted to.
Now I’m not going to argue with those figures but I will flag up is how those perceptions are feeding government plans to deal with an unprecedented national deficit, caused by uncontrolled banking practices on people at the bottom end of everything, who had little to do with creating the crisis in the first place.
When reports talk in the billions of pounds it is obviously affecting, but beware of scapegoating (Another word that doesn’t get passed Bill Gates’s dictionary)
There are far more worthwhile targets draining the economy when it comes to wasting money than people surviving on £65 a week job seekers allowance whilst working cash in hand in a pub.
Shaking it all up
Universal Credit is the biggest shake up to benefit payments since they were introduced in 1948. Nobody would argue that benefits aren’t unnecessarily complex, or that there aren’t people scamming it out there, or that benefit culture doesn’t inculcate a certain air of dependency but its important to step back and see where these ideas are taking us.
Ask yourself this; if you want to inculcate financial self-responsibility in someone, the stated aim of Universal Credit, would you achieve it by simply dumping a monthly sum in their bank account to bring them into parity with most working people?
Frazzles and I are two of those bench-mark monthly paid working people and we struggle. Fortunately she gets her money on a different day to me so we are able to offset our joint incomes and leap frog each other through to our individual pay-days, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to survive.
Payment in arrears
Bear in mind that UC is going to be paid in arrears, when landlords reading this want rent in advance, so benefit claimants straight away are going to be in 1 month’s arrears. Rent arrears means landlord has trouble with the mortgage, so Universal Credit is going to affect you too, even though you aren’t on benefits.
Writing on this subject on Inside Housing the perceptive Jules Birch points out that since housing benefit caps were introduced last year homelessness applications have risen 44%
You see you can’t divorce these things. Housing benefit claimants? Bad eggs, all of them, scroungers, ne’er do wells, why not cut their benefits? Well because regardless of what you think of them, they have to go somewhere, and the only place they can go if landlords wont let to them is the homelessness unit.
We are all paying
Oh but wait a minute. If the hated, lazy and incompetent council have to pick them up, which by law they have to, doesn’t the debt get pushed on as well?
So we are all paying for it in more council tax, so lets not do it, lets just have more people sleeping on the street and then complain to our MPs that they aren’t doing their jobs because we have to see scag-heads weeing in doorways while we hop over the warm streams to buy some new shoes in Office or grab an ethically MSC fished Blue fin tuna sandwich in Pret.
Or buy the latest DVD of Glee or Desperate Housewives, to kid ourselves we live in a hyper-real world of bottoxed beauty so we can ignore the bloke in front of us with “Eat shit” hand-tattooed on his forehead.
An investment opportunity?
Maybe we are missing a point here though. What about turning people on benefits into a commodity? An investment opportunity? An idea picked up by Professor Alex Marsh on his excellent blog “Alex’s archives” who was a lone voice last week in noticing a comment made by Lord Fraud…..damn this sticky keyboard (Dontcha just love old jokes?) who said:
“We are anticipating the call for new financial products may open up a new market place, where competition is strong. And we are looking for a range of diverse providers to step forward to express an interest, as we work towards the introduction of Universal Credit in October 2013.”
So not only are benefits to be cut, they are also to be privatised? Turn the poor into a commodity like wheat. Sheer genius.
What it means for you
Yes I am ranting on behalf of the poor but before you turn off, just think of where this is going to lead for you?
Landlords, both private and social, need rents in order to maintain investment and develop. If Universal Credit is going to affect the poor, it is going to impact on landlords and others who they pay money to, such as phone companies or Tesco’s.
If PRS Landlords decide to wash their hands of benefit tenants (Why wouldn’t they, it’s a business after all) who is going to be picking those people up? The council that’s who, and how are they going to pay for it?
Another solution …
There is one solution of course. A solution that will solve all of the above conundrums……..Kill them. Kill every poor person who is deemed to be a drain on society.
Of course I jest, and I don’t expect a single reader to agree. In which case, take on board that when it comes to the poor, the mentally ill, the terminally bewildered, hell, even the lazy and the feckless, we shouldn’t be cutting them loose, disenfranchising them or blaming them for the failure of a bunch of arrogant coked-up 26 year old futures traders.
We are all in this together. If their finances go haywire, we will be paying for it in other ways.
We can’t really push one deficit elsewhere and make it go away. It’s a whole system that we need to keep in play, like one of those old variety act plate spinners.
The main difference between policy makers and real people is compassion. All I see in plans for UC is numbers and graphs, not one jot of empathy to be found.
Ben Reeve Lewis