There’s been a lot of talk this week by politicians and in the press of the problem of Britain’s welfare dependency, its something for nothing culture which is slowly but surely destroying the nation. Some even seem to think this ‘evil’ can drive people to kill their own children. So this is surely a national emergency that we must tackle without haste. The Government say this is exactly what they are doing. They are ‘making work pay’. George Osborne says:
“For too long, we’ve had a system where people who did the right thing – who get up in the morning and work hard – felt penalised for it, while people who did wrong thing got rewarded for it. That’s wrong.”
Quite right. Before now it was too easy to just sit back and rake it in on £71 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance. And who hasn’t thought about doing it themselves? I know I’ve often thought about jacking in my job and replacing it with a jet set lifestyle on benefits, thinking about the sports cars and holidays in the Caribbean that £71 pounds a week could buy me. What luxury!
Seriously though, we must make work pay. Thank god George Osborne knows what he’s doing then. To make work pay for those at the bottom he must be increasing the minimum wage right? Wrong! Increasing working tax credits then? Nope! But at least the Government have increased the income tax threshold. Surely that will benefit those at the bottom the most? You’d think so, but you’d be wrong again. When Universal Credit comes in people will be assessed based on their post-tax income so for every £1 they gain from the tax threshold increase, most or all of it will be clawed back through benefit reductions.
So instead of demonising those on welfare, or implementing policies that actually achieve the opposite of their stated aims, what would a real solution look like?
It seems blindingly obvious that there are at least three glaring issues to be dealt with:
1. There are not enough jobs. Even at the height of the boom this was still the case.
2. Many of the jobs that are out there are low-paid, temporary or part-time.
3 Housing is short in supply and damn expensive
Issues 1 and 2 can actually be fixed with one policy – a job guarantee. We need to accept that the private sector (efficient and awesome as it obviously is) will never be able to produce enough jobs for everyone that wants one. As productivity increases over time and more and more jobs become automated this problem will only increase.
If the private sector cannot create the jobs, the government must step in and be prepared to hire all those left behind. It should not be beyond the wit of man to design a jobs programme that provides great social benefit without going into direct competition with the private sector.
Job guarantee jobs should pay a living wage. This will tackle problem 2 by forcing the private sector to up its game by improving the wages and terms and conditions it offers.
And problem 3? Housing. We could try to hassle people into moving into smaller homes by charging them extra for a ‘spare’ room, or we could actually tackle the real issue – lack of supply of affordable housing. Government should directly fund local council on a per capita basis to build 100,000 council houses nationally per year. The Government wants to cut the housing benefit bill by £2bn (although they’ve actually increased it by more than £3bn). This should achieve that and then some. It might also create one of two jobs I would have thought. And as we would be building the damn things, lets make them environmentally sustainable homes as well. This will reduce incidence of fuel poverty amongst residents of social housing.
To conclude then, the hallmark of this Government has been a crushing timidity on the big issues, coupled with a nasty desire to reach into people’s live and moralise about their views on how people should behave in the fictional world they have built where jobs are plentiful and if people would just pull themselves together, the country would be back on its feet in a fortnight. With a little ambition and a willingness to take off the fiscal straight-jacket our politicians seem to have donned, it’s easy to envisage what at alternative path might look like. Anyway rant over.