Docking Benefits and Blaming the Poor


I know I covered this more generally on Monday in my rant about ‘benefits’ but it’s worth coming back to with the proposals explained in the Guardian

Magistrates and crown court judges could be asked to dock benefits from convicted criminals under preliminary proposals being drawn up by the government in response to the riots, the Guardian can reveal.

Ministers are looking hard at how benefits, or tax credits, could be taken away to show criminals that privileges provided by the state can be temporarily withdrawn.

Under the proposals anyone convicted of a crime could be punished once rather than potentially facing separate fines – first by a magistrates court and then a benefit office. By giving powers to the courts to strip benefits, the Department of Work and Pensions would not be required to intervene in the criminal justice system.

Yesterday, a little tardy, I know, I listened to the podcast of Pienaar’s Politics which I tend to really enjoy and I did except for the presence of Kelvin McKenzie and an odious interview with Iain Duncan-Smith in which he discussed this.

(Iain Duncan-Smith who, incidently, laughingly claimed at his constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green was ‘inner city’. Really? Waltham Forest is inner city? Really? Have I missed something? Anyway, back to the programme).

Let me explain why it is so odious if I need to.

Firstly there are the assumptions that all those who rioted are claiming benefits. Yes, I know there are links to poverty but will how will there be an equivalent punishment for someone who commits a crime and does not claim any money from the State. This is an intentional scapegoating and targeting of poverty.

The riots were awful but the causes run much much deeper and broader than ‘gangs’ and ‘benefit fraud’.

Duncan-Smith in a truly odious and preaching manner seemed to make links between ‘generations of joblessness’ and the feckless claimants. He emphasised his joy in ripping away support for those who received Invalidity Benefit and while me gave a cursory nod to those who might have caring roles – he mentioned them solely in terms of the money that they save the government.

How about truly visionary leaders that display integrity and leadership rather than those who pander solely to  the lowest common denominator of cheap ‘kicks’ at those who need to claim money for support and those who are not able to afford the lives they see the privileged lead.

This week we have seen our millionaire cabinet members talk about the ‘feral underclass’ (Kenneth Clarke who was one of the few Tories I had a smidgeon of respect for previously).  Really?

Yes, the people involved in the riots may well have been some of the poorest and most disengaged but that doesn’t mean the cause of the riots needs to look solely at those who were out on the streets looting. If it does, it allows the cosy middle classes to look on from the suburbs (or in IDS language ‘inner cities’) to preach from their own comfortable positions of superiority.

These riots, this inequity, it is the problem of ‘other people’.

Surely the riots, the way that culture has become so consumerist in its nature, the dishonesty and the lack of censorship of anything other than ‘getting away with it’ the lack of inherent understanding of right from wrong in any other terms – that is not a problem of the poor and it is not a problem which is solved by taking away ‘benefits’. That merely pushes all the problems of a society onto one particular class that will match with the photofit of ‘problems’ that rest most easily in the middle-class heads. By looking at analysis of ‘who rioted’ or rather ‘who was caught‘ and looking at lists from magistrate’s courts we provide a very narrow view of what was responsible in our society for creating a moment when people thought they could ‘get away with it’.  The riots were not about who was rioting. They were about what is and has been happening within our society from top to tail and by concentrating reasons and solutions on the lower end, we allow those more privileged  to get away with all kinds of poor behaviours and excuse the problems that their behaviours have caused which have led to such strong feelings of disillusionment.

Personally and I base this on no research base other than my gut feeling, I think the problem  and the problems in society must be examined in a much deeper and more fundamental way. In England, at least, we have seen successive scandals and betrayals from the finance services through the collapse and deceit in the banking system, the MPs fiddling expenses compulsively, the Press through the phone hacking scandals and the police for bribery.

While politicians lament of a world where people loot ‘because they can get away with it’ and only refrain from crime not because of an inherent ethical desire but because they will not be caught, it is impossible to separate those who loot shops from those who loot the public purse. Those who sit in their comfortable suburban (sorry, inner city) homes.

How can we, as a nation, allow our poorest people to be scapegoated by an establishment (financial/political and media) that has been equally deceitful but who will never feel ‘benefits’ being taken away because they are all wrapped up in each others’ collective pockets. They will never be evicted from their council houses because of the behaviour of their children because they are fortunate enough to own their own homes and they will never suffer from having child benefit withdrawn when their kids truant because they aren’t reliant on child benefit and their children have trust funds.

How can we allow this to be the voice of ‘reason’ in the country?

I truly can’t understand it but I know it makes me angry.

11 thoughts on “Docking Benefits and Blaming the Poor

  1. The way I feel, if you are that poor – you steal some food. You steal some clothes to cover yourself. You don’t steal flat screen TVs. But what there London guys were stealing was upmarket stuff – luxury goods, etc. That’s what makes it hard for me to buy this line of argument.

      • My point was that the issue is not one solely with those looting but it has much broader ‘roots’ in society as a whole which places much value on a consumer-driven culture. To push the blame solely onto those arrested shifts responsibilities from all of us and the ruling classes.

  2. From my (albeit limited) experience of working alongside Youth Offending Services, they tend to see a lot of very dysfunctional teenagers, often functioning at quite a low level both intellectually and emotionally, and who in many cases simply don’t think about consequences.

    I don’t really want to make excuses for rioting, but my guess is that if the safety net were kicked away from such individuals, a lot of them would go looking for more stuff to steal rather than seeing the error of their ways.

  3. the withdrawal of benefits scheme has been active in some LA’s for a while – certainly since about 2001.

    the plan was to remove benefits from people who broke their bail conditions (happened quite a lot!) they’d remove housing and council tax benefit. it was being trialed in a few areas (under labour) but it’s interesting to see they’re actually making a go of it.

  4. Glad people have explained that stolen items can be sold! Not for much according to reports, was it £20 someone got for a flat screen TV ?.
    I dont like or approve of riots, I was living in an area where there were riots in the 80s, It was scary and even watching the recent riots on TV reminded me how scary it was, and how much damage was done to the local area, local business and local reputation. It was bad.
    But, what about the looting and pilliging people at the top are doing, Ok the bankers are an easy pop, as are MPs and their expenses, but there are many more silently looting away and spending money on accountants to ensure they pay as little tax as possible, or no tax of course!
    Advertisers dont spend millions on advertising for nothing,and unfortunatly as well as the minority that can afford that flash car, many in the majority think they should have access to all these goods they are never never going to be able to afford by any legal means as well. But no-one tells them that of course. Our consumer society thrives on people wanting, and expecting to have “stuff”, but then gets cross when some dont understand its not for them.
    Ive got mixed feelings about word “feral”. To me it does describe some of the young people/people Ive come across. I used it years ago but more in a sad descriptive way than meaning as an insult. It as now become an insult so wont use it anymore. Maybe having one word like that to describe such a mixed group of people is wrong and simplistic anyway. Still trying to work that one out. Someone on twitter suggested “Vampiric” for the bankers and their ilk, I do like that.

  5. Is it just me or does the gap between the rich and the poor seem more pronounced and distinct than ever? The links between the Murdochs, the Blairs, the Camerons (the Chipping Norton set) and the dominance of rich public school educated white men in our government clearly show that they are not like the rest of us.

  6. One thing I have not noticed much discussion about is the difference between rioting and looting. Surely some rioted, some looted and some rioted and looted. It does seem that there is a concerted effort to criminalise more and more people, why I am criminally unfit for work, how very dare I?

  7. Thanks for all the comments.
    Veruca – I’m inclined to agree (if that wasn’t obvious)
    Social Overworker – I didn’t know that – I wonder if it is through fines that they mete out the same punishments to those who are not on benefits and break bail conditions..
    Mary – you explain my thoughts a lot better than I did!
    Anjelica – yep, also agree there.
    lisa – again, hard to disagree
    Elaine – good point about the distinctions and the blurring. I think the government are almost revelling in their ability to blame the poor wholesale in this respect.

  8. But what about all those other people living off the avails of the benefits provided to the riotors. The sons/daughters/parents/partners of those in the riots. Why should they have their benefits stopped simply because they live with an idiot!

    Fereal underclass indeed! I can’t even start on that one!

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