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The Benefits Myth

David Cameron floated a number of ideas for the next round of changes to the benefits system this week, despite the fact that Iain Duncan Smith’s universal benefit plan has yet to be implemented.  As usual the Prime Minister’s  ideas are based on the myth that people on benefits are all idlers and scroungers.  Isn’t it time we changed the debate, moving away from the Daily Mail propaganda about 'something for nothing' and back to the principles that lie behind social security.


Firstly, I know it’s rather idealistic but we should remember the Universal Declaration of Human rights, which this country signed, states, in Article 25, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection." 

Secondly, welfare is not something for nothing.  We all pay through tax (direct and indirect) and National Insurance, for health and social security benefits; except the top 1% who, of course, find ways of avoiding their social responsibility to pay their share.

Thirdly, housing 'benefit' goes to, and hence benefits, landlords who have been able to set extortionate rents because of the general housing shortage and the total lack of rent controls.

Fourthly, the vast majority of households that receive housing benefit include someone who is working.  The lack of anything like the Living Wage means that many cannot earn enough to live on.  Who 'benefits' here - the employers who get away with paying low wages.  Achieving the Beveridge principle that social security should not pay more than work might better be met by a campaign to improve the pay of the poorest rather than cutting their 'benefits'.

Cutting 'benefits' won't encourage people back into work.  Isn’t it strange that bankers and chief executives need huge bonuses to encourage them to work whilst the poor need their benefits cut to get them into jobs.  By the way, there are no jobs!  There are often more than 20 applicants for every job.

Finally there are no jobs because general demand in the economy is at rock bottom.  Companies don't hire people or invest in new capacity for the sake of it; they do it when the demand for their products and services goes up.  Tory cuts reduce demand even further and increase unemployment.  The only demand that is increasing is that on the 'benefits' budget.

The Government must put in place programmes to stimulate demand.  Build more houses, build more schools and build more roads.  Stop cutting the public sector.  Understand that the best way to reduce the national deficit during a depression in the long term is to borrow more for the short term.  That’s what fixed the depression in the 1930s and that’s how the country got moving again after WW2.

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