Lies, Damn Lies and the Welfare Debate

Next week the Government plans to bring forward a new Bill on welfare reform – the latest salvo in the Tories’ ongoing war of attrition on our welfare state and the principles that underpin it.

Softening up the ground for this next round of cuts, which will go further and deeper than anything we’ve seen so far, was a column written jointly by George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith and published in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago.

The piece, which reads like a greatest hits compilation of clichéd Tory platitudes on welfare spending, was so shot through with errors, misleading implications and flat-out lies that it set the tone for the most ill-informed debate in recent memory.

So in the interest of setting the record straight, I’ve picked out my top eight tall Tory tales (there are many more than eight, but as space is limited I’ve kept myself to the worst offenders) and put them together with the actual facts. Without a willing handmaiden in the Murdoch press empire to help me, I’m relying on you to spread the word:

Lie number one:
“This country accounts for 7% of all welfare spending in the world, although we have just 1% of its population and produce 4% of its GDP.”

Even if you accept that these figures are accurate (and there’s no reason why you should – Osborne and Duncan Smith did not provide a source and I haven’t been able to find one) the implication – that we are spending more than we should because our welfare budget is out of proportion to our share of the global population – is ridiculous because it does not compare like with like.

To say that we spend more on welfare per head than, say, Somalia or Zimbabwe tells you nothing more than the fact that we have an advanced, industrialised economy, a domestic tax base, an established democracy and a modern welfare state, which many countries do not.

A much more valuable comparison would be between the UK and other industrialised democracies, for example within Europe. A comparison with the rest of Europe puts us below the average in terms of welfare spending as a proportion of GDP.

Lie number two:
Under Labour “Britain’s welfare bill was fast becoming completely unsustainable.”

Taking as a measure of “sustainability” the amount we spend on social security as a proportion of GDP (the most widely used measure), welfare spending stayed virtually flat during Labour’s time in office. Between 1998-99 and 2008-09 welfare spending represented on average 10.7% of GDP, never deviating more than 0.2% from this figure in any given year.

When the global financial crisis hit the proportion rose to 13% – a significant rise which nonetheless was neither surprising nor particularly concerning, given the historic tendency for welfare spending to rise during a depressed economy and fall back down to normal levels with the return of economic growth.

It’s also a bit rich for the Tories to preach about an increasing welfare budget when the bulk of social security expenditure in the UK goes to pensioners, an area where the Tories have increased spending, not cut it.

Lie number three:
“Not that any of this debt-fuelled largesse improved lives.”

Maybe not the lives of anybody the authors knew, but the truth is that, largely thanks to the support Labour provided to low-income working families through tax credits (which Osborne is about to gut), child poverty fell by a third under Labour – equivalent to more than a million children lifted out of poverty.

IDS may be busy redefining poverty so he can pretend it doesn’t exist, but I think most people can still understand that poverty is real, that it isn’t a good thing and that a person moving out of poverty would normally consider the change an improvement in their life.

Lie number four:
“The welfare system we inherited in 2010 trapped people in dependency and actively discouraged claimants from seeking work. All too often, those who worked hard and did the right thing were punished – while those who did the wrong thing were rewarded.”

Presumably what the authors mean by “doing the right thing” is working. But despite their best efforts to draw an artificial dividing line between “work” and “welfare”, the reality is that most people of working age who claim some kind of benefit do work. For example, more than two thirds of people claiming tax credits are employed, and tax credits account for around 50% of all spending on working-age welfare. Meanwhile, benefits specifically for people who are out of work, like Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support, make up just 3% of such spending.

The fact of the matter is that when governments fail – as the Tories have done – to tackle the root causes of working peoples’ need for welfare support, like low pay and high rents, the number of working people relying on benefits increases. For example, the proportion of housing benefit claimants who are employed has doubled since the Tories took office in 2010.

Lie number five:
“The new benefit cap of £26,000 a year means that no household can receive more in out-of-work benefits than the average working family earns, a simple matter of fairness.”

The Tories’ cap has nothing to do with fairness, as demonstrated by the fact that their new Bill abolishes the cap’s link with average earnings and gives Ministers carte blanche to lower the cap arbitrarily, at any time and for any reason.

Their cap also takes an across-the-board approach, affecting many more people who aren’t able to work – including people with disabilities, single mothers with young children and people with full-time caring responsibilities for sick or severely disabled relatives – than people who are.

read the rest of this article here:

Businesses paying employees poverty wages are costing taxpayers eleven times the amount benefit fraud cost last year

Taxpayers spend £11bn to top up low wages paid by UK companies

Research published last week by Citizens UK found that companies in the UK are paying their workers so little that the taxpayer has to top up wages to the tune of £11bn a year. The four big supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons) alone are costing just under £1bn a year in tax credits and extra benefits payments.

This is a direct transfer from the rest of society to some of the largest businesses in the country. To put the figure in perspective, the total cost of benefit fraud last year was just £1bn. Corporate scrounging costs 11 times that.

Worse, this is a direct subsidy for poverty pay. If supermarkets and other low-paying employers know they can secure work even at derisory wages, since pay will be topped up by the state, they have no incentive to offer higher wages.

None of this makes sense. We are all, in effect, paying a huge sum of money so that we can continue to underpay the 22% of workers who are earning below the Living Wage – the level at which it is possible to live without government subsidies. The only possible beneficiaries are business owners.

Read the rest of this Guardian article here:

Disabled man left with roughly £1 a day to live on after he’d paid his bills

For former Swanscombe town councillor Dave West, the impact of benefit changes was stark: “It means that from being able to live independently, albeit on benefits, to not being able to exist – I was left with roughly £1 a day to live on after I’d paid my bills.

“That was a pound for food, clothes, travel.”

It cost Dave over £3 to get to the doctors. He is candid about the impact: “I couldn’t cope – I knew that I couldn’t live like that”. In April 2013, he attempted to take his own life.

Happily, Dave survived. But he is adamant that it was benefit changes that were at the root of his problems: “They just made it impossible for me to live anything like the life I was used to living – which was by no means glamorous. At that time Dave says he was working 30-40 hours for nothing as a town councillor, “doing my bit”.

Dave was passed fit to work, whereas he says his doctor said he was not. The introduction of the “bedroom tax” meant he faced moving from the home where he had raised his six children.

In despair at his situation, Dave tried a second time to kill himself. It was difficult not to take it personally, he says: “It was not just what they did, it was they way they did it. Every day you wake up and you think it can’t get any worse, and every day a letter lands on the carpet and it does get worse… There was no help.”

In the end, Dave’s appeal against the withdrawal of his incapacity benefit was upheld, and the benefit restored.


From an article on the channel 4 news site

The Jobcentre Plus staff did not give any advice on claiming emergency short term benefits.

Case Study E:

This client is very vulnerable due to severe ill health and having no income. She has End Stage renal failure and attends Dialysis 3 days a week at Guys Hospital. She has restricted walking/mobility and is partially sighted and her condition is quickly deteriorating. This client’s ESA was rejected 28.8.12. She put in an appeal. Her tribunal appeal hearing was scheduled for 27.4.13. She did not attend the hearing due to ill health. In her absence the tribunal upheld the DWP’s ESA decision. The client does not get DLA, and so from this date was without income.

The client’s sister, C, found out that the client, her sister, had no money and had been neglecting her self care, and contacted the JCP office (Kennington Park Road) to ask what support was available. C visited the JCP office on 5.6.13 to request the process of a completed IS form. She went to the reception counter and was told that the client would not get IS. She asked what benefits the client could get and was told she could claim JSA. C states that she explained the client’s situation but was offered no help other than vouchers for a local food bank.

C referred her sister to Every Pound Counts and we agreed to assist. We advised C that her sister could make a new ESA claim as it had been more than six months since the last one. C said she rang to make a new ESA claim on Friday 7.6.13 on the normal claim line and asked for a STBA as we had advised. The person on the claim line said she did not know what this was.

In summary, the JCP staff did not provide advice on re-claiming ESA or on the possibility of a STBA, instead the client’s sister was directed to seek support from the food bank with no solution to her lack of income considered. Thanks to the intervention of Every Pound Counts, ESA is back in payment.

From the  Written evidence submitted by The London Borough of Lambeth (WCA0101) to  the Parliamentary Commission on ESA and the Work Capability Assessment

Half-Naked Man Rips Tiles From London Roofs ‘In Protest Over Benefit Changes’

A disgruntled man flung roof tiles from the top of his terraced home in a six-hour protest at the government’s welfare policies as police attempted to talk him down, it has been reported.

A crowd of neighbours gathered to watch the man strip to his waist, then strip the entire roof of tiles, causing thousands of pounds of damage, with cars below damaged by the cascade from the building in the Wanstead cul-de-sac.

A neighbour told the Evening Standard: “He was shouting and taking tiles off, yelling ‘they stopped my income support, they stopped my housing benefit, how am I supposed to live?’

“He worked himself up into a bit of a frenzy and started smashing things. He was in his 50s or 60s and was wearing a t-shirt that he soon ripped off. He had a hammer and a can of beer. A few days ago he was playing music so loud it sounded like a rave in the street. The day before that he had all these strobe lights going, like it was a concert. I think he’d just worked himself up and it built to this.”

A Met Police spokesman told the Daily Mail the man had been sectioned. “Police were called at 2.45pm to reports of a man throwing objects off the roof of a house. Road closures were put in place,” a spokesman said. “Shortly before 9pm the man was arrested and released on bail. He was not taken into custody.”

reported in the huffington Post:

423,000 Single Parents Face New Benefit Sanctions Threat

Single parents with children under the age of five face the threat of ‘punitive’ benefit sanctions, due to the introduction of tough new rules and over-stretched jobcentre’s, the charity Gingerbread has warned.

Jobcentre staff have been given new powers to remove benefits from single parents with young children in receipt of Income Support, otherwise known as sanctioning, should they fail to adhere to strict new requirements which may include attending more jobcentre appointments, participation in training programmes or work experience placements, depending on the age of their child(ren).

read the rest of this article on the Welfare News Service here: