Monday, June 25, 2012

Cameron's Benefits Cuts: what is the alternative?

David Cameron has tapped into a rich seam of political support with his new outburst against "the culture of entitlement". It is music to the ears of the Mail-reading public and to his disaffected right wing, but above all, it is popular with the electorate. A YouGov poll shows 74% believe the Government hands out too much in welfare, and even among the poorest, 51% agree with that sentiment. (Turkeys, Christmas). This is not surprising given the daily diet of welfare scrounger stories drip fed by the Mail/Express/Sun axis, but even so, there is a real problem if even small numbers of unemployed households live more comfortably than those who work all the hours God sends, but in low-paid jobs.

So it is difficult. The Left can legitimately point to Cameron's privileges, to his own £24,000 claims for a second home prior to moving into No 10, and his father's immoral tax avoidance schemes, but even so, none of these valid points address the key point. It is difficult.

Lao Tsu said: "All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small".

So let's make it easy. Imagine what life would be like if the FMFs (free market fundamentalists) achieved their goal, and we had a really small state. One, say, that was equipped with armed forces, a police force, and prisons, and nothing else. Everything else was up to the market.

In this state the indigent poor would procreate, but their children would die. They would live and die in cardboard boxes under bridges in noisome conditions, die like flies, and heave their rotting corpses into the river - that is, such corpses as went uneaten.

It was to put an end to a mild version of this scenario that the Welfare State was introduced. It has grown in extent into a huge rambling edifice which nobody, not even the professionals, fully understand, one that is shot through with absurdities.

It needs reforming. IDS has been creating some careful reforms. Which raises the question of why the Prime Minister has taken it on himself to grab a megaphone and rap out some reforms of his own. Did he agree this with IDS first? It seems that the latter is framing Cameron's splurge as "Questions raised".

It is fair to raise all manner of questions around this topic. Not just the crowd-pleasers that Cameron is raising, but also others, such as,

  • Where do young families go when they cannot afford housing? On the streets? Back to their families,  to be overcrowded and disease generating conditions? 
  • Will it increase child poverty? 
  • Why do we not bring the vast stock of empty housing back into use? 
  • Why are we punishing the poor for using benefits, when benefits for the rich are filed under legal tax avoidance, and never get mentioned by the tabloids?
  • Does everyone know that only one in six of those claiming housing benefits are unemployed?
  • Why is there not a New Deal job creation scheme in refurbishing houses, and building new affordable housing?
  • Does Cameron understand that it is not open for some under 25 year olds to go back and live with their parents, since they were being abused there?
  • Does Cameron understand that teenage pregnancy is one of the many factors that relate to income inequality?

But as ever, the key question in the Tories' (and LibDems') hysterics about benefit abuse and the entitlement culture is this:

It is totally and utterly pointless to train, motivate and force claimants to seek work, and to facilitate their passage into said employment if there is no bleeding work out there for them to take up.
This is the elephant in the room, and the point that I shall continue raise whenever benefits are mentioned.  And I will continue to raise the obvious answer: convert benefit from a dead dole to a stimulus for the green sector of the economy.

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