The Prime Minister yesterday gave a good speech on the subject of the welfare state in the UK. Everything he said has been said before by the Right of the Conservative Party and the right-wing media. Nevertheless, it was good to hear it from the lips of David Cameron, who is, at best, slightly distrusted by many in his own party in terms of his natural Tory instincts. Many backbench MPs and even more party members keep asking themselves: “Is he one of us?”. The jury is still out on that one.
However, I agreed with every word of Mr Cameron’s speech on removing housing benefit from those under-25 who have a room at home with their parents. I’m sorry, if you are under 25 and you want your own pad and more importantly independence from those nagging parents then you need to work for it. Get qualifications, get a job and then you will get your OWN money to pay for accommodation. The state does not owe you independence from your parents. Period. You have to work for life’s pleasure. No one owes you anything, especially the hard-pressed taxpayer.
The tax take from ordinary workers in the UK is massive. Did you know every penny collected in income tax is spent on state benefits? Approximately £165 billion. £84 billion of this is spent on working-age benefits, which comprises Jobseeker’s Allowance, housing benefit, child benefit, Gordon Brown’s beloved tax credits etc. When voters are told how much of their monthly tax bill is spent on paying people to sit at home all day on their Xboxes they are livid. Polls say 74% of the public think welfare payments should be cut.
The UK’s welfare system creates a very perverse society. Take the young couple, outside of London, who have no intention of working having a child. They are automatically given a council house and when all the different benefits are totted up you are looking at more than £27,000 in benefits tax free. Another couple next door, one a hospital porter, the other a care-worker, both work long hours each day and together take home £24,000 a year. They would love to have children. But after they have paid the mortgage or rent, paid for food and the bills, they know they can’t until they saved for a few more years: they are doing the right thing. It is wrong that their hard earned money paid in tax is handed back to the work-shy couple next door to enable them to have children with full assistance from the state.
Work should always pay more and until the Government’s benefits cap of £26,000 is actually implemented, which it won’t be until next year at the earliest because the complicated IT system required is yet to be fully developed, people who don’t work and receive state handouts are better off than those who do work. Our country’s benefits system was gold plated during the Blair and Brown years to deliberately create a client state where one generation after the next in the same family were encouraged to live a life on benefits, at the expense of you and I. That is not what the welfare state, envisaged by William Beveridge, was meant to be for; it is a safety net for those who fall on hard times, it is not meant to be used as a way of life.
Life on benefits should be tough. Work should always pay more and, frankly, able-bodied people of working age should find a period of time on benefits so difficult they should be desperate to get back to work; as part of the “tough love” approach, benefits should be time-limited to act as a motivator to find work. As it stands in this country, many school-leavers choose claiming benefits over ever trying to get a job because living off the state is such a comfortable option. By next year the Welfare Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, promises the £26,000 benefits cap, equal to the average wage, will be in force. But let’s not forget all benefits are tax exempt. Claimants don’t pay tax on them. Therefore, to take home £26,000 if you are working means you would need to be on a salary of £35,000 per year. This is madness and must stop.
I look at my monthly pay slip and thousands of pounds of year go to the Exchequer. That money only pays for benefits and state pensions. It doesn’t pay for education, defence, or even the millions in contributions to the EU we must send to Brussels each year. All that must come from other tax revenue we pay such as stamp duty or fuel duty – or, most likely, borrowing!
Another point made by Mr Cameron in his speech yesterday was minor but nonetheless important. He pointed out that those who claim benefits are called customers by the local council or job centre. The PM rightly pointed out they are not customers, they are claimants. When I was a local councillor, reports were full of the word ‘customer’ or ‘client’ when referring to benefit claimants. When someone pays for a service they are a customer. If something is given to someone, the word customer does not apply! This language just rubs salt into the taxpayer’s wounds.
Now, of course, all of the reforms David Cameron hopes for will probably never be implemented. Not in this parliament because the airy-fairy Lib Dems won’t let him and after the next General Election there is a high probability Labour will be back in charge, due to the indecisive and weak government Coalition brings. I hope that won’t be the case but fine words from Mr Cameron’s inner Tory won’t be enough next time round – the electorate needs to see action and now.