Tag Archives: something-for-nothing

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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Tory ‘something-for-nothing’ culture: The real reason the economy has bombed

"Getting them off-benefit is what we're going to do," yelled Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time last year. But why bother, when they can be so profitable for companies taking part in Mandatory Work Activity schemes?

“Getting them off-benefit is what we’re going to do,” yelled Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time last year. But why bother, when they can be so profitable for companies taking part in Mandatory Work Activity schemes?

“We’re going to end the ‘something-for-nothing’ culture.”

Sometimes a phrase stands out from everything else that’s said around it, launches itself at your face and forces you to confront the enormity of the lie it encapsulates. You knew this was going to end badly, the moment Iain Duncan Smith (Vox Political’s Monster of the Year, 2012, let’s not forget) opened his face and uttered the words.

He was trying to say that people on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) should not expect to get the benefit without putting something back into society – totally bypassing the fact that they have either already paid towards it, via taxes paid while they were in a previous job, or they will in the future, when they manage to get a job (if such a thing is still achievable in a Tory-led UK).

This was to justify the many ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ schemes onto which jobseekers are currently being put by the thousands, and for which they are being paid only in JSA.

It was only a matter of time before someone identified the flaw in the logic, as Alex Andreou did in the New Statesman when he, rightly, wrote: “Such schemes do not end the “something for nothing culture”. They simply elevate it to the corporate level.”

How many weeks was Cait Reilly supposed to spend stacking shelves at Poundland – was it four? Let’s say four. So assuming 30 hours a week, if she had been employed on the minimum wage, she would have earned £742.80.

Instead, she would have received JSA at, what, £56.25 per week? That’s £225. From the taxpayer, not Poundland.

So Poundland, which runs more than 390 stores and whose annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000, would have had the benefit of nearly £750 worth of work, for nothing. But the gravy train doesn’t even stop there!

Employees of all profit-making companies are taken on because they add to the firm’s profits in some way. Therefore we can assume that, as a result of a person stacking shelves at Poundland, a shopper will come along, see something the stacker has stacked, and buy it – creating a profit for the company.

How many times would this happen during a jobseeker’s four-week tenure on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’? There’s no way of knowing. Let’s apply a conservative estimate based on the standard levels of a fiscal multiplier, at the low end, and say that adds a further 60p to the value of every pound that Ms Reilly would have earned.

Total: 1,188.48 profit for Poundland.

Now multiply that by the number of people going through ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ and you’ll see how much these companies are making, courtesy of the taxpayer – because, don’t forget, working people are paying for jobseekers to make money for these firms. We know 878,000 people were put on these schemes between June 2011 and July 2012 – that comes out as 752,571 in a year, on average.

Total profit for companies using people on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ should therefore be: £894,416,090. Nearly £1 billion.

Loss to the taxpayer: £16,933,000.*

If that isn’t enough to get you hot under the collar, consider this: The profits created for companies by ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ go to company bosses and shareholders, all of whom may be expected to be rich already. They won’t be putting that money back into the economy; they’ll be banking it. Possibly offshore.

If they had employed those jobseekers and paid them at minimum wage, that would have put £559,010,060, per year, back into the economy. These workers would have spent the money in their communities, on commodities that they needed, thus providing a valuable boost to shops and businesses that have been deprived of this support by Coalition government policies.

And the companies concerned would still have made £335,406,030. More than a third of a billion pounds – not to be sniffed at!

It’s mathematical proof of the Conservative Party’s economic incompetence. Making the rich richer and the poor poorer will ruin the country.

*This article does not include payments to Work Placement Provider companies because, not having gone through this system myself, I’m not sure whether it should be applied or not. My understanding is they would get £600 per referral, with higher figures if a jobseeker actually got a job afterwards. Can anyone confirm this is what would happen here?

Britain’s worst idlers – the MPs who wrote Britannia Unchained

I have been saddened to learn of two events that will take place in the near future: The death of The Dandy, and the publication of Britannia Unchained.

The first needs little introduction to British readers; it’s the UK’s longest-running children’s humour comic, which will cease publication (in print form) towards the end of this year, on its 75th anniversary. The second appears to be an odious political tract scribbled by a cabal of ambitious right-wing Tory MPs, desperate to make a name for themselves by tarring British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”.

The connection? Even at the end of its life, there is better and more useful information in The Dandy than there will be in Britannia Unchained.

The book’s authors, Priti Patel, Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, and Kwasi Kwarteng, all members of the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs, argue that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”, that the UK “rewards laziness” and “too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work”.

They say the UK needs to reward a culture of “graft, risk and effort” and “stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk and rewarding laziness”.

Strong words – undermined completely by the authors’ own record of attendance at their place of work.

Chris Skidmore’s Parliamentary attendance record is just 88.1 per cent – and he’s the most diligent of the five. Kwasi Kwarteng weighs in at 87.6 per cent; Elizabeth Truss at 85.3 per cent; and Priti Patel at 81.8 per cent. Dominic Raab is the laziest of the lot, with Parliamentary attendance of just 79.1 per cent.

To put that in perspective, if I took more than a week’s sick leave per year from my last workplace, I would have been hauled up before the boss and serious questions asked about my future at the company. That’s a 97.9 per cent minimum requirement. Who are these slackers to tell me, or anyone else who does real work, that we are lazy?

Some have already suggested that these evil-minded hypocrites are just taking cheap shots at others, to make themselves look good for promotion in an autumn reshuffle. Maybe this is true, although David Cameron would be very unwise to do anything but distance himself from them and their dangerous ideas.

I think this is an attempt to deflect attention away from the way the Tory-led government has mismanaged the economy, and from its murderous treatment of the sick and disabled. As one commentator put it: “They get a token Asian, a token African, a token Jew, mix in the middle class/grammar school rubbish propaganda, and suddenly they are just ordinary people? No they are not; they are stooges for the ruling elite.”

Britain doesn’t reward laziness among its working class. What it rewards is failure by managers, directors of industry, financiers. These people continually increase their salaries and other remuneration while their share prices fall, their dividend payments are lacklustre and shareholder value is destroyed. What have they given shareholders over the past 10 years? How many industrial or commercial leaders have walked off with millions, leaving behind companies that were struggling, if not collapsing? Does the criticism in Britannia Unchained apply to senior executives and bankers?

Our MPs are as much to blame as big business. They vote themselves generous pay, pensions and extended vacations (five months per year). They never start work before 11am, never work weekends (or most Fridays, when they are supposed to be in their constituencies, if I recall correctly). They enjoy fringe benefits including subsidised bars, restaurants and gyms. They take part-time directorships in large companies which take up time they should be using to serve the public. Only a few years ago we discovered that large numbers of them were cheating on their expense claims. They take more than £32,000 in “Resettlement Grant” if we kick them out after one term – which, in my opinion, means all five authors of Britannia Unchained should be applying for it in 2015.

These are the people who most strongly represent the ‘something-for-nothing’ sense of entitlement the book decries.

Have any of them ever worked in a factory or carried out manual labour? I’ll answer that for you: With the exception of Elizabeth Truss, who did a few years as a management accountant at Shell/Cable and Wireless, none of them have ever done anything that could be called real work.

In fact, the people they accuse work very long hours – especially the self-employed. When I ran my own news website, I was busy for 12-14 hours a day (much to the distress of my girlfriend). Employees also work long hours, get less annual leave, earn less and pay more – in prices for consumer goods, taxes and hidden taxes – than most of Europe. Average monthly pay rates have now dropped so low that they are failing to cover workers’ costs, leading to borrowing and debt.

Are British workers really among the laziest in the world? Accurate information is hard to find but it seems likely we’re around 24th on the world league table. On a planet with more than 200 sovereign nations (204 attended the London Olympics), that’s not too shabby at all.

Interestingly, the European workers clocking on for the fewest hours are German. Those lazy Teutons! How dare they work so little and still have the powerhouse economy of the continent?

If so many are reluctant to get up in the morning, why are the morning commuter trains standing room only? Or have the Britannia Unchained crowd never used this form of travel?

It seems to me that Britannia Unchained is just another attempt by the Tory right to make us work harder for less pay. The Coalition is currently cutting the public sector and benefits to the bone, while failing to introduce policies that create useful employment, and trying to boost private sector jobs. The private sector has cut wages and pensions. The result is higher unemployment and benefits that cannot sustain living costs, creating a working-age population desperate for any kind of employment at all (even at the too-low wages already discussed).

And let’s remember that Conservatives want to remove employment laws to make it easier to dismiss employees. In other words, they want a workforce that will toil for a pittance, under threat of swift dismissal and the loss of what little they have.

Why do they think this will improve the UK’s performance?

We already work longer hours and have less protective legislation than in Europe (such as the European Time Directive). But we are less productive in terms of GDP than their French and German counterparts, who work fewer hours and are protected by the likes of the ETD.

France is more unionised than we are, yet its production per employee is higher.

The problem is poor management and bad leadership. Poor productivity is almost always due to poor investment and poor training. Workers are abused when they should be treated as an investment. They lose motivation and when managers get their decisions wrong, they blame the workers.

Working class people are sick of grafting for low pay and in poor working conditions, to be exploited by the types of people represented by the authors of Britannia Unchained.

Is it any wonder we feel de-motivated?

I started this article by linking The Dandy to Britannia Unchained, noting that one was coming to the end of its life in print while the other was about to be published for the first time. I’ll end by pointing out a quality they have in common.

The Dandy is closing because it represents ideas that are now tired and out-of-date. Britannia Unchained should never see publication – for the same reason.