Ashley Perks continues his look at the destructive state of welfare reform.
LISTENING to the tub-thumping tribunes of the more rabid wings of the Coalition or sifting through the slurry fed by Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), then £1bn of the £22.7bn paid out in Housing Benefit is lost to fraud and errors. It is (rightly) a siphoning off of taxpayer’s money straight to the bank accounts of the landlords. The scary figure of ONE BILLION POUNDS needs to be put into perspective though: For the year 2011/2012 just 0.7 per cent of benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud, including a 2.8 per cent fraud rate for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and a mere 0.3 per cent on incapacity benefits all types included. Find me a bank that would complain of that low level of bleedout.
“More than 6.5m people who claimed housing or council tax benefit last year: 4.5m claimed both,” writes Daniel Johnson in the Sunday Times (6 January), “Three quarters are working age. Most [my italics] are trapped in households where nobody works – often from one generation to the next.” Myth! Academics Paul Gregg and Lyndsay MacMillan analysed the Labour Force Survey and concluded that in households with two or more generations of working age, there were only 0.3 per cent where neither generation had ever worked. In a third of these, the member of the younger generation had been out of work less than a year. ‘Inter-generational worklessness’, it turns out, can be better explained due to a lack of jobs rather than a lack of any work ethic such as right-wing politicians and pundits keep pontificating. http://www.esds.ac.uk/government/lfs/
Shirkers and scroungers
It was a long-thought truism that most benefits are paid out to unemployed people of working age – the ‘shirkers and scroungers’ brigade of popular suburban myth. However, the largest element of social security expenditure (42 per cent) goes to pensioners. (They are the DWPs next target when someone has the front to front it, so to speak). Housing benefit, as we saw above, accounts for 20 percent of which claimants about one fifth are in work. Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit cost (until the turn of the year) 15 per cent and 8 per cent is spent on disability living allowance (DLA) which helps the disabled whether in or out of work with extra living and support costs. Just 4 percent is spent on employment and support allowance (ESA) aimed at those who cannot work due to illness or disability – people targeted (and sent away penniless to die) by the iniquitous Atos, tasked with paring back this nan-atomic amount.
We keep hearing the government’s propaganda, preached endlessly, that the infamous ‘deficit’ or ‘debt’ – and the two are continually conflated, confused and contextualised according to which lie is being spun and by whom – is Labour’s legacy. Day after day, drip,drip,drip for over two years, the same line is cut and pasted to every government spokesperson’s statement. Actually, total expenditure on welfare was 11.6 per cent of GDP in the years 1996/97; indeed, under Labour it averaged 10.7 per cent up until the crash. Benefits for children and working age adults rose from 4.6 per cent of GDP up to 2007/8 to 6 per cent, consistent with a period of recession.
‘Strivers v Skivers’
“The welfare state under Labour effectively trapped thousands of families into dependency as it made no sense to give up the certainty of a benefit payment in order to go back to work,” Duncan Smith said at the turn of the year. “This government is restoring fairness to the system and universal credit will ensure it always pays to be in work,” he continued malignly massaging the ‘strivers v skivers’ message. If this is true, then we must ask just how much of the benefit burden is long-term. The problem, when assessing this, is being able to differentiate between counting people from one point in time, or whether you gauge the numbers moving on and off benefits during a period of time.
The Coalition Cocktail
Thus: in 2008, some 75 per cent of successful incapacity benefits claimants (for example) had been receiving the payments for more than five years, and only 13 per cent for less than one year. On the other hand, for the period 2003-2008, only 37 per cent were in long-term benefit while 38 per cent were on benefit for less than a year. By using a one-time-statistic, as the government does , the amount of the caseload dragged out long-term is overestimated, whereas the flux and flow of claimants moving on and off benefits is underestimated. As usual, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The Coalition Cocktail.
There are many mini-myths too, but of the major myths, one remains outstanding: Most people on disability benefits could be working. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the charity Scope, says “disabled people are incredibly anxious” about the proposed replacement of DLA with a new personal independence payment. Many, he says, see it as “just an excuse to cut the support they need”. It is Atos’ mission statement so to do.
Scaremongering based on warped statistics
In whip-crack response, Esther McVey, the disabilities minister insists the government wants to give more generous support to “those who need it most”. Do nothing, she has warned, and one in every 17 adults will be claiming disability benefits by 2018. This kind of scaremongering based on warped statistics is but a small example of the woman’s stupidity.
There are two main kinds of disability benefits: disability living allowance (DLA to cover extra costs) and employment and support allowance (ESA) as a basic income replacement for those not in employment for reasons of illness or disability. ESA is not, as is often misunderstood, for people ‘completely incapable of work.’
The point is, rather, whether suitable jobs exist and whether they are accessible. It is a fact that we live longer but are not proportionally healthier; people have to work harder but have less control over their job which makes it difficult for those with persistent health problems to stay in work and while anti-discrimination legislation exists, employers are only legally obliged to provide ‘reasonable’ adjustments to the work environment. These are often very limited and, furthermore, the legalities involved mean many employers are less willing to employ disabled people as a result. It is not that the disabled are incapable: it is that they are penalised for their disability in a market that has no place for them.
And as for the calculatingly cruel calumny that decries the proportionately higher percentage increase in welfare payments compared to strivers’ salaries, don’t get me started! A 3 per cent rise in poverty-levels of benefits begrudgingly bestowed..let’s say, hypothetically, £72 weekly for a young ,single jobseeker – takes him or her up to a staggeringly profligate £74,16. A mere 2 per cent rise on an MPs basic salary, as a comparable weekly income takes him or her from £1270 p/w to £1295.40, a gain of £25 against the JSA recipient’s £2.16. Spot the poverty stricken!
I started this in an earlier edition (see http://thebackbencher.co.uk/scrapping-welfare/ ) and every week it seems, more grist is being added to my mill. Welfare as we knew it, is being junked, cannibalised and sold off for scrap. If you buy any of the myths exposed above you are falling for Duncan-Smith and his fellow-travellers’ snow job being done on the public, whatever your income level and state of health.
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