Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Well done to Lib Dem peers over the benefit cap

WARNING: This post contains a fair bit of swearing.

At last! Finally, Lib Dem peers are being collectively useful over the Welfare Reform Bill. Yesterday 17 [CORRECTION: it was 26] Lib Dem peers rebelled against the government and backed an amendment which stops child benefit from being taken into account in the £26,000 cap on benefits. It's great to see this happen and it's just a shame that only two of the rebels yesterday showed the same concern about disabled people a few weeks ago as they did about children yesterday.

I've already seen people come out of the woodwork and start condemning the decision of the lords to exempt child benefit from being taken into account. I've seen both commentors online and government ministers, MPs and spokespersons come out and call it every kind of evil under the sun.

And that makes me sick. And it just goes to show how fucking sick and twisted our society is. Apparently the benefit cap is popular and therefore we shouldn't do a thing about it. Well that's fucked up on two levels. On the one hand, support for it is based on how the question is asked. Of course people will back a cap of £26,000 because it sounds like a large amount and more than they themselves probably earn. But if you were to ask them if they support a cap which sees a couple who have never worked get £200 a week while a family where the parents have only just lost their job after working all their lives will only get £100 a week to support four people then the answer will probably be no.

Because that's what the cap does. Like so many money-motivated government welfare "reform" plans, it is arbitrary. Most of the money which makes up the cap is never seen by the recipients. It goes to private or social landlords. And that means that families in particular will be hit hardest. Because a single person might have a rent of only £150 a week. But for a family, in some places the rent might be much higher, £400 or £500 a week even. But because the cap is arbitrary, the single person will receive the full amount of housing benefit and be left with plenty a week to live on. But the family will receive far less per person, with most of what they get going on rent, leaving them a pittance to live on.

And, in any event, since when has popularity been a sign that something is right? Persecuting the Jews in Germany was very popular at the time but that doesn't mean that the Nazis were right to beat, rape, torture and murder innocent people. Politicians, and Lib Dems in particular, should do what is fucking right, and just regardless of how fucking unpopular it might be. It was fucking right for us to oppose the Iraq War even though it was unpopular for us to do so at the time.

But in any event, the entire rationale for the cap is bullshit. Utter bullshit. It's all about atomisation, setting one group of struggling people against another group of struggling people. We can afford to spend billions on the olympics, we can afford to continue fighting in Afghanistan, we can afford to build High Speed Rail and Crossrail, we can afford billions on new aircraft carriers but apparently we can't afford to spend money on welfare.

Let's put this in some fucking context, right? The savings the government is making from the benefit cap is just 0.1% of the welfare budget. The cost of taking child benefit out of the cap calculations is just 0.05% of the welfare budget. You could save that amount of money many, many times over purely by fixing the administrative procedures in the welfare system - all of which are bloated, ineffective, confusing for claimants and, above all, costly to run.

Eric Pickles, the tory local government minister, a fat oaf who has never known hardship in his life, has said that the benefits cap will make 20,000 families homeless, all of whom will have to be put in emergency housing at local councils' expense, ultimately costing the taxpayer more than it saves from the cap. And in big cities like London, it will mean the poor being forced out of the city, just like Paris, we will see a doughnut of ghettos and slums of poor people surrounding a glittering, gentrified city centre. Out of sight, out of fucking mind, right? I'm sure the middle and upper class tory voters will love not having to see untidy poor people at any point in their lives. After all, in Paris you have absolutely appalling and barbaric conditions in the ghettos around the city but central Parisians never see them as the motorways and railways just go right over the heads of all the poor people. For the wealthy, poverty is something which you flash past in five seconds on the motorway.

Above all, the most flawed aspect of the benefit cap is that it punishes children for the sins of their parents. Yes, there are some fucking lazy people out there, people who have loads of kids in order to milk the welfare system and to avoid working while the taxpayer pays for things. There might be fewer of them than the tabloids make out but they still exist. But if you punish the parents for being irresponsible then you end up punishing the children as well. Even with child benefit being excluded, the cap will still force thousands of children into poverty. I've never experienced real hardship myself but I damn well know what it's like growing up in a house where money is tight. My father is a brilliant man and gave my brother and I as stable an environment as possible, doing his absolute best at great stress to himself and as a result, despite losing my mother at the age of seven, I'd still say that I had a good childhood. But I know what it's like as a child to be aware that money is tight and to be worrying about that in addition to all the stresses of childhood. Children should not have to experience that. It happens, unavoidably it happens, but it shouldn't. And it certainly shouldn't be the case that the government knowingly passes laws which it knows will make that happen.

All, of course, under the guise of "incentivising" people to work. A noble idea but I fail to see how cutting people's benefits is meant to force them into work when there aren't enough fucking jobs to go round!

My generation has been royally fucked by the ones prior to us. They've left us a mountain of debt, a planet of depleted resources and an environment damaged by two centuries of pollution. The short-sighted consumerism of the past 30 years has well and truly fucked up our futures. But I don't think it's right to ask children to suffer, to make they pay for the sins of their parents, just so that I will have to pay ever so slightly lower taxes for ever so slightly less. The deficit is billions big. The national debt is hundreds of billions big. A few hundred million for the children of the poorest families is an insignificant additional burden.

And I'd much rather live in a society where the poor aren't forced into slums, where my children won't just live and grow up in a gentrified bubble where the real world and real hardship is swept under the rug. And, above all, I'd rather my children, if I ever have any, grow up in a society with slightly more compassion for the poor, the sick and the disabled than the heartless, selfish, merciless society we seem to be living in now and which our politicians seem to believe in.

And, maybe if our parliamentairns had enough backbone to make the counter argument against the cap, to stand up and explain why the amendment was necessary, then the tories might not be reaping political dividends for a disgusting policy and we might have actually made the world a slightly better place.


  1. I cant for the life of me find another way to contact you :) Im doing some stuff for the spartacusteam urgently and if you had time would like to pick your brains about a letter we need to do like yesterday :) many thanks

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I just deleted my last comment as I just managed to find and friend request you on facebook.

  2. George,

    On a point of accuracy, might I note that twenty-six, not seventeen, Liberal Democrat Peers voted in support of the amendment (I think that you're confusing it with the Labour amendment to protect those who might become homeless as a result, and which fell).

    And on a point of inclusivity, might I suggest cutting out the swearwords? Whilst I understand your anger, such language is offputting to those you might seek to influence...

    1. Mark, sorry my mistake there. I'll correct the blogpost soon.

      As for the swearing, I don't normally do it but I accept that I probably should have a swearing warning at the top of this piece. I'll fix that as well. That said, this isn't really a post to try and persuade people, it's more about venting my opinion, swearing and all.

    2. Why isn't it a post to try and persuade people?

    3. Valerie, two reasons. The first is that I've done a lot of posts to try and persuade people before and am still working on persuading people but this particular post was just me venting my spleen.

      The second is that I very much doubt that peers and MPs read my blog.

  3. Hello George, haven’t seen you at Lib Con recently.

    With reference to the above blog, I have to say that I was very disappointed with Jeremy Browne’s effort on ‘Question Time’ last night. Melanie Philips, is well, just that, Liz Truss is a backbencher, but Browne is a Minister of the Crown. The others on the panel are expected to spin evidence to suit their own agenda, but surely a Minister of the Crown is under a moral duty (perhaps a legal one as well?) to tell the truth?

    Whether he likes it or not the law is that people get paid benefits based on strict legal criteria. However, there is often a misconception (or more probably, a deliberate misrepresentation) regarding how much wages people on benefits would have to receive to secure a similar income.

    Phillips, rather unsurprisingly repeated this lie regarding benefits being the equivalent wage of thirty five thousand pounds of waged income. Now as shameful as that is in itself, the minister sitting to her Right (unsurprisingly) made no effort to correct her on that. Surely, as a Minister, he is aware of the policy of the Government? He need not be an expert outside his responsibility, but he cannot be unaware that anyone with a similar background to such a claimant (or the claimant themselves) would be entitled to a range of in work benefits, including Working Family Tax Credits?

    No-one claiming £26k grand gets it easily, there have to be exceptional circumstances, like an extremely large family (for whatever reason) or severe medical issues in that family, yet this lie regarding benefits is rather depressing. This lie goes completely unchallenged by spokespeople of both members of the Coalition.

    This appears, on the surface at least, to be a deliberate policy in order to deliberately spread misinformation regarding fellow citizens of our Country. When this is done via the media and worryingly the BBC (two outrageous incidents, this week alone), that one thing, but for the Government of the day to be seen to take part in this conspiracy, is quite another.

    I am afraid that all decent people must condemn such a cynical move by a Government of any description. One need only look back to the black propaganda of Nazi Germany to see the poisonous atmosphere that such merciless attacks can have on a population, especially under the economic pressures we suffer today.

    George, I made some barbed comment regarding your Party when they entered coalition in what feels so long ago now. I predicted that your Party would be seduced by power into the modern Tory mindset and the culture of hate that goes with it. I have seen many Lib Dems on tv and radio since then, but JB last night morphed into a Tory, his rhetoric, body language and even the timbre of his voice put me in mind of those yuppified junior ministers of the mid 80s. How ironic that Lib Dem peers kept our democarcy alive, albeit attached to a life support


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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