1. ‘They’ are lazy and don’t want to work.
Excluding pensioners – of those living in poverty
6.1 million families are in work
5.1 million are from workless families.
Of the 1.4 million deemed to have spent 10 years on out of work benefits:
0.1% are unemployed,
the rest are carers 2.2%, lone parents 6.5%
and those on incapacity benefits 90.5%.
Many move between insecure jobs and benefits as they try to find a decent job.
2. ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs.
People asked to identify potential causes of child poverty put parents not wanting to work first and alcohol or drug addiction second. In fact in England 6.4% of adults demonstrated some form of alcohol dependence with 0.5% showing moderate or severe levels of dependence. National scale research has failed to demonstrate a correlation between alcohol dependence of any degree and income levels. While drug dependence is more common in people with lower incomes the majority live above the poverty line. Addictions can devastate families but they are not the major cause of the poverty experienced by 13 million people in the UK today.
Alcohol expenditure and consumption increase greatly as you go up the income scale. Alcohol is consumed less by the unemployed than by those in work.
3. ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly.
In a survey 59% of people thought ‘the poor’ could manage if they budgeted sensibly. Data shows that the poorest spend a much larger proportion of their budget on essential items such as heating and energy, staple foods, and buses as the cheapest form of transport. Holidays, car purchases, train and air travel are almost entirely absent from the budgets of the least well off. Their average spend on TV and internet is less than the most basic subscription TV package and barely enough to pay for a TV licence.
On the whole people in poverty spend their money fairly wisely and bad spending habits are not the reason why they struggle to afford the basic necessities of life.
4. ‘They’ are on the fiddle.
Benefit fraud – the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 20 October 2010 said ‘We estimate that £5 billion is being lost this way each year’. In fact the figure was £1.6 billion, the £5 billion included errors made by government and claimants.
The 2012 figure is £1.9 billion which is less than the amount underpaid to claimants because of errors. The fraud rate stands at about 0.9% while the fraud rate for taxation is around 4 to 7 times higher.
When people report someone for benefit fraud they are rarely correct. Of the 250,000 calls each year only about 50,000 are worth investigating and only about 5,000 are substantiated. This means thousands of unnecessary, expensive and intrusive investigations.
5. ‘They’ have an easy life.
Shirkers not workers? George Osborne said in Autumn 2012, ‘But fairness is also about being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees their neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits.’ In fact claiming benefits is difficult, with sanctions for not attending interviews (for whatever cause) and fines for minor breaches of jobseeker’s agreements. People feel stigmatised, especially if claiming disability benefits. Most would like to be able to work but sickness, disability or lack of suitable employment prevents them.
Benefits have never been ‘generous’ and since 1979 have halved relative to the average wage. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculates a ‘minimum income standard’ based on what the public say is needed. An unemployed single person over 25 gets 40% of this while a couple with 2 children gets 60% of this. Only pensioners get the full amount.
Large families on benefits are extremely rare, only around 130 families with 10 children are on benefits in the whole country. Families have on average 1.8 children in the UK whatever their socio-economic group. The family claiming £104,000pa to rent property in Westminster was literally one in a million. The majority of families receive less that £4,000pa in housing benefit. People on benefits have no choice of housing. There is an increase in the number of people in work claiming for help with rents.
The ‘Poverty Premium’ is where goods and services, especially financial services, cost the poor more. They pay more for loans and for utilities (as well as not being able to afford bargains dependent on buying more than you need). This additional cost can be around £1,280pa. The assertion that this is an advantage over those in work is socially divisive.
6. ‘They’ caused the deficit.
The overall cost of welfare has not been spiralling out of control for years. The proportion of national income spent on welfare has remained surprisingly constant over the past two decades. These are some highs and lows as a percentage of GDP 1979-80 9%, 87-88 11.8%, 89-90 9.5%, 93-94 12.5%, 99-00 10.7%, 09-10 13.7%.
All major government budgets increased in cash terms over the period, broadly in line with national income, until the banking crisis of 2007. Statistics can always be manipulated and welfare increases are often given in cash terms without a base comparison. In fact since 1993 total government spending has increased by 42.3%, pensions by 50.2%, health care by 49.5%, education by 46.1%, welfare by 34.9% and defence by 12.7%.
The Quantitative Easing programme has increased the personal wealth of the UK’s richest fifth of families by enough to pay for Jobseeker’s Allowance for over a century. The bank bailout required sufficient government money to pay for Jobseeker’s Allowance for over 150 years. It could also pay the costs of benefit fraud for a millennium.
Blaming the deficit on the poorest in society is simply untenable. It is also clear that the financial decisions which protected and in some cases enriched the wealthy members of society also came at considerable economic cost to the nation and the taxpayer.
‘If poverty in the UK were caused by the faults and laziness of the poor, then we might feel more comfortable with it. The truth is that poverty is an injustice crying out for correction and cannot be explained away as the problem of individual families. Responding with charity can help to break down the barriers in society and is a partial solution, but we all have a moral responsibility to build a more just and more understanding society.’
‘As citizens we have the right and duty to expect more from our politicians and the media. We expect them to cease perpetuating myths which, although convenient for themselves, are no longer credible. We ask them to enable real leadership and be willing to say things that we may all find uncomfortable, even unpalatable.’
Daphne Beale, 23 March 2013