Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DWP: no one lives on benefits as a "lifestyle choice"

You may remember George Osborne claiming earlier this month that "people who think it's a lifestyle choice to just sit on out-of-work benefits - that lifestyle choice is going to come to an end. The money won't be there."

So I asked the Department of Work and Pensions how many people are currently making the lifestyle choice to live on benefits. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had just announced that this was a massive problem, so I assumed they would be working on their new strategy to ensure that in future no one would make the lifestyle choice to live on benefits.

I just got the answer from the DWP:

"To qualify for a particular benefit an individual must meet the conditions that the government specifies. For example, the conditions for receiving Jobseeker's Allowance are that an individual must be available for, and actively seeking, work. The entitlement conditions for receipt of benefit are set out in the relevant social security regulations for the benefit(s) concerned. There is no condition in regulations that allows someone to receive benefit as a lifestyle choice."

So according to George Osborne, the key aim of welfare policy in future will be to stop people taking the lifestyle choice to live on benefits. According to the Department responsible it is already the case that no one can receive benefits as a lifestyle choice. What an utter, utter embarrassing shambles a fantastic example of joined up, effective government.


At 6:15 pm , Blogger MatGB said...

Right, for the record, Osborne's a cock and I'm on your side on this one generally, however...

"no condition in regulations"

In regulations, no. But while the scene with Spud in Trainspotting may have been a massive pile of hyperbole, it only works because there is a grain of truth in it. There are families and individuals that exist on their benefits and black economy cash in hand work.

There's one living on my street, and more than one with kids at the school. They do exist. Some of them are, frankly, pretty much unemployable, and I honestly don't care that they do exist, I do hope that their kids can be given hope for themselves in teh future.

I think the numbers are tiny as a proportion of claimants, let alone of the entire population, but they do exist.

The media, and idiots like Gideon, make it out like some massive problem, and make it out to be far bigger than it actually is, but trying to say it never happens, there's no one like it, the regulations say so, is a fatally flawed argument.

The regulations are supposed to stop it, just as the regulations are supposed to stop tax avoidance.

Personally, Citizen's Basic Income, high income tax threshold, let those that don't want to get a full time job do it, as long as you're always better off working (not currently the case) then we should be good, and the small minority that want to make the "lifestyle choice" can do so.

But I suspect that's just a little pipedream.

At 9:44 am , Blogger donpaskini said...

Hi Mat (and Liam, whose comment seems to have disappeared?)

I agree - there clearly are people who don't want to get formal paid employment, and there are a range of possible policy responses to this.

I am certain that Osborne's approach won't do anything to reduce this problem, however, and I thought this was an amusing little example of why it won't work.

At 2:24 pm , Anonymous Liam Murray said...

Yeah, don't know where that comment went but thanks for the response.

On the 'work must pay' thing I always get a little uneasy. This is a very tough point to make without coming across all 'Daily Mail' but is there no place at all for a sense of pride or self-sufficiency? Certainly when it applied to me I didn't have children but I took a job and was considerably worse off for doing so. The idea of being self-sufficient and the prospect of better wages at some point in the future was far more important than our income at a point in time and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that of others.

There's a question of degree here for sure - large families with young children can't be expected to take a significant drop in income as a consequence of a job but doesn't the notion of 'making work pay' effectively endorse the 'lifestyle choice' criticism?

If someone says 'I'm not taking that job because I'd be working for 35hrs but have little more income' then they have a serious attitude problem. Personally I'm quite relaxed about a government that takes a hard line in those situations.

At 2:43 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

There's a point of principle here. If people are doing a job, then they should get paid for it.

There are also practical considerations:

If you get unemployed people to work for their benefits by, say, sweeping the streets or cleaning toilets, then you end up making the street sweepers and toilet cleaners unemployed. It is a way of undermining the wages and jobs of low paid workers.

If you want people to change their behaviour and actively try and look for work (and have a chance of getting it), then you need to get them to see the benefits of working. For most people, regardless of their job, one of the main benefits of work is getting paid. The work also needs to help develop their skills, rather than just being menial tasks to punish them for failing to get a job.

The aim of employment guarantee schemes should be to ensure that everyone who can work does so, but also to help them to develop. And it should supplement, not replace, existing jobs.

At 4:38 pm , Anonymous Liam Murray said...

Cheers but I still think there's a fundamental difference between us here.

My point is it shouldn't be a concern that some jobs pay marginally more than what people can get on benefits (or even if when certain benefits taper off people are actually financially worse off for working) - people should value £50 earned themselves above £50 provided by the state in the absence of an opportunity to earn it.

I understand why some are uneasy with that idea but that's not an excuse to abandon it.

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