The GOS enjoyed this common-sense article by MEP Daniel Hannan about the benefits “cuts” ...
A collective madness has seized the BBC and our Left-wing papers. They cannot discuss the Coalition’s welfare reforms without an unfocused rage that no longer bears any relation to the facts.
‘Shameful’, was the Daily Mirror’s headline yesterday (the article was published on 1st April). ‘The Day Britain Changed’, announced the Guardian, listing the various benefits reductions that come into effect this month in as hysterical a tone as its self-regard permitted: housing benefit restricted for those with spare bedrooms; a universal credit to replace six existing out-of-work grants; a cap to ensure that getting a job is always more lucrative than claiming dole; and so on.
The BBC’s Today programme, meanwhile, gave Tory welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith a torrid time as he sought to defend his overhaul of the benefits system. The exchange was prefaced by an interview with a man complaining about cuts to his benefits, who now admits he was contacted after posting a very disobliging comment about the Prime Minister on the BBC website.
One Guardian comment piece called the welfare reforms ‘savage’, ‘cruel’ and — worst of all — ‘imported from the U.S.’ Another declared matter-of-factly that ‘the bedroom tax’ was ‘evidence that this government is either careless or actively cruel’.
Cruel, eh? By how much, then, do you suppose the welfare budget is being cut? Twenty per cent? Thirty? In fact, it is being slightly increased. The total amount we spend on social protection currently stands at its highest ever: £220 billion in 2012. To give you an idea of how much that is, it more than soaks up all the revenue from income tax, council tax and business rates combined.
What the Government’s critics mean by ‘savage cuts’ is that welfare spending will increase very slightly this year. The Left’s language is now so twisted that words have lost their ordinary meanings. The ‘bedroom tax’ is in fact a re-allocation of housing benefit away from people with spare rooms towards people without. Whatever else we call it, it’s not a tax. Yet the reduction in top-rate tax — which really is a tax — is called ‘writing a cheque to millionaires’.
Liam Byrne, the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, even has the gall to describe the 45p top rate of tax as ‘a bonanza for the rich’. But what was the rate during all but the final month of Labour’s 13 years in office? Forty per cent.
Ponder the truly eye-popping fact that, during the lifetime of the Labour government, welfare spending rose by 60 per cent during an economic boom.
What the Left-wing media means by ‘cuts’ is really ‘slowing the rate of increase’. As Mr Duncan Smith, the minister in charge, put it yesterday: ‘All those on benefits will see cash increases in every year of the Parliament.’ This is in marked contrast to what is happening in several eurozone countries, such as Ireland and Spain, where actual cuts — in the sense of handing out less money than before — have been enacted.
Many traditional Labour supporters will have more sympathy with Mr Duncan Smith than with the alarmists who speak for their party. They know that, last year, benefits rose three times faster than salaries. They don’t see why, when pay is rising by one per cent on average, working-age benefits should go up faster. Despite the shrillness of the professionally outraged — the lobby groups, the columnists, the bishops who say these changes are immoral — public opinion remains solidly behind Mr Duncan Smith. Or, rather, ahead of him.
According to a YouGov poll, three in four people, including a majority of Labour voters, want to see actual cuts in the welfare budget, whereas all Mr Duncan Smith is doing is holding it steady. The massive increases in welfare spending under the last government had the paradoxical effect of widening the gap between rich and poor, because they made welfare more attractive than work.
At a time when 200,000 foreigners were arriving every year, and walking into jobs, 900,000 working-age Britons were permanently economically inactive. The highest cost was not to the taxpayer, but to those who, slowly and dispiritedly, became reliant on the welfare state.
Nudging some claimants back into work need not be especially harsh. Simply announcing that people on incapacity benefits should be reassessed prompted more than 800,000 to come off the benefit rather than be re-tested. Another 800,000 have been passed as fit for some form of employment.
Testing claimants is hardly Dickensian. On the contrary, it is a return to the original principles on which William Beveridge established the welfare state 70 years ago. Beveridge would be mortified to see the way in which benefits which were intended to be temporary have become permanent, as people arrange their affairs around receiving them.
At the end of Gordon Brown’s term of office, an astonishing one in five British households had no one in work. Two million children were growing up in such homes. Consider, for a moment, the impact on those children, and you will see that welfare reform is not about saving money, but about saving lives. Indeed, if saving money were our sole object, we might just as well send people cheques to stay in bed. Helping people into work is often, in the short term, more expensive than doling out cash.
But, as John F Kennedy put it, before the Left lost its moral compass on welfare, ‘the best route out of poverty is a secure job’. More people are now in work than ever before in Britain. This is, of course, good news for taxpayers: more people are paying into the pot, fewer drawing from it. But the biggest beneficiaries are those — like the 800,000 who came off incapacity benefits — who now have the prospect of jobs.
The last Labour government tested to destruction the idea that poverty could be eliminated through higher public expenditure. In some cases, welfare spending is actively harmful, because it keeps people off the first rung of the employment ladder. In others, it keeps them off the second rung: Gordon Brown’s almost incredible expansion of tax credits — up £171 billion in six years — paid firms to keep people on low salaries.
At last in Iain Duncan Smith we have a minister who understands that poverty is not simply an absence of money. Rather, it is bound up with a series of other factors: joblessness, low aspirations, family breakdown, substance abuse, poor qualifications.
It follows that you can’t cure poverty simply by giving money to the poor, any more than you can cure a drug addict by handing him a £20 note. You have to tackle the underlying problem. Which is what the current reforms are about. Mr Duncan Smith is trying to shift the incentives, cutting taxes for the low paid and ensuring that work is more financially attractive than the dole.
It is a pity to see church leaders attacking his motives rather than engaging with the substance of what he is doing. Look at the situation he inherited, Your Graces: households with three generations of unemployment, defeated, demoralised and resentful. Do you suppose that increasing benefits by 2.2 per cent, as Labour had planned, rather than by one per cent, would tackle these underlying problems? Surely the real measure of a successful welfare policy is that bills fall as poverty is reduced.
‘Why do you Tories hate poor people?’ ask Leftie agitators. We don’t hate poor people, comrades. We want to turn them into rich people. It’s your lot who trapped record numbers in the squalor of dependency — and thereby increased the number of Labour clients.
In one sense, the Guardian was right. Yesterday was a day Britain changed. For decades, governments sought to tackle poverty solely by spending more. Yet, as in almost every other field of state activity, the subsidies failed. Paying people to be poor increased the number of poor people.
Now, with a combination of help and hassle, ministers are seeking to push benefits claimants into work. A Conservative approach is being tried, and not before time. The alleviation of poverty is altogether too important to be left to the Left.
Four days later journalist Brendan O'Neill of SpikedOnline weighed in to the battle more or less on Hannan's side ...
The thing about receiving incapacity benefit is that you really start believing you’re incapable. The Government tells you you’re incapable, and it sinks in: I’m useless, I can’t work, I must be looked after.’
So says an old friend of mine who lives in the most deprived ward in Barnet, North London, where we both grew up. After suffering anxiety attacks, he’s been ‘on the sick’ — that is, receiving some form of sickness benefit — for nearly five years. It is, he assures me, an unpleasant existence. ‘You get sucked into a life of uselessness. The Government gives you enough money to live on, but you don’t live. You do the same thing day in, day out. See the same people, watch the same TV, drift off to sleep in mid-afternoon.’
He says he’s pleased Iain Duncan Smith is shaking up benefits paid to ‘the incapable’, alongside other forms of welfare. More than two million Brits receive sickness-related benefits, and my friend reckons many of them must be like him: not really sick, but simply treated as sick by a welfare system with more money than sense. He agrees with Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party, who says of the army of sickness claimants: ‘It is not that these people were trying to play the system, so much as these people were forced into a system that played them.’
This is the side to the welfare debate we rarely hear about, at least not from Left-wing politicians and commentators: how the welfare system subjugates the poor, ensnaring them in a trap of dependency, and crushing their horizons. Over the past week, as IDS’s welfare reforms have kicked in, we’ve heard quite the opposite from middle-class liberals who have been tearing their hair out over the fact that the poor aren’t rising up against them.
They’re bamboozled as to why the down-at-heel haven’t peeled their eyes away from the Jeremy Kyle Show, got off their subsidised sofas and marched to Whitehall to demand: ‘Leave our welfare payments alone.’ Where well-off, Left-leaning do-gooders in Britain’s leafier suburbs are weeping into their macchiato coffees over the Tories’ trims to welfare spending, the poor seem unmoved. What is wrong with these ungrateful urchins, plummy-voiced radicals wonder?
What the posh warriors for welfarism don’t understand is that the poor do not share their enthusiasm for the welfare state, for one very simple reason: like my friend, they know what the welfare state is like, and what a corrupting influence it can have on individual ambition and community life. They have seen with their own eyes what the intrusion of welfarism into every nook and cranny of poor people’s lives can do. They know it is not a liberating force, but a soul-deadening one, which doesn’t improve less well-off communities but rather turns them into ghost towns, maintained by faraway faceless bureaucrats rather than by the community’s own members.
The chattering classes now refer to Monday, April 1, when the Government’s benefit reforms were enacted, as Black Monday. They call IDS a ‘Tory toff’ who is launching an ‘ideological war’ against the poor. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has said that the poor will be hit by an ‘avalanche of cuts’ which will propel them into ‘beggary’. In this lip-smackingly Dickensian view of what will become of Britain, we might soon expect to see women in shawls selling soap on London Bridge and children in torn trousers going back up chimneys.
IDS might only be putting a cap on the annual increase in benefits people can receive, slightly reducing some people’s housing benefit, and rethinking Disability Living Allowance, yet his increasingly shrill critics paint a picture of him turfing the downtrodden out of their homes and into a gutter-based life of Oliver Twist-style precariousness.
When the pro-welfare lobby isn’t wildly exaggerating the severity of IDS’s chopping, it is demonising those who dare to raise questions about the impact welfarism has had on poor communities. So anyone who suggests that Mick Philpott’s decadent, deeply unproductive lifestyle in Derby may have been a product of welfarism, of the thoughtless casting of the welfarist net across entire poor communities, is shot down in flames.
Some commentators, and now the Chancellor George Osborne, have said that the Philpott case raises questions about the way the state has sustained, ad infinitum, those who don’t work or contribute to society. But they’re mercilessly attacked by pro-welfare activists, who treat any attempt to critique welfarism as tantamount to committing a hate crime against the poor and ‘vulnerable’.
Yet no matter how much these observers ramp up the rage, still they fail to inspire those who are actually on benefits to join them in their battle. In fact, far from wanting to fight in defence of welfarism, less well-off people seem positively suspicious of the welfare state, and this drives middle-class campaigners crazy.
John Harris, a columnist for the Guardian, this week expressed his dismay that anti-welfare ‘noise’ always gets ‘louder as you head into the most disadvantaged parts of society’. Indeed, earlier this year a study by the Left-leaning Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust found that poor families, including those affected by welfare cuts, take ‘the harshest anti-welfare line’. The study’s lead researcher was thrown by this. ‘Logically, I’d expect those at the sharp end of things to be pro-welfare,’ she said, ‘but if anything, many had internalised a Thatcherite every-man-for-himself mentality.’
Other studies make for interesting reading, too. A British Social Attitudes Survey in 2003 found that 82 per cent of people on benefits agreed that ‘the Government should be the main provider of support to the unemployed’, but by 2011 that number had fallen to 62 per cent. The proportion of working-class people in work who agree with that statement has fallen from 81 per cent to 67 per cent in the same period.
In 2003, 40 per cent of benefits recipients agreed that ‘unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work’; in 2011, 59 per cent agreed. So a majority of actual benefits recipients now think the welfare state is too generous and fosters worklessness. Surely those well-off welfare cheerleaders, when shown these figures, would accept that perhaps they don’t know what they’re talking about? But no, they have simply come up with a theory for why the poor are anti-welfare: because they’re stupid.
The Trades Union Congress says the little people have been ‘brainwashed by Tory welfare myths’. They claim the masses have been duped by Right-wing politicians and newspapers that spread myths about ‘welfare scroungers’. Consequently, ordinary people are apparently consumed by ‘prejudice and ignorance’ about welfarism. One commentator says the problem is that not enough people read the Guardian. In a column for that paper on why the less well-off aren’t fans of the welfare state, she said: ‘Are the public stupid, or simply people who don’t read the Guardian? Well, yes . . .’
This is a spectacularly patronising view. The idea that the only reason the poor are critical of welfarism is because they’ve been ‘brainwashed’ suggests a view of those people as utterly gullible.
In truth, there’s a far simpler explanation. Most of those who have experienced a life reliant on benefits have come to understand the detrimental impact it has had on their lives. The cult of welfarism also fosters divisions in less well-off communities. Those who work, who leave the house at 7am to earn a wage for themselves and their families, start to feel antagonistic towards those who don’t work, whose curtains remain firmly closed well into the late morning. Three of my brothers work in the building trade, and the one political issue that riles them is what one of them calls ‘subsidised laziness’.
This isn’t because they hate the poor, or think everyone on the dole could magically get a job tomorrow morning if they got their fingers out. Nor is it because they’ve been brainwashed by anti-welfare tabloid newspapers, as liberal campaigners would have us believe. Rather it’s because they recognise that the exponential expansion of the welfare net, the transformation of welfare-reliance into a permanent state of existence for many of the poor, makes worklessness into a way of life rather than a temporary predicament.
It actively encourages people to give up, to stay home, to be ‘kept men’ rather than working men. And naturally, working men don’t like that. Indeed, there’s a long-standing tradition of poor communities expressing profound hostility to welfarist assistance, even when they have needed it. In the Thirties, when early forms of state welfare were introduced, many of the unemployed came to resent their ‘new status as citizen beneficiaries of state welfare’, as one academic study put it. They found claiming state welfare humiliating.
In 1945 — the year the modern welfare state was born — a former cabinet-maker from the East End of London published a book about his life, titled I Was One Of The Unemployed. He described how, in Thirties and Forties Britain, he and many others who found themselves out of work felt an ‘innate morbid sensitivity’ towards ‘having to depend upon state welfare’. The poor experienced a ‘sense of wounded pride at being driven by hunger to ask for cash benefits’, he said.
Even the most radical old Leftists, unlike today’s uncritical, poor-pitying Leftists, issued cutting criticisms of the welfarist ideology. In 1850, Karl Marx described very early forms of top-down ‘welfare measures’ as a ‘disguised form of alms’ that were designed to make people’s less-than-ambitious lives seem ‘tolerable’. That is, welfare was a way of placating the poor, lowering their horizons and acclimatising them to a life of mere survival.
As Pat Thane, a professor of history at King’s College, London, pointed out in a 1999 essay on early forms of state welfare, the less well-off were suspicious of welfarism that seemed ‘to imply that poor people needed the guidance of their “betters” ’.
Working-class mothers hated the way that signing up for welfare meant having to throw one’s home and life open to inspection by snooty officials, community health workers and even family budget advisers. They didn’t want ‘middle-class strangers’, as they called welfare providers, ‘questioning them about their children’. They felt such intrusions ‘broke a cultural taboo’.
And the use of welfare as a way of allowing society’s ‘betters’ to govern the lives of the poor continues now. Indeed, today’s welfare state is even more annoyingly nannyish than it was 80 years ago. As the writer Ferdinand Mount says, the post-war welfare state is like a form of ‘domestic imperialism’, through which the state treats the poor as ‘natives’ who must be fed and kept on the moral straight-and-narrow by their superiors. Mount describes modern welfarism as ‘benign managerialism’, which ‘pacifies’ the lower orders.
Working-class communities feel this patronising welfarist control very acutely. They recognise that signing up for a lifetime of state charity means sacrificing your pride and your independence; it means being unproductive and also unfree. The cultivation of such dependency on the state has a devastating impact on community life in poor parts of Britain. Because if an individual’s or family’s every financial and therapeutic need is being met by the state, then what need is there for those people to turn to their own neighbours for help or advice? Welfarism doesn’t only destroy individual pride and independence — it also eats away at social solidarity, the glue of local life, by encouraging people to become more reliant on the state than on their friends and neighbours.
The end result of this propping-up of communities is the kind of world Mick Philpott lived in, where a sense of entitlement to state cash overpowers any feeling of personal moral responsibility for improving one’s life, or any sense of duty to the community.
So to my mind, there’s no mystery as to why the poor are refusing to join the fight to preserve the massive and unwieldy welfare state: it’s because they live in the very areas where welfarism has wreaked its worst horrors. It is the bleeding heart campaigners fighting to defend welfarism who are spreading a poisonous myth: that the less well-off could never survive, far less thrive, without the financial assistance and moral guidance of their middle-class betters.
The GOS says: The Daily Mail got it about right this week with the following headline ...
"This week the Mail was slated for making the perfectly reasonable point that arson killer Mick Philpott was a product of the benefits system. Today it is George Osborne's turn. Now tell us what YOU think. But, beware, the Left WILL try to hijack the result"
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