Parliamentary sketch – The State of Welfare
So, the Christmas spirit didn’t last long…
Declaratory “Good will to all…” sentiments seem to exist in a parallel Christmas universe where better nature is confined to a few carols, selected Christmas cards and pious hopes.
Now I’m back in harness in the Scroogosphere of Westminster with my beloved assortment of Bah-humbugs. Parliament wasted no time in getting straight back to business as usual; with shrill and uncharitable scapegoating of “workshy scroungers” and other “skivers” who “lord it” at our expense on “state hand-outs”, while hard working “strivers” pay the taxes that keep them.
Leaving aside routine tabloid prejudices, the Government is right to give the Welfare budget a long hard look. After all, at £220 billion it represents a third of all Government spending; more than we spend on health, education and defence combined.
But the Government came up with a blunt instrument: Pegging most benefits to just a 1% annual rise, irrespective of food price inflation, rental increases or even comparable wage rises.
The “workshy” tag doesn’t work either. Of the total, out of work benefits make up less than one quarter of the total welfare budget. Job Seekers Allowance and sickness benefits combined account for just 5.3% of the total spend.
In fact, around 30 million people in the UK – about half of the population – receive income from at least one benefit (income support, housing benefit, tax credit, etc). Are these 30 million “workshy scroungers”! Because most of them are working families who receive help to make up for low wages – important for an area like ours!
Meanwhile £2 in every £5 of the welfare budget goes to elderly people, the lion’s share of which is pensions. Moreover, nearly a third of cash benefits are paid to those with above average incomes; although the recent cut in eligibility for child benefit will reduce that figure.
So coming to a balanced judgement based on fact rather than hysterical prejudice is the challenge for Parliament. An extension of the Christmas spirit may help too…
Andrew George MP
MP for the West Cornwall &
Isles of Scilly constituency of St Ives
8th January 2013