We are hearing a great deal from the government about the need to reform the welfare benefits system. MPs ask us and we readily agree to resent a situation where someone can claim more in benefits than the average working family. With a cap of £26,000 representing a pre-tax income of 35,000 pa the government makes a point of highlighting that many families cannot even dream of such an income, and claims to be protecting the "working poor."
However, in the great tradition of the emperor's new clothes, the king is in the altogether.
It would perhaps surprise you to be informed of the following...
"If you are working, you may still be able to get benefits or tax credits if you are on a low income. It does not matter whether you are working for someone else or self-employed. The benefits you can get depend on your circumstances, your earnings and other money you have coming in, and on how many hours you work each week. There are different benefits for people who work less than 16 hours a week and for people who work 16 hours or more. This information is mainly for people who work at least 16 hours a week. There is also information about help if you work less than 16 hours, and if you get certain benefits and then start work or increase your hours or wages."
Would you be surprised to learn that this is taken, word for word, from the government's very own website?
If you take, for example, a family with the average income of £35,000 per annum: the working poor that the government seeks to protect. Let us say that they have six children under the age of 16 and pay about 400 per week in rent. Let us also assume that this family lives in one of the London boroughs, that one parent works and the other looks after the children full time.
I fed these details through the tax credit and the housing benefit calculator, available online, and the results raise an important and as yet unaired issue. In this example the family are entitled to £32 in tax credits and £229.97 in housing benefits. So a family on an income of £35,000 per year receive an additional £13,572 from the state. This produces, according to the governments own figures, a family post tax income of £39,572.
When you compare this figure with the £26,000 cap the government is proposing for the same family on benefits, two things stand out. First the government is serious about making work pay and, secondly, the government appears to have simultaneously decided to maintain a non-working family at a level below its own definition of what it means to be poor.
This distortion of the facts to achieve a political purpose is in itself concerning: satisfying the bloodlust of the British people for scroungers at both ends of the spectrum. What is worse however is that the benefit cap is unjust. Our entire benefit system is predicated on the basis of each according to need. The very form of words in a benefit award letter are testament to this and the principles are repeated in the paragraph quoted above. An arbitrary cap is entirely contradictory to this principle and as such must surely be vulnerable to appeal.
There are better, fairer and far more effective solutions to managing our spiralling welfare benefit bill. We should turn our attention to those and away from blind retribution.
I am left, however, with a burning question. Why am I the one raising this. Where is the Labour Party?