Posts Tagged ‘Benefits’

Tale of two benefits cheats.

February 2, 2010

Without wishing to take all my blogging inspiration from last night’s TV show, I have been thinking more about Tower Block of Commons and specifically the bit when Tim Loughton was being harranged outside a cornershop in Birmingham.

The harranger was expressing to the Tory Shadow Minister his disgust with MPs and their expenses fiddling. He was of the view that politicians were on a different, more privileged legal level and could get away with things that most people couldn’t.

Tim Loughton tried to insist that this was false; that everyone is equal under the law etc. Of course this is true in principle but in practice…?

MPs recently agreed to withhold Harry Cohen’s resettlement grant when he retires after the Labour MP was exposed as yet another expenses cheat. Mr Cohen failed to notice he had accumulated £60,000 of public funds to which he was not entitled. Whilst acknowledging that this was a serious breach of the rules, MPs noted that Cohen had apologised and that his wife’s illness may have been a mitigating factor.

Then there is another benefits-fraud scandal that has been discussed in the Commons. Natascha Engel yesterday brought attention to the plight of one Zoey Smith:

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab):

My hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the case of Zoey Smith, who, when she was pregnant, worked as a volunteer in a welfare rights office. She wrongly had her benefits stopped, and as a result gave birth two months prematurely. She could not cope, and she has disappeared off the face of the earth. The child has gone into care and the whole sorry story has been a disaster from beginning to end. Does my hon. Friend agree that the benefits regime for pregnant women is incompatible with meeting our child poverty targets?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman):

I am aware of the unhappy experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent, which in essence came down to poor administration in her local benefit office.

The only other mention I can find of the case is in the newsletter of Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres.

Zoey Smith’s life appears to have been utterly devastated because she was mistakenly thought to be a benefits cheat. MPs like Harry Cohen – as humiliated as they will be and as difficult as it may be for them to find post-parliamentary employment – will probably not suffer so much. Simple juxtapositions like this make it easy to see why people are turned off politics and have so much contempt for their democratic representatives.

More facts backing the free school meals plan

March 21, 2009

This week’s Islington Tribune draws attention to data suggesting that more than 2000 Islington schoolchildren from families living beneath the poverty line are not claiming free school meals despite being eligible for them.

Have a look at the figures here on the Guardian’s data blog. There is an 11% gap between those taking free school meals and those in low income households.

Why aren’t children from the most deprived backgrounds taking up the free school meal benefits? Surely this discrepancy must be caused by people simply being unaware of what they are entitled to. It’s also possible that the stigma of having to identify your family as amongst the poorest in the community is stopping pupils from getting these meals.

This research provides further justification, I feel, for Islington Labour’s decision to push for free school meals for all in the borough’s primary schools. Such a system will be much simpler to administer and will hopefully remove any ‘shame factor’ from school meal provision.

Looking at the data it appears that there are very few local authorities with gaps between free school meal take-up and free school meal entitlement of less than 5%. Many hover around 10% and some are much higher.

Targeted benefits cannot always be relied upon to hit the bullseye.

Captain Jako

Rab C Nesbitt and the “big la dee da Tory bastard”

March 15, 2009

I am pretty sure that the long-running TV sitcom Rab C Nesbitt is a brilliantly witty comic creation full of bittersweet social satire and dark, disturbing humour. I cannot be 100% certain of its brilliance because I cannot understand everything that is said on it. The inclusion of subtitles would perhaps be useful, but part of the fun of watching Rab C Nesbitt is trying to work out what the “sensitive big bastard” from Govan is saying.

Here’s an episode from 1999. The Labour government has introduced a national minimum wage and in Parliament Tony Welthorpe MP – a “big la dee da Tory bastard” – is complaining that the proles have it easy enough already. He is challenged to see what it is like to depend on state benefits and so agrees to temporarily swap lives with someone who “embodies the noble virtues of the glorious working class”. The cheeky MP for Govan decides that our favourite street philosopher from south Glasgow is the appropriate candidate and hilarity ensues.

Benefiting from Recession

February 12, 2009

More people heading here over the next few months

On Tuesday, in a response to the Bank of England’s Inflation Report, Tony Dolphin at IPPR added the organisation’s voice to the increasing number of left leaning think tanks who are advocating an increase in benefits as a targeted measure to tackle the recession. The argument was rather robustly put by Will Hutton et al in a Work Foundation research paper back in November as they looked forward to a deep recession in 2009.

Both the Work Foundation and IPPR agree that increasing benefits in the short run would alleviate the burden on some of the poorest people in our society while also adding some much needed consumer spending. Their suggestions aren’t without merit and, as Hutton points out, such a move would also target a group that is more likely to spend than save.

Could the government risk such a move in the April budget? It certainly wouldn’t sit easily with their commitment in the recent White Paper to moving people off benefits, into work and increasing conditionality on claimants. However, as the recession deepens and benefit claimants find themselves in a market with greater competition and Job Centres struggle to place long-term claimants in work, the government’s employment target will become more and more unrealistic; the background on which the White Paper was written has now completely altered.

Businesses who are still recruiting will have ample talent to choose from. And the private companies that have willingly worked with government to place benefits claimants in work may well fall away as their business becomes less profitable.

It’s unlikely that the government would look to raise benefits in April, not least because it would be politically unpalatable. At a time when savers are suffering, “rewards” for “undeserving” benefits claimants would not go down well. However, as Hutton pointed out in November, any policy to target the recession will have to be timely, targeted and temporary. What’s more likely to come in April will be a move to alleviate the impact on savers; responding to a core concern of some traditional Labour voters who feel that the low interest rates have squeezed them. This isn’t likely to meet any of Hutton’s criteria and will probably not provide the increase in consumer spending that is a necessary part of the recovery.

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