Tag Archives: Pete Woodcock

Right-whinger skinflints are perverting the contract between citizen and state

The architect of the contributory principle: Would William Beveridge approve of what has been said about the system he designed?

The architect of the contributory principle: Would William Beveridge approve of what has been said about the system he designed?

Vox Political supporter (and McKenzie friend at the recent Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit claimant mortality) Glynis Millward has provided an interesting follow-up on the article about cancer sufferer Pete Woodcock.

Some commenters on the original newspaper story claimed that Mr Woodcock, whose benefits had been cut, should be grateful for the “free” treatment he would receive from the NHS. The comment is despicable, as it misrepresents the contributory principle of ‘benefits in return for contribution’ (as framed by William Beveridge, who designed the Welfare State) to become “free allowances from the State”.

Glynis has sent us the following report, explaining why this is wrong. Unfortunately she has not said where she found it, so I cannot give it the proper attribution.

“Any discussion of Beveridge today needs to recognise that along with the erosion of the link between contributions and entitlements, the contributory principle has also been the victim of an extraordinary impoverishment of meaning.

“When Beveridge contrasted ‘benefits in return for contribution’ with ‘free allowances from the State’, his aim was to break with previous paternalist models of social protection: the new model turned on workers having an entitlement to the benefits for which they had paid.

“This did not mean that benefits were unconditional (Beveridge was clear that both unemployment and sickness benefits were conditional on making preparations to return to work except where this was ruled out by disability) but it meant that they were part of a deal between citizens and government: a social contract extending across the lifecycle and across generations.

“In contrast, when ‘the contributory principle’ is invoked these days it is often in terms of the policing of the benefit system, referring to little more than the idea that people who have not worked or fail to meet worksearch conditions should not be able to access benefits.

“This attenuation of the idea of contribution is an important development in the political language of welfare in the UK. It arises in part from the way the language of reciprocity came to be turned against the welfare state in earlier decades.

“The political fortunes of the phrase ‘something for nothing’ over the last twenty years are instructive. ‘The something for nothing society’ was introduced into the political discourse of welfare by Peter Lilley at the Conservative party conference in 1993; it was adapted by Tony Blair as ‘the something for nothing culture’ to frame New Labour’s welfare reform agenda in the late 1990’s. Variations on the phrase continue to frame policy statements on social security on both Labour and Conservative sides, reinforcing the message that the main problem faced by social security is one of non-reciprocity, of people taking out who have failed to put in.

“And policy under both the current and previous government has often seemed to have more to do with reinforcing the sense of a system subject to massive abuse than any genuine policy objective. It is hard to imagine Beveridge welcoming ‘lie-detector’ tests for benefit claimants, or proposals to cut benefits for the families of convicted rioters, or the existence of a benefit fraud hotline where people can denounce their neighbours under cloak of anonymity, with only 1.3 per cent of calls leading to the detection of any fraud.

“In the report we subject the ‘something for nothing’ perspective to a reality check and find it severely wanting. Perhaps the most heretical statement that could be made about the UK social security system is that it overwhelmingly does what the public want it to do: however, this would seem to be the case.

“Most people who claim benefits have ‘put in’ in the past and will do so in the future; most benefit claims are short-term; most long-term claims are for disabled people or carers.

“As for the social archetypes that haunt the contemporary welfare discourse – the families in which no-one has worked for generations, the areas where ‘nobody works around here’ – these bear virtually no relation to any identifiable social reality. To see ‘scrounging’ or benefit fraud as the main issues facing social security is about as realistic as seeing the theft of prescription medicines as the main issue facing the NHS.

“If the contributory principle is to play a serious role in future thinking about social security, we need to move away from the ‘something for nothing’ framing and address the ‘nothing for something’ problem of a system in which the great majority of people contribute but see little visible return for their contribution. In doing this, we should be alive to the full meaning of the principle that Beveridge set out when he talked of ‘benefits in return for contributions’.

“Although there were important limitations to Beveridge’s system which were to dog social security policy for decades – especially with regard to gender and disability – his contributory principle was nonetheless intended as a principle of inclusion. To use it to draw new lines of exclusion, as often seems to happen today, would be a poor tribute to his achievement.”

Possibly the most useful part of the above is the comparison with the NHS. Clearly the theft of prescription medicines is not the most important issue facing the health service – it is the effect of the shift to a privately-run healthcare system, its consequent burden on funds and its effect on treatment. Take that information back to the benefit system and there is a strong argument that all this talk of a “something for nothing” culture is an attempt to indoctrinate the public into accepting that they should contribute towards their own unemployment benefits by taking out insurance against losing their jobs – even though they have already contributed towards such a system, simply by paying their taxes. And remember – we all pay taxes; the government gains more revenue from indirect taxation (including, for example, VAT on goods purchased) than from Income Tax.

Your opinions are invited.

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Cancer sufferer’s benefits are cut – and the chattering classes demonise HIM

The vindictiveness of our Conservative-led government knows no bounds.

Not only has the government cut a man’s state benefits after he was diagnosed with cancer, but its supporters then attacked him in the local newspaper’s comment column – even though they knew nothing about his situation.

The gentleman concerned is Pete Woodcock of Scunthorpe who, according to a report in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, has been unemployed for around eight years.

Rather than sit around, he has spent his time volunteering in the community – for up to 40 hours per week – while also job hunting.

But when his doctors told him he had cancer, DWP officials cut his benefit money by 40 per cent (from £140 per week to £84). This is because attending hospital on both sides of the Humber meant he was unable to attend job clubs and had to claim a sickness benefit instead.

“When a person has cancer the last thing a person needs to worry about is finances but I now have to look after my family, pay bills and finance my trips to hospitals on less than £100 per week,” Mr Woodcock is quoted as saying. “Is this what health and welfare reforms have led to?

“The DWP even told me that if I went back on to jobseekers and gave up my treatment I could go back on to £140 per week to live on – meaning if I decided to die, I could be richer!”

So much for your caring Conservative-led government. Now look at this despicable response from a reader:

“Not much gratitude shown to taxpayers for the hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of free cancer treatment he will receive. I would say that is a pretty substantial benefit myself.”

Disgusting. The whole point of the National Health Service is that everybody pays something towards it, to ensure that it is free at the point of use. One has to question whether this commenter was a government plant, ordered to make this statement as part of the campaign to soften us all up for privatisation.

Here’s another one with his head in the clouds: “I’d look at this man’s situation the other way and suggest that he’s been overpaid (by at least 40 per cent) over the last eight years, whilst he’s been sat at home reaping in the benefits – whilst the rest of us have been going to work. Eight years is a very long time. Why couldn’t he find a job? Not really looking perhaps.”

It happens that a previous commenter had already answered this claim, but clearly these people don’t pay attention to anybody but themselves. The other commenter noted: “He is long-term unemployed (so largely unemployable), he didn’t sit on his behind all day (from what I hear) and smoke pot. The guy has a social conscience and appears to give a toss about where he lives.”

But this person noted that Mr Woodcock’s voluntary work could also harm his benefits: “I have to say he should be careful; the Jobcentre could class that as ‘not actively seeking and being available for work’, mainly due to the amount of time his job-seeking should occupy compared to a full time job.” We’re living in a crazy, upside-down country!

Final word goes to another commenter who pointed out that nothing has changed since the Coalition government first tightened the rules for claiming sickness benefits: “The aim of Govt was to demonise those on benefit by highlighting the worst cases of abuse and unless you are near to terminal there is the idea by the DWP you can do something.”

This is eerily reminiscent of the incident that sparked all the other stories about the victimisation of the sick. Does anybody remember, years ago, when the Coalition government was chastised for putting a patient with terminal cancer into the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance, telling that person he should spend the final six months of his life at work?

Despite the huge backlash and protestations from the government that it has changed the system, it seems there has been no improvement at all.

Meanwhile, perhaps because of the constant right-wing media attacks on the sick as “feckless” “scroungers”, it seems the public have been manipulated into hardening their attitude.

ADDENDUM: You can read another perspective on this, from Scriptonite, here.

Just as the Tories wanted.

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