Housing Benefit Debate Mr Cameron – It wont happen as well you know!

Cameron’s speech on welfare is absolute nonsense and I say that without even reading it I or anyone else doesnt have to read 15 pages of blatant politicaal spin.  It cannot be a debate as no politician in government could ever have that debate.  I will comment specifically on the speech at a later date but given the furore the banning of under 25s from Housing Benefit and the farce that was here’s why there will be no debate.

Yesterday the media was, aside from its usual nonsense about how well England were going to do against Italy, all about the PMs intention to ban the under 25s from receiving Housing Benefit.

The story broke late Saturday evening with the TV news channels doing a paper review and when I saw this on Sky News this was a definitive story – it was going to happen and Cameron would say so in a speech on Monday (today). Yet by mid-afternoon Sunday it became:

  • not definitive and used purely to open up a debate;
  • only something for after the next election, and
  • The Telegraph often known as the voice of the Tory Party had run an online poll which said that 80% (of presumably Tory readers) thought this was a bad idea – something of much significance.

This ‘idea’ had surfaced before in April and I said then it was a mere kite-flying exercise, one of many the government have mooted, leaked or got into the press. My previous blogs said correctly such a proposal would:

  • see the closure of all homeless hostels (huge added public purse costs)
  • see the majority of DV refuges close (huge added public purse cost), and
  • see a 22 year old returning soldier after doing a 6-year stint straight from school in Afghanistan putting his life on the line for me and you and the rest of the country being denied somewhere to live (huge electoral mistake and political suicide)

I re-read my April blogs and as I said then this was a non-runner for the reasons above and must mean something more. I published a new blog which said this ‘story’ was a smokescreen and the reality was that it was used to see the shared accommodation rate (SAR) being applied to the social rented sector (council and housing associations) as it does in the private rented sector already. Creating a level playing field is how the government will sell this, in my view, inevitability. Many in the social rented sector (SRS) don’t like the idea which I posited in March to much consternation yet many are beginning to say this publically and it is a case of when not if. The Tories then (belatedly) stating yesterday that this ‘policy’ of banning U/25s from HB was a Tory policy for after the next election and after debate about benefits in general strongly confirms it will happen then

My blog of yesterday also factually stated:

  • Housing Benefit is an in-work benefit not just an out-of-work benefit
  • Since the last election 88% of all new HB claimants were working as is shown in the official HB statistics issued last week
  • That a person in full time employment at minimum wage can receive Housing Benefit

I’m glad I did. The above three points are not well known outside the social rented sector (SRS) and many appear to assume benefit for your rent (Housing Benefit) must mean the claimant is unemployed or feckless and workshy or a scrounger as Cameron would have the electorate believe. Why the hardworking taxpayer should fund this feckless largesse is the rallying call of Cameron. It is an issue of morality that Cameron is saying as benefit system has some strange (alleged) incentives is the official line.

The reality is that HB is no more than a supplementary benefit for many to subsidise Britain’s low pay economy. This is also a statement of fact as those in low paid full time employment can claim Working Tax Credit (WTC) – its name being self-explanatory. Yet official government figures for 2010 show that £8.4bn per year of WTC is known to be unclaimed.

If Cameron wants a debate on benefits and is questioning the morality of them this is a very revealing place to start and very topical too. The country agrees with Cameron that it is immoral for Jimmy Carr or any other high-earner to avoid paying tax even though it is lawful to do so. So how can it not also be immoral for the government to know low paid people – the same hardworking taxpaying families politicians so admire – could receive WTC and yet withhold that information and the money from them? It must be immoral too.

This argument is more than the known non take-up of (out of work) benefits. For years successive governments have put campaigns in place to ensure older persons take up income support as they often didn’t do so because of pride or ignorance. IS then qualifies the older person for HB, free prescriptions, Council Tax Benefit and a whole host of other ‘benefits’ such as sight tests, free glasses etc. That has always been a non take-up area that all governments want to see changed – pensioners are after all more than 40% of the electorate if I’m being (correctly) cynical here.

However in WTC this is an in-work benefit and an in-work benefit alone that is only paid to those who do ‘get off their arses’ and take low paid employment rather than sit back on them and receive welfare benefits. These people are the ones all parties want and revere and the moral elite in that sense – the hardworking but struggling family. Yet the government is denying them £8.4bn per year and simply keeping that money. That is highly immoral and also duplicitous. WTC in effect is a tax rebate or tax reduction to the lowest paid working person on PAYE.

Yet no government is going to volunteer to pay £8.4bn more in benefit and of course the last Labour government knew of this and didn’t do say. I’m not making a party political point rather stating that Cameron or any government won’t have a true debate on benefits ever. So whatever political spin Cameron says today on this issue will be disingenuous and he won’t have a debate on benefits at all. If any welfare benefit is set at a subsistence level, and they are, then no politician could ever do this. Even the most diehard Tory or the Taxpayers Alliance have never said that £71pw income support is too high or too much. They can’t do so and such as basis because there is no argument to be made – who can live on £71pw and then say it is enough!

So, in the absence of any likelihood of any true debate on benefits, in the recognition that the savings from it come at a (higher?) cost and that even diehard Tory readers of the Telegraph overwhelmingly say the banning of HB to U/25s is a bad idea the only logical conclusion is that it is a smokescreen. Cameron has got egg on his face in the last 24 hours over this and 8 out of 10 Tories (got to be a Jimmy Carr linked joke there somewhere!) see this.

Politics is the art of the possible it is often said and generally that hold. This is why I maintain Cameron will and will be able to argue that SAR will and should apply to social housing. It cannot be right he will lead on the argument that how can it be right to pay more in Housing Benefit to an under 25 if they rent a council house than a private one. We already subsidise the council house….etc, etc. etc and the general line will be he is simply creating a level playing field – the public will buy that argument.

UPDATE 1.20pm

Camerons two opening lines – ” On my first night as Prime Minister, I said we would build a more responsible society. Where we back those who work hard and do the right thing

Good so those hardworking families who work hard and do the right thing will receive the £8.4bn known to be underspent in WTC then!

He goes on “We’ve established the biggest-ever Work Programme – and we’re well on our way to getting 100,000 people into jobs.”

Wow – So not only paying the known £8.4bn but also more as these (claimed) near 100,000 jobs will have many that will qualify for WTC as they will be low paid.  Im changing my view of that nice Mr Cameron already he is a generous man!!

He goes on “Capped benefits so that in general, no one can claim more than the average family earns”

I see so that article in th Guardian in April showing the HB caps alone have seen your policy split up a family and the taxpayer now pays £566 EXTRA per week or £29,533 extra per year to one family for that are false are they?

Reader – you have seen in 5 minutes why I dont need to read this overt political spin that Cameron calls a debate.  The housing reader – get ready for the SAR to apply!

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