There can be few debates as depressing as the one that focusses on social security. And I use the term ‘social security’ advisedly. For seventy years, we’ve taken the view that the state has a role to play in securing everyone’s basic needs, not just those that can afford it.
When the Attlee government built it, the welfare state was there to ensure there was always a safety net. Heathcare for all, through the NHS. Pension for all, through National Insurance. Work for all, or where jobs are scarce, protection from abject poverty.
A changed debate
But today, this government think that stirring up a hatred of those who need this help is something to be encouraged, not challenged. George Osborne recently thought it was appropriate to use the crimes of Mick Philpott to launch an attack on those who claim benefit.
The truth is in Luton, there aren’t enough jobs to go around. But the Tory-led government consider the unemployed ‘fair game’; dividing us into strivers and shirkers. They think it’s the only way out of a hole of their own making. The economy is flatlining and to distract people from their failure to get it growing, they point the finger at families struggling to make ends meet already.
For all the rhetoric about making work pay, it’s working families who receive help from the state who will pay the cost of this government’s economic failure. Last month millionaires were given a whopping tax cut. But the government’s other decisions also began to kick in. 400,000 disabled people will be hit by the bedroom tax. Average families will lost nearly £900 a year. Tax credits for the low paid are being cut in real terms. 200,000 more children will find themselves in poverty.
And all the time, the national debt goes up not down. These cuts, punishing to those affected, will have virtually no effect on the deficit which remains stubbornly high. In fact, as it’s those on the lowest incomes that spend the greatest proportion of their income, leading economists have said they could actually be counter productive – pushing borrowing even higher. The government’s actions, then, are not just heartless, but hopeless. Not least of all because just 2.5% of the total benefits bill is spent on unemployment benefit.
Getting the bill down
Our system of social security is by no means perfect. There are always isolated cases of people who can work and don’t, and we should be hard in driving these people out of the system. But most people want what we all do – to be able to support ourselves and our families, and to have a reasonable standard of living. The fact they’re being denied this right by a clueless administration is no reason to turn on them.
Put simply, the best way to bring down the social security bill, is to get people back to work. The enemy isn’t the unemployed; it’s unemployment.