Firstly, Job Seekers Allowance in Britain is not as great as The Mail would have you think. A favourite of right wing papers, George Osborne, says that JSA is “too generous”. In fact it stands at only 18% of the average wage in this country. In France, it is 47%, in Germany it is 35% and in Sweden, 68%. Yet these countries don’t have the welfare ‘crisis’ that we are constantly told has Britain on its knees. If we’re honest, there is only actually a ‘crisis’ because the extremely wealthy politicians have deemed it a ‘crisis’ – there is no official criteria to determine when welfare spending is too high. Although I too believe the system needs reform, certain Tory politicians will always complain about taxpayer money being ‘wasted’ on helping the poor. Also, there is the overwhelming issue that there would be fewer people in receipt of benefits if the government’s plan to “make work pay” hadn’t failed – there are 6 and a half million people in search of full time work in Britain.
The second point to make is that this week the 50p tax rate was abolished. One of the arguments for cutting tax for the richest in society is that it would “only raise £1 billion”. Coincidentally the ‘Bedroom Tax’ is targeted at raising the same amount, surely this is an obvious show of taking from the poor to subsidize the rich’s tax breaks. This, along with other reasons, especially Europe, is why the Conservatives are losing councils to UKIP at a rate of 1 council per week. On the subject of councils, this week it was discovered that 394,000 disabled people will now be forced to pay council tax for the first time. This is due to a 10% cut in Council Tax benefits given to disabled people – including 117,000 households claiming ‘severe’ disability.
The other political headline this week was the near-half a million signatures on the Ian Duncan Smith wage cut petition. This is a clear signal of the discontent of the already struggling out of work poor being told they can survive on less money than they already do. The negative feelings being amplified when a politician that earns £53 per hour, claims he could live on that amount per week. No doubt he realised his mistake when he returned to his £2 million house given to him by his wife’s aristocrat father.
Another story circulating the papers this week was of the 878,000 Disability Living Allowance recipients that dropped their claim to the benefit before even being re-tested, this time by ATOS. The right-wing media quickly assumed that every single one of these people dropped their claim because they were actually scroungers, faking their illness, forcing their doctor to give them sick papers and then sit around the house all day doing nothing. Although this may be the case with a section of these people, there has been no consideration that the process of being tested by ATOS is extremely stressful, especially for a disabled person, vast amounts of paperwork must be filled out with minimal help. This, coupled with all of the horror stories of extremely ill people being found ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and then dying a day or a week later could be an explanation of people’s refusal to be subjected to these tests. (EDIT: this figure of 878,000 is now proven to be wrong. It is Employment Support Allowance, not DLA. We are awaiting an apology and withdrawal from Grant Shapps, Conservative Party Chairman, who first promoted the idea, but giving the wrong information, allowing newspapers to print the wrong information)
You can follow Oliver James on http://www.Twitter.com/oliverjamesuk