Facts and myths about those on benefits

Letters to the Editor

Facts and myths about those on benefits

Guardian Letters, Tuesday 

Polly Toynbee is, of course, right to say it is no surprise that David Cameron is reverting to type in his latest attack on the poor and vulnerable (Cameron’s big cut ‘idea’ will only backfire on the Tories, 26 June). She is also right to bemoan Labour‘s “dispiriting” response. Faced with the prospect of £10bn extra welfare cuts on top of £18bn already in train, it’s not unreasonable to expect an opposition with a bit of fight.

Opinion polls simply cannot be trusted when we are being force-fed a daily diet of lies and hatred from the rightwing press, egged on by ministers and their political supporters. How many people say they support benefit cuts without actually knowing how much claimants receive, or who is entitled to what?

Labour should be leading the defence of our welfare state – what it does, who it supports and why – explaining the facts and exploding the myths, and arguing for the sorts of measures Polly calls for: a real living wage, rent controls, a massive programme of housebuilding, and jobs.

The unions have been doing this, but we shouldn’t have to do it alone.

Mark Serwotka General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union


• The assertion that universal credit is behind schedule (Doubts grow over PM’s welfare blitz, 27 June) is completely unfounded. We have always been clear that universal credit will be phased in gradually over four years. In May DWP announced that the roll-out of universal credit in the greater Manchester and Cheshire area will actually occur ahead of schedule, in April 2013. The rest of the country will start to come on stream from October 2013. Allegations from the opposition about delays to universal credit only serve to highlight their lack of ideas and conviction on welfare reform. Our commitment to universal credit and making work pay is unwavering. 

David Fraud
Minister of welfare reform


• What does David Cameron know about people who need welfare support? Having inherited a fortune from a father who was an expert at tax avoidance, he will never be in financial need. His privileged education distanced him from ordinary people. He has never worked alongside those from the working class. He has no friends among any who do have to depend on welfare. I challenge him to spend the summer recess with his family living in a deprived area with no other means of support than he considers sufficient for the unemployed. In his absence there are plenty of other millionaire cabinet ministers to take his place.
Bob Holman


• In his attack on welfare and those who claim it, Cameron spoke of a “welfare gap” between those on benefits and those struggling to survive outside the benefits system. In fact, the most pertinent and concerning gap is that which exists between Cameron’s crude caricature of welfare claimants and the lived reality of reliance on out-of-work benefits. While Cameron talks of the “something for nothing” generation, “sitting at home”, where it “pays not to work”, the reality is of families – often desperate to work – living well below the poverty line. Participants in my research into the experiences of welfare reform scoff at the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice, characterising Cameron and his lot as out of touch and unaware of what life on benefits really means. The prime minister’s latest foray into welfare reform shows just how right they are.
Ruth Patrick
Doctoral researcher, University of Leeds


• I hope David Cameron’s proposal to require benefit claimants to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills is more successful than the last government’s Skills for Life programme. At a cost of between £8bn and £9bn, Skills for Life had no discernible impact on the number of adults without these basic skills. Those responsible for Skills for Life focused the programme on giving countless people, who just happened to not have a A*-C grade GCSE in English and maths, Skills for Life certificates, which few employers recognised as the equivalent of a “good” GCSE in English and maths. This allowed long-forgotten junior ministers endless opportunities to claim success for an initiative that wasted public money and failed the very people it was meant to help.
Alan Wells
Former director, Basic Skills Agency

• The prime minister’s plans to cut housing benefit to under-25s could have catastrophic consequences. With 80,000 young people a year already experiencing homelessness due to unemployment, family breakdown or domestic violence, stopping their housing benefit would cut their one remaining lifeline.

Many of the 385,000 young people this cut would affect are in work, but need housing benefit to top up their income to help them sustain their employment. Moreover, over 50% have dependent children, making it even harder for them to move back home. Pulling the safety net away from these vulnerable individuals and families is simply unfair, will cause more homelessness and, far from acting as a work incentive as Mr Cameron suggests, could add to the million young people currently out of work.
Seyi Obakin
Chief executive, Centrepoint


• So now we see clearly what the Conservative agenda for this parliament would have been in the absence of the Lib Dem intervention into the coalition. Gove’s plans for education, Cameron’s knife-sharpening for welfare, Boris’s plans for everything. These are the lines in the sand that the Lib Dems must defend. As the Conservative leadership hopefuls sniff the air and seek to take advantage of the fear the public feel at the prospect of further and unending economic hardship, we should be mightily grateful indeed for the thin yellow line that stands between them and the kind of policies that seem designed specifically to turn us all on each other.
Nicholas Avery

The Guardian

Cameron’s welfare speech: he cannot be serious

After an omnishambolic few months, Mr Cameron was desperate to demonstrate a sure touch on the home front. He displayed the opposite 

Guardian Editorial 

Is David Cameron serious? 
That is the devastating question posed by his set-piece speech on welfare,
and the weekend of prime ministerial posturing before it. 
After an omnishambolic few months, Mr Cameron was desperate to demonstrate
a sure touch on the home front. He displayed the opposite. 
There was a want of any sustained argument, and so little grip on the detail
that many wheezes on his wishlist are unlikely to come to pass.
In and among many dodgy assertions, Mr Cameron did communicate the odd important fact.
One was that the single biggest slice of the so-called “welfare” budget – some £110bn – is in fact consumed by pension benefits
Any serious fiscal conservative would have linked this observation back to
their narrative about containing costs, but after volunteering it the prime
minister blithely went on to defend every last winter fuel cheque and free
bus pass as jolly good things. 
He paid no heed to this month’s official data which charted a tide of poverty
ebbing away from the old and towards young adults, nor to the emerging gulf between the generations which one of his more thoughtful ministers has written
a book about. 
He had nothing to say about the biggest single prospective pressure on social security bills – the move of the demographic bulge of boomers into retirement
– and instead drew a ludicrously sharp line between virtuous expenditure on
the over-65s and the vice of spending on anyone else.
As a rising pension age sees punishing welfare rules imposed on men and
women well into their 60s, this division will be revealed as arbitrary and cruel.
Having singled out younger adults for the big stick, Mr Cameron wielded it their
way without any suggestion of strategy.
In some passages he bemoaned the creep of means-testing for stifling
ambition, while in others he demanded new means tests – for example
in allocating council homes. If the big picture was confused, there was
frightening disdain for the detail.
The prime minister howled about the perversity of reducing housing benefit for families whose adult children land a job, apparently blissfully ignorant of how
his own government had increased this particular charge by 27% in both 2011
and 2012, with another 27% rise pencilled in for next year.
Then there was the centrepiece of the weekend spinning – the abolition
of housing benefit for the under-25s. With the cosy middle-class assumption
that mum and dad can always welcome back jobless twentysomethings, this sounded like a suggestion from a gin-soaked colonel in his clubhouse. 
Does Mr Cameron even know that he recently legislated for cuts to force
council tenants to downsize once adult children flee the nest?
What about youngsters whose parents are mad, bad or dead?
The PM talked about the special circumstances of foster care leavers, but
what about those leaving prison? Would it be a good idea to have them
roaming the streets? And what about the thousand who get the coach out
of dead-end towns and find a job but don’t earn enough to put a roof over
their heads without some help from the state?
Assuming No 10 was not actively misleading the country about what the PM
had wanted to say in advance, some level-headed official must have realised
there were no answers to all the questions and replaced the explicit proposal
with vague words in the final script. But the thought only got so far as it did
because crucial policies are being dreamt up on the basis of focus groups.
The political strategy is clear – opening a second front in the class war
may just divert enough bile towards the bottom to protect those at the
top smarting from Nadine Dorries’s “posh boy” charge. 
Punishing scroungers may be popular in general terms, but support will
shatter if the government lacks the competence to sort the “deserving”
from the “undeserving”.
Glitches with the universal credit and a crazy new council tax rebate may
soon destroy faith in its ability to run benefits in practice. 
The theory should be the easy bit, but Monday’s speech revealed that
Mr Cameron is shaky even on that

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