Youre Poor, Well Patronise You

#1
Read this comment piece in The Times this morning whilst waiting for the bank to open and it pretty much sums up a lot of my attitude on the general subject so thought I'd share it and see what other people thought.

You're poor. We'll patronise you

Welfare officials think poor people are feckless. But the opposite is true: they are careful

Libby Purves

We all know that governments never do anything just for its own sake. They like to “send a message”. It might be about smoking, fatness, booze, driving, community - they've gotta send it. We can't be trusted to know how to behave (unlike ministers, who have no vices). So messages are sent.

In Budget week they come thick and fast. Don't drink, shun plastic bags, recycle, drive less. But there is a core message, an important one, directed ever more stridently at the poorest people in Britain and designed to deny hope and resourcefulness. If you are poor, the Government's message is simple: “You are not in charge of your life and prosperity. We are. Trust us. Keep on voting for us or you're stuffed.”

The means by which the message is transmitted is the creaking tax and benefit system. Looming changes in income tax mean that those earning more than £18,500 a year, which is lowish but not too uncomfortable, will be better off when the basic tax rate drops by 2 per cent. But given the abolition of the 10 per cent tax rate, coupled with the continuing feebleness of the personal allowance (you can earn £104.51 a week before you start paying a fifth of it to the exchequer - whoopee!), the lowest earners are hit. Those on £10,000 a year will now pay two or three quid a week more in tax. However, says the message, that's OK because they can promptly apply for “working tax credits”, “family credits” and other benefits.

However doughtily and responsibly you work for your 200 quid a week, even if you need every penny of it to survive, the Government will make you hand over a lump and then give it back, ceremoniously, via its huge and expensive bureaucracy. The message is that if you are poor, you must be kept in the status of client and petitioner. It would presumably save billions in administration if you just let low earners hang on to their wages; it would also fortify that sense of personal and family responsibility that government claims to like. Applying for state benefits as a fit person of working age makes everyone feel lousy, unless - or until - they are so desensitised and deprived of pride that they no longer care. But the abolition of the low tax band and the feeble personal allowance has made benefit-claiming inevitable for more people, for longer.

In the financial-Sunday-section jungle I noticed something else. It was a warning to buy-to-let landlords with tenants on housing benefit. They are usually paid directly, the money bypassing the tenant's pocket. Now an experiment is being run in nine authorities in which the tenant handles the rent money. Cries of dismay from landlords: “We envisage some, used to surviving on £55 per week... being tempted to use the funds for other purposes.”

The author cites problems in Blackpool where “insiders are blaming the scheme for intensifying the local drink and drugs problem”. Another difficulty is that many would-be responsible tenants still can't find a “basic bank account” if there is the slightest irregularity in their desperate past. Meanwhile, the effect of this small attempt to trust individuals is, the piece says, panicking landlords in deprived areas into selling and making property prices fall. Well, hoorah; why should poorer people pay your mortgage while you watch your investment soar? Let housing associations buy them.

But to me the mystery is that for so long we have happily lived with this presumption that the poorer you are, the less you are to be trusted handling money. Which can only be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Housing benefit - in this expensive country - is a necessity for many. But being expected to conserve and ring-fence the rent yourself has to be better than being babied by the pretence that your rent is not your business. In the same way it is better to keep your own proud earnings - right up to a liveable level - than to hand chunks over and immediately beg nanny government to give them back.

Designers of welfare may contest all this as impractical, romantic, a recipe for chaos. They hug their barely hidden assumption that if you are poor you are ipso facto feckless: drugged, drunk, dumb or spendthrift. A few indeed are, and need special treatment. But in the wider human context the opposite has generally proved true. The poor are not feckless by nature, but careful. Ask any of the vastly successful organisations that offer “microcredit” in developing countries. They lend tiny sums to families, often women, to start businesses; they charge stiff interest yet their repayment record is extraordinarily high - better than many mainstream banks. History and anthropology do not throw up many examples of poor people wasting money. If we have indeed grown a feckless, helpless client population who can't be trusted, it is state messages that have made them that way.

We hear a great deal about the perils of taxing rich “non-doms”, these weird creatures who may abandon London if asked to pay a bit more tax, having apparently chosen Britain as their home not out of affection or friendship but just to save a few quid of disposable income. It is wrong, say the experts, to send the poor non-doms the “message” that they aren't loved.

In which case, why is it right to send poor Britons the message that they can't trust themselves but only the State? Alistair Darling could ramp up the personal allowance, make it transferable and turn his mind to ways of letting people keep earnings rather than claim benefits. Pigs could fly.
Now of course there are always going to be some people that are feckless and wast the money but why should everyone have to put up with the system just because of them? Give people the money normally but for the serial no-hopers keep a much smaller version of the current system that they can be forcibly moved onto if they can't be trusted to look after themselves. Seems to make sense or can anyone spot any holes in the argument?
 
#2
The hole in your argument is the government and the article itself. It seems to me that people relying on state handouts, rightly or wrongly, think that the next government might be conservative. If it is they might think the conservatives will do away with a shite load of that benefit (I remember working for less than £1 an hour for 8 months after I left the army with no state handouts to top it up. That was a Tory government who allowed it, do you see the connection?). So, the Labour government surmises that so long as they provide these handouts, the benficiaries will carry on voting for them because they are too scared not to, which is what I think the article is trying to say.

A big question mark hangs over everybody's job in a global market economy. No jobs for life, no real security. I might benefit from some of the proposed tax changes but what happens if I lose my job? I'm on the wage I am on because I have worked where I am working for many years not because I have any special skills. I've seen promotions, pay rises, bonuses and all sorts but if they shut us down and move our jobs to Edinburgh as the grapevine is suggesting and I can't go with it, I cannot see me getting another job earning the same wage. I hit 40 this week, I have two small kids in nursery costing us as much as our mortgage. It doesn't clean us out and we can save a bit but it is tight and if I end up on the trash heap, my wife's semi secure job in the NHS will not pay all the bills. What happens then if a Tory government repeals the benefit safety net?

I don't dissagree that the benefit system is an economic black hole, in fact I think it is scandelous but I if I lose my job I may have to rely on it for a short time at least. It is a dilema and I have to put some thought into it come the next election. I still doubt very much that I'd vote Labour though the fecksters can spin on it. Tories or no, job or no, I've got broad shoulders and I'll muddle through one way or the other but many may think differently and whatever the popular perception most are not chavscum oxygen thieves. It is how it is because this government wants it that way, they profit from it.
 
#3
Going a little off-thread here,but there are those with jobs for life under this government,and they are the public sector so carefully built up by Labour with the warning to those so employed within(I won't use the word 'work' when writing about the public sector) that if a conservative government is elected,then your jobs are at risk.
 
#4
Fair one Tazzers, we all need a helping hand at some point.

One question though, why at age 40 do you not have any skills, what have you been doing during your working life?
 
#5
Le_addeur_noir said:
Going a little off-thread here,but there are those with jobs for life under this government,and they are the public sector so carefully built up by Labour with the warning to those so employed within(I won't use the word 'work' when writing about the public sector) that if a conservative government is elected,then your jobs are at risk.
By that do you mean squaddies, sailors and airmen. Not to mention nurses?

They all work for the public sector.

Liebour will, to a certain extent, try to keep the financialy dormant (ie doleys and fake sickness claimers) happy to ensure their vote.

Believe me most "front line" public sector workers are as sick as this government as anyone.
 
#6
Putting up the tax of the poorest by a Labour Government was an astonishing move - countered by the "well, help yourselves to some benefits". IE you pay tax to the tax man and then another tax man pays it back to you. This is called "THE CLIENT STATE" and is economic madness. Its why the Soviet Union failed as will any other client state. Parts of Scotland, the North East and Wales already have a greater proportion of their 'GDP' provided by the state than was the case in the Soviet Union.

The answer is NOT TO TAX THE POOREST. Make the entry level for income tax £15k and bin benefits for all those with a job. If you keep the minimum wage structure, that would ensure a much fairer society, more tax (as there would be less incentive to take 'cash') and less bureaucrats.

This won't happen.
 
#7
One question though, why at age 40 do you not have any skills, what have you been doing during your working life?
No. I said I don't have any special skills. Sometimes things just pan out like that. I'm not skill(less) but I'm not a seasoned and successful 'professional'. I just work for a living, we can't all be successful businessmen and tradesmen. I have built up a lot of transferable currency in the job I am doing now so finding a job if I lose this one won't be a major issue. However I am not 'white collar', I like to think of myself as a grafter but that might be pushing it a bit and I don't think I can find much paying what I am earning now.

I suppose it depends on your definition of skill and no skills.
 
#8
Le_addeur_noir

How wonderfully patronising you are, I 'work' for the public sector, as do most of the other users of this site, to b fair, i am now a civi, and not in greens, but my civil servant status still stands, and we dont have a 'job for life' nor are we highly paid, but i suppose you would know all about that in your glass bubble wouldnt you..... tit
 
#9
Xerxes_Blue_Cat said:
The answer is NOT TO TAX THE POOREST. Make the entry level for income tax £15k and bin benefits for all those with a job. If you keep the minimum wage structure, that would ensure a much fairer society, more tax (as there would be less incentive to take 'cash') and less bureaucrats.

This won't happen.
Not quite that simple unless the minimum wage is turned into something that is actually possible to live on, Xerxes. By that, I mean something that the bloke in a decent job, with a pregnant wife (why shouldn't he have one?) and one child already, who's suddenly made redundant and takes "anything going" can live on.

£5.52 p/h for 45 hrs a week is £248.20 a week. With all "benefits for working people" withdrawn, could you honestly survive on that - with your £120 a week rent, £15 a week council tax plus all utilities (varying wildly from area to area thanks to privatisation) to pay?

Bear in mind, you're likely to need transport to get to your "anything goes" job in some areas - and those areas are likely to be the "desirable" rural ones where rents and utilities are high, property prices (and hence mortgages) are higher and public transport is non-existant!

Totally agree with the article that taking tax then handing it back in "credits" is a waste of time and money but is the middle class, small-business-owning public really prepared for the alternative?

People need a certain amount to survive on; if they're putting in a full week's work for their employer they deserve to do a little more than "survive" (yes, I even include someone tossing burgers in Maccy D for 45 hrs a week!) and that costs a hell of a lot more than the natinoal minimum if there are no "top-ups" to help!
 
#10
The_Seagull,

I should have excluded the armed forces and the police/emergency services from my rant about the public sector.

However employment in the public sector is far more secure than the private sector(with guaranteed inflation proof pensions to boot).

Labour have been engaging in'pork-barrel politics' by placing public sector jobs in favoured areas-example the moving of a government office from Corby to Leicester last year on the pretext of there being a lack of"cultural diversity" in Corby.
 

Similar threads

Latest Threads