Benefit caps – a sledgehammer to crack a nut
The government’s starting to get a reputation for slyly using an argument for one policy as cover for something much bigger. They are doing this on a grand scale, of course, using the near universal agreement that the deficit has to be addressed (the disagreement is about timing and who should bear what burdens) to justify a permanent shift to a smaller welfare state.
And they’re using the same trick to justify individual policies. In his speech to Morrisons’ staff three weeks ago the Chancellor said
“When I took this job, I discovered there were some people who got £100,000 a year in Housing Benefit. £100,000 a year in benefit.”
That was why, he added
“We’ve made sure that you can’t get more than £400 of Housing Benefit a week in this country.”
There, in one passage you have two examples of the trick I’m talking about. Mr Osborne stokes up outrage against people getting £100,000 a year, then slips in the fact that his policies will actually hit those getting over £20,000. That’s still a large sum, of course, but if he’d started by saying this, some of his listeners would have had time to think of the examples where this could be justified.
And his speech gets itself headlines with the story of people getting over £100,000 a year. But how many families is that? Fortunately, there has just been a Freedom of Information request asking just this (HT: Paul Bivand). And the answer the Department for Work and Pensions gave is genuinely shocking; looking at each November for the past five years, they gave figures for the numbers receiving £1,917 or more a week (which works out at £100,000 a year). They are:
These figures are rounded to the nearest ten – so the 2010 and 2011 figures are between 5 and 14. The DWP’s note says that the other years are “nil or negligible”. This table may over-state the size of the problem, because there’s a danger that sometimes the monthly figure was entered on the computer, not the weekly, “therefore, care should be taken when looking at high weekly award bands”.
And remember that this is a snapshot – it shows the yearly rate, not how many families actually received this much a year in Housing Benefit. It’s very unlikely that local authorities left many of these families in their expensive flats or houses for long enough for them actually to receive £100,000.
Now, I’ll agree that no-one has a right to live in Mayfair. But this government is using everyone’s common-sense agreement with that proposition to throw people out of Haringey.
It’s the old bait-and-switch, and it’s time we wised up to it.