Wednesday 23 March 2016

Social Security: reversal needed, not just a halt.

Yesterday, or maybe even the day before, the government announced hat it had dropped its proposal to reduce Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to the disabled, and had no plans for further cuts in expenditure on social security.  This enabled David Cameron to make, or rather re-make, the risible assertion  that his party  is one of Compassionate  Conservatism.

However, a stop to the rot, though welcome, is not enough.  For our society to deserve to be called civilised the damage that has been done to an already inadequate safety-net needs to be reversed.

 Under  "compassionate Cameron's" leadership, and  Iain Duncan Smith's stewardship:

  • the much delayed and so far incredibly wasteful Universal Credit system will, the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts, leave 2.1 million families worse off  by an average of £1 600 per year;
  • the Work Capability Assessment  has been extended to cover  1.5 million people in order to reduce by 23% the numbers entitled to assistance.  So far 1 300 people have died within a short period of having been assessed as fit for work;
  • the Bedroom Tax, designed to encourage people in social housing to move to smaller premises if they had a spare bedroom, has so far  succeeded in persuading only 8% of those targeted to "downsize,"  largely becasue of the non-availability of smaller properties.  Most of these affected were disabled, and 75%  claim that they are forced to cut back on food;
  • the Benefits Cap (now £23 000 per family in London and £20 000 elsewhere), imposed regardless of family size or need, will force 40 000 children into poverty;. 
  • Sanctions, or the stoppage of social security payments for at least four weeks for missing appointments or other Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) rules, have increased exponentially;
  • an expensive Work Programme, largely administered by private companies such as G4S, fails to find long-term employment in 70% of cases;
  • the objective definition of Child Poverty (living in families with less than  60% of median income) has been changed to include more nebulous and more easily fudged criteria .
We are a rich society and we can well afford a social security  safety-net which enables all to live in dignity and without  fear of losing the basic physical necessities of life. As columnist Zoe Williams  wrote recently
( Zoe Williams, Guardian 21st March) :

. . . it is time to unpick the goal of social mobility, which is just a benign phrase for “survival of the fittest”. We need to concentrate not on a society where the ambitious can prosper, but build one in which the least economically productive still live in comfort and dignity. None of us is productive all the time, some of us aren’t productive any of the time – but we’re still as human as one another. This is an opportunity to make the point that freedom, for so long framed as the ability to compete and consume, is meaningless if your basic needs aren’t met. To chip away at any group’s means of sustenance is to be a government actively working against personal freedom.

Yes, of course there will be some "undeserving poor" who take a generous social security system for a ride, but they will be a tiny minority and we can afford it.  Much better to be ripped off by this tiny minority than punish the vast majority who through no fault of their own are unable to provide fully for themselves.

I've never yet me anyone who chose to be disabled.

Oh for a political party prepared to stand up to the Red Tops and tell it like it is.


  1. This is really just a question of whether to aim for equality to opportunity or equality of outcome, isn't it?

    (Or rather of which to prioritise, as clearly neither is perfectly attainable).

    And as such it's one of those fundamental political questions where your answer will depend on your whole world-view.

    1. No, I think the question of whether to aim for equality of opportunity or equality of outcome is another debate, one in which I'm very happy to engage with you at some other appropriate time.

      This issue is one of our attitude to the social security safety-net: whether it is provided relatively generously and as of right to those who, for whatever reason, cannot without help, engage in the norms of society, or whether it is grudgingly provided by self-styled "strivers" to the undeserving they contemptuously regards as "skivers."

      In my view the Beveridge Report took the former view: that the state should take the lead in attacking the Five Giants of social evil which he identified as ignorance, idleness, squalor, want and illness. These were tackled (in order) by:

      i) the state provision of free primary and secondary education;
      ii) the responsibility of the state to try to regulate the economy to achieve full employment;
      iii) private and social housing;
      iv) pensions and social security payments;
      v) a national health service free at the point of use.

      I think Williams's point is that, especially since 1979 and the Thatcher era, we have concentrated too much on creating a competitive society in which the able and well endowed can prosper, and not enough on "one in which the least economically productive still live in comfort and dignity."

      Indeed, we have created an atmosphere in which many people believe , mistakenly in my view, that the provision of a generous social security safety-net actually inhibits thrusting endeavour.