Monday, 25 June 2012

The Speech

David Cameron delivered his speech on welfare reform today. In it, he gave some examples of the types of people of working age who are in receipt of Housing Benefit or struggling to live within their means. Below is a transcript of the examples given by Mr. Cameron with some notes that have been added to help him come to terms with his weird relationship with the notion of fairness

Take a couple living outside London.
He’s a hospital porter, she’s a care-worker. 
They’re both working full-time and together they take home £24,000 after tax.
They’d love to start having children – and they know they’d get some help from the state if they did so.
But with the mortgage and the bills to pay, they feel they should keep saving up for a few more years.
But the couple down the road, who have four children, haven’t worked for a number of years. Oh. how come both of them aren't working, Mr. Cameron? There must be a reason. If all or some of their four children are under the age of five, then it's probably reasonable to expect one of them to be at home caring for them which, by the way, is work, it's just not paid work. Or, maybe one or both them have health problems and have been deemed, by law, not well enough to work? Or maybe they're both in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and are looking for work but haven't found any yet because they've been unlucky or because they didn't do that well at school and can't read and write very well? It's important to explain this kind of thing in your speech because if you don't (which you didn't) it gives the public the impression that this couple are feckless spongers who are laughing all the way to the dole office.
Each week they get £112 in income support, £61 in child benefit, £217 in tax credits and £141 in housing benefit – more than £27,000 a year. This is weird and inaccurate. It is highly unlikely that a couple would be in receipt of Income Support unless there were some serious health problems going on. It is far more likely that this couple are in receipt of a joint award of JSA and that one of the couple is actively seeking work while the other is caring for their children (or, if not, actively seeking work as well). But the couple being seen in this light - with both parents doing their best - doesn't really suit your campaign does it, Mr. Cameron? JSA is generally seen as the more acceptable benefit because people have to actually be doing something (actively seeking work) to be given it, whereas Income Support conjures images of lazy, irresponsible families with too much time on their hands and a drain on the state. In short, it was sneaky and calculating of you to say that this couple are in receipt of Income Support rather than JSA.
Even after the £26,000 benefit cap is introduced, they’ll still take home more than their neighbours who go out to work every day. Naughty, Mr. Cameron! You know that's literally not true! This couple wouldn't take home more than £27,000 per year. The money that this couple are entitled to via Housing Benefit (probably around £800 per month) will go straight into the pocket of their landlord and they will not actually see any of it. You know this statement is, at best, misleading and at worst, lying.
Can we really say that’s fair? What, exactly? That most young people are struggling to live within their means, whether or not they're on benefits? No, it's not fair. But the way that you (ie, your speech writers) have crafted this speech gives the impression that couple number two with their benefits and their children are in a better position than their neighbours. They're not. You'd have us believe that the couple who are saving up for kids are doing the right thing and the couple with kids are doing the wrong thing. This is unfair. The reason that the couple with children are on benefits is because they had no job and no money when they claimed. They receive (literally receive) about £4000 per year less than the couple without children whose combined income is far from high and this couple have no children to support.
Next there’s the situation with young people who want to leave home.
Take two young women living on the same street in London.
One studied hard at college for three years and found herself a full-time job – say as a receptionist [sexist] – on £18,000 a year, or about £1200 take-home pay a month.
She’d love to get her own place with a friend – but with high rents in her area, the petrol to get to work and all the bills, she just can’t afford it.
So she’s living at home with her mum and dad and is saving up desperately to move out. Good for her. And good for her parents, too, because millions of parents wouldn't allow this. Not because they're evil parents and not necessarily because they can't afford it but because they simply wouldn't want to do it.
Then there’s another woman living down the street.
She’s only 19 years-old and doesn’t have a job but is already living in a house with her friends.
Because when she left college and went down to the Job Centre to sign on for Job Seeker’s Allowance, she found out that if she moved out of her parents’ place, she was automatically entitled to Housing Benefit.
So that’s exactly what she did.
Again, is this really fair? Oh dear. The second young woman in this example is instantly seen as a benefit-savvy little minx who is lazy and workshy. First of all, the chances are that the house that this young woman shares with her friends is a shit hole. Why? Because your government introduced draconian measures in relation to the Housing Benefit regulations for people under the age of 35 which means that the amount of Housing Benefit they are allowed to receive is only 'enough' to cover the cost of a room in a shared house. In reality, the kinds of properties that will be available to people who are the subject of this rule, will be over crowded, too small and depressing. Secondly, when young people leave college, what they mostly want to do, is get a job because the reality is that most people want to work. It's very unlikely that a young woman who has just left college with a qualification will then think to herself, thank fuck that's over! Now I can go and sign on the dole and sit on my arse and do nothing with my life just so that I can get some of my rent paid so that I can continue to live in a cesspit. Excellent! What's more likely is that she left college and tried to find work but couldn't get a job straight away. Maybe she doesn't have her parents' hospitality to fall back on; maybe she doesn't get on with them, maybe they just don't want her to move back in. And what about the millions of young people who grow up in care? Or who are homeless? Are they to be demonised for not coming from a secure family background because they claim a benefit they're entitled to?

Mr. Cameron also said in his speech:

Surely we should ask if it’s fair that the maximum amount that you can get on housing benefit is set at a level that only the top five per cent of earners would otherwise be able to afford. If you're asking if it's fair that rents are so high, then no, it's not. You know what to do about this but you won't do it. Housing Benefit rates need to be as high as the highest rents. Anything else is discriminatory and backward.
Meanwhile those who work in expensive postcodes who aren’t on benefits typically have to move further out and commute in to work.
So this is a question that needs to be asked: should those on benefits be financially helped to live exactly where they want to? Well, this depends on whether the claimants in question are the deserving or undeserving poor doesn't it? A nice, middle class family who fall on hard times should be helped, via Housing Benefit, to stay in their nice house in their nice area, yes? But a homeless family with five children who have never worked, whose local authority are desperately trying to house, couldn't possibly be housed in large house in a respectable London borough and then make a claim for HOUSING BENEFIT for it, could they? That's not fair! Let's get this straight: people with large families need large houses to live in. Large houses are usually found in the nicer areas of towns and cities. From the outside, they usually look quite nice. Lucky them, we think. But, if a family entirely dependent on benefits moves into a large, old, privately rented house, the chances are it will be in a pretty bad state of repair, it will be badly insulated and it is likely that the family will fall into fuel poverty because they won't be able to afford the enormous heating bills. The idea that people who need Housing Benefit are housed or find housing exactly where they want to is offensive; being dependent on Housing Benefit is a huge hindrance to anyone trying to rent privately.

Yes, a lot of money is spent on Housing Benefit but most people in receipt of this benefit  - about seven out of eight - are in low paid, usually part-time work and claim Housing Benefit to pay some of their rent. And why do they need this? Because the private rented sector is out of control and rents are extortionate. The Housing Benefit bill would be reduced dramatically if rents were controlled.

Also, people need a decent wage. The last government tried to address this by introducing tax credits to help people in low paid work because it recognised the fact that a lot of businesses don't pay their staff a living wage. Again, if this was addressed more aggressively, the Housing Benefit bill would fall dramatically.

David Cameron's speech was frightening because he pretended that he wanted to have a national debate about welfare reform. We all know that no such debate will take place because these sinister measures are in the pipeline and have been since day one.


  1. Great post. It's frightening isn't it how little David Cameron and his coven of IDS, Grayling and Miller understand the rules and complexities of the welfare system.

    Half of what he's saying will cock up the plans for Universal Credit even more and he seems to have forgotten about that rule his government brought in about non dependant deductions on HB that means most poor parents can't afford to have their grown up kids at home. Or that spare room tax they crowed about...

    It makes me so angry. And so scared.

  2. I wish blogs like yours were presented to both journalists and tv presenters. The govt get away with telling these outrageous lies because they are never challenged -ever !

    Harriet Baldwin was on yesterday's Daily Politics show and Jo Coburn let her leave the impression that housing benefit was paid to lazy, indolent families who had never worked.

    If Coburn had challenged her on the fact that 95% of the last £1bn housing benefit spend had actually be paid to people in work, the public might just be a little more aware of the facts.

  3. Bravo! That is a great post. Deconstructing the lies that are smuggled is time consuming, but it is well worth doing. Would that mainstream journalists did that when they are busy "holding power to account", as they smugly describe their role. I wish!

  4. Have you ever looked into George Lakoff's ideas on framing? I think they explain the unanswered questions you're left with reading Cameron.

    Cameron is no more concerned with facts than BMW are when they say "we sell joy". He's appealing to what feels right to many people. In fact there has been very little resistance to the government's benefit reforms and no notable u turns. So Cameron knows that this stuff will be popular with the electorate beyond the hardcore Tories, but will make Tories feel like someone is finally playing their tune.

    Your deconstruction will appeal to those who already hate what Cameron stands for, I totally get what you are saying and appreciate you saying it, but it won't affect the people who feel that he's onto something when he uses trigger phrases like "something for nothing".

    The sad fact is that we don't process facts in the way that would make your criticism effective. It's just like Richard Dawkins talking to Christians. So neither you nor the other commenters would convince a floating voter I suspect, and certainly not a Tory.

    Lakoff is very eloquent on this subject. This is a good place to start:

    I wouldn't bother except that I agree with your last para. The election has begun and Cameron is positioning himself well to the right, with a policy he hopes will gain him broad personal support. He's making this a key election issue, and he's not going to appeal to reason, he's going to appeal to emotion through trigger words and phrases (what Lakoff calls frames). In order to effectively combat the menace that Cameron surely represents we need to understand his strategy.

    Anyway, good on you. Saw this linked to on Twitter somewhere.


  5. Yes a very good breakdown of the propaganda peddled by the nasty party.

    I so agree with Jayarava's comment - what he said is really important.

    Because Ed Balls also wanted to change the Welfare System before the last elections - because he too wanted to introduce stricter conditionalities for claimants - the Labour Party are simply holding back and saying nothing to everything the Tories are doing now. They seem to me that they agree with the ConDems about Welfare Reform. They are being the nasty party too in this respect.

    Labour was a long time in power and yet they did not attempt to reverse the restrictions imposed upon the Unions by the past Tory legislations - Workers rights were diminished so they were ineffectual against the employer. I suspect that they continue NOT to reverse what is being done now with the Welfare Reforms that the Tories have been churning out this year.

    I despair about politicians' egos!