From the TUC

Freezing Benefits

08 Nov 2011, by in Society & Welfare

Is it fair to freeze benefits? Many union members are getting pay increases of less than three per cent, so is it fair for people on benefits to get an increase of 5.2%, which is what the policy of uprating in line with inflation would mean?

A good starting point is to look at the latest rumour emerging from journalists “usually well-informed sources”: it looks as though the government will exclude pensions from the freeze, if they go ahead with this plan. Let’s leave aside the fact that over half of benefit spending is on State Pension and Pension Credit. What I want to concentrate on is the reason why the government is flagging up this exclusion: it’s because even they can see that this would be unfair. It would be unfair because many pensioners have paid for their benefits through National Insurance Contributions and many would be forced into ever-deeper poverty as prices rose and their pensions didn’t.

Perfectly true. But those arguments apply just as strongly to non-pensioners on benefits. People on contributory Jobseeker’s Allowance and contributory Employment and Support Allowance have also paid for their benefits  through their NI Contributions. And people on means-tested benefits are already on very low incomes, whether they are above or below pension age. There is a project, called Minimum Income Standards, that tries to establish the cost of a basket of goods that has been based on surveys and other evidence about what the public thinks would be a minimum acceptable standard of living. This year’s report from this project says that

basic out-of-work benefits provide well under half of the minimum income (net of rent and council tax) required for an adult with no children, and somewhat less than two-thirds for families with children.

And don’t forget that the government is already squeezing a huge amount out of poorer families. All benefits – including pensions – are already going to be lower than they should have been because the government has switched from increasing benefits in line with the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index – this will cut benefits by £6 billion a year by the time of the next election.

If the government goes ahead with this, the number of children in poverty – already due to rise 200,000 by the time of the next election – will rise even further. I hope the government will decide that forcing children into poverty is as politically risky as doing the same to pensioners.

If anyone doubts what this could mean, it’s worth looking at this story from today’s Coventry Telegraph: an ex-serviceman and his wife, who have committed suicide after being denied benefits. Sometimes commentators on my posts take great pleasure in telling me how worthless people on benefits are, that most of them are fraudulent and that we give them too much. This story from Coventry may be extreme: but so are the stories about fraud that dominate media coverage of social security.

Trade union members should support 5.2% for people on benefits even when we’re getting less. We should do this for the same reason that we sometimes negotiate pay increases that benefit our lowest paid members more than other people: they are in the weakest position and are the least able to cope with austerity.

It’s called solidarity.

9 Responses to Freezing Benefits

  1. Coastliner
    Nov 8th 2011, 7:14 pm

    Pensions should be uprated in full. Benefits, however, should be uprated in line with current average wage rises, rather than freezing them.That would seem to be the fair thing to do.Reforming the welfare system must ensure that it pays people to work rather than living a life on benefits watching Jeremy Kyle with a can of Tesco lager and a Benny in your hand. Uprating benefits by over 5% sends out completely the wrong message.

  2. Dusty
    Nov 8th 2011, 8:09 pm

    Coastliner to come out with that comment after reading this, you are a total arse and I am trying to be polite.

  3. Dusty
    Nov 8th 2011, 8:10 pm

    Plus would you be arguing the same if wage rises were higher than inflation

  4. Solidarity with those out of work | Camden UNISON
    Nov 8th 2011, 8:35 pm

    […] this article on the TUC blog mentions, there is talk from the government of freezing beenefits – at a time when inflation […]

  5. jaimelicious
    Nov 8th 2011, 9:08 pm

    People on benefits are already stretching the money as far as it will go, and sometimes still can’t make ends meet, even without any non-essentials. They’re thus less able to cope with prices outstripping their income than people in work, who have more slack and may have savings or assets to help them through. If you’re on benefits, you’ve generally run through anything you tucked away for a rainy day.

    If you’re working you can buy cheaper brands, cut down car use, sell things, make efficiences. If you’re on benefits you’ve usually done all this already. There’s nowhere else to go, no more ‘down’.

  6. David Gillon
    Nov 8th 2011, 9:32 pm

    I think one assumption of the article is wrong, the government aren’t excluding pensions because even they can see it’s wrong, let’s not give them credit they don’t deserve, they’re backing down because they fear the pensioner’s lobby and because they haven’t been able to demonise pensioners in the same way they have disabled people and other benefit claimants. Pretty much everyone has an elderly friend or relative, far fewer know disabled people struggling to survive, and that makes it far easier to make us bear the brunt of their hatred of benefit.

  7. Hindle-a
    Nov 8th 2011, 10:58 pm

    Coastliner-you do know that most benefit recipients work?That the phrase “out of work” benefits apply to low paid workers,the sick and disabled,Carers- many who may also be in paid employment,and people receiving JSA,most of whom have worked-a rapidly increasing number attributed to Government stated policy.You seem very familar with the “lifestyle” you outline. I have no idea who this Jeremy Kyle is,do not drink and have no idea what a Benny is. The combination of benefits that is required to NOT be better of in work is a rare one indeed(given the existence of in-work benefits)In short your message belies ignorance(deliberate?)and parrotting of well worn stereotypical nonsensnessess.But ,please continue to contribute as a useful barometer to gauge myself against.

  8. Neil
    Nov 9th 2011, 9:56 am

    “I think one assumption of the article is wrong, the government aren’t excluding pensions because even they can see it’s wrong … they’re backing down because they fear the pensioner’s lobby and because they haven’t been able to demonise pensioners”. Thanks for pointing this out David.

    “Trade union members should support 5.2 per cent for peoople on benefits even when we’re getting less.”

    And thank you for your solidarity Richard … however a thought: if the TUC is serious about solidarity why doesn’t it act radically and organise a national unemployed people’s union/movement to give voice to us 2.6 million people in dire straits and growing (rapidly)?

    Or are we fated to repeat the TUC’s attitude to the unemployed in the 1920s and 1930s when it was the CPGB that created the largest and most effective organisation for the unemployed (the National Unemployed Workers Movement) which the TUC conspicuously didn’t support (along with their hunger marchers).

  9. Coastliner
    Nov 9th 2011, 1:21 pm

    Hindle-a – I am indeed very familiar with the lifestyle I describe – I’ve seen it first hand almost everyday for the last 12 years by working on a council estate!!!!!