Don’t Believe the Tory Bullshit About Benefits

Posted: June 26, 2012 in anti-cuts resistance, Conservative Party, politics
Tags: , , , , ,

Prime Minister David Cameron has been trailing his new ‘big idea’ of throwing young people off housing benefit entirely. What an ingenious move, to suggest that the economy is being ruined by workshy benefits claimants, rather than the bankers who caused the economic crash in the first place. Polly Toynbee makes short shrift of his ‘idea’:

He sounded plausible, and his sweeping tour of benefits seeming common sense to many. Every system since the Poor Law faces the same dilemma – how to help the needy without weakening work incentives, how to tell a “sturdy beggar” from a hard-luck case and give them enough to live but less than a low-paid job. There are no satisfactory answers – but Cameron’s “ideas” are the harshest ever proposed. How knowingly he misled in almost every example he gave, as he pitted “those who work hard and do the right thing” against those on benefits, deliberately disguising that these are mainly the same people. Most of the poor drawing benefits are cleaners, carers, caterers – the 62% living below the poverty line, working hard yet needing benefits to survive.

Cameron’s focus on the ever-rising housing benefit bill omitted key facts. The Smith Institute reports that 95% of the £1bn rise in housing benefitthis year is paid to people in work. Only one in eight people drawing the benefit is out of work; the rest are low earners. The cost is not about feckless people but the housing crisis, the failure to build social, rented or private housing over the last three decades. Shortage makes rents rise faster than earnings, and faster than price inflation. Cameron’s plan to peg housing benefit to prices, not to inflation, will be devastating. Shelter reports that if prices rose as fast as rents since 1971, a chicken would now cost £47.51. Nor is there any sign housing benefit cuts will cause rents to fall: rents are still rising as landlords turn away benefit tenants, easily finding others in this starved market.

In a familiar litany of charges against the workless, single mothers, drug addicts (only 4%), he summons up a familiar portrait of the multi-child household, beloved of television documentaries, seeking worst cases to be entertainingly put right by Ann Widdecombe. Every society will always have enough of those to keep the cameras happy. But the dull lives of cleaners juggling childcare and jobs make bad TV, as do dull statistics that give the lie to the idea that moral turpitude drives the escalating benefits bill.

Low wages and lack of housing are the root cause. A living wage would lift the burden off taxpayers and put it on to employers. Regulated rents and a great housebuilding programme are the way to cut the housing benefit bill. The government prefers mass removal of the workless to low-rent areas with no jobs.

Owen Jones was right when he argued yesterday  that Labour should be arguing for more social housing, rent caps and a living wage, but don’t expect that bunch of neoliberal zealots to spout anything other than the Tories’ lies. Meanwhile the rhetoric will continue to spead that the workshy are the root of all our problems, when the truth is that if you look, for example, at housing benefit, you’ll see just how fraudulent Cameron’s being:

Of course the government and the media don’t like to admit – or is it doesn’t know – that Housing Benefit is an in-work benefit.  I mean who would know that since the coalition took office that 232,340 of the 263,120 new HB claimants since the election are in work – just a mere 88% of them.   So 88% of the indolent workshy bar stewards claiming HB are also paying taxes – Not quite the same story is it Mr Cameron.

Even fewer would know or realise that the nearly £2bn per year of savings this coalition promised its Housing Benefit reforms would deliver currently see the HB bill £4.78bn OVER this target!  Yes I am talking about those HB caps that the public lapped up and had 76% support until the public realised their direct impact in the attempted movement of homeless families from Newham to Stoke last month.

Meanwhile the public are expected to forget about the ‘culture of entitlement’ in Westminster, not to mention in the cabinet. These Tories are getting more detestable by the day. Labour may be 5 points ahead of them in the opinion polls, but they’re largely singing the same tune as this rabble, and as long as they don’t provide any genuine opposition will remain part of the problem. Owen Jones suggested on Twitter that we put pressure on Liam Byrne, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to commit to the solution he and Polly Toynbee point to. I’m not holding out much hope.

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