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or tax credits, could be taken away to show criminals that privileges provided by the state can be temporarily withdrawn.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.

Stalling on the Case for Change

The Guardian reported yesterday that the expected publication of the Green Paper which would outline future funding plans for adult care has been put on hold, having been due for publication on Tuesday. The Case for Change – a presentation of the discussion document – was the precursor of the still embryonic Green Paper and those discussions and debates took up a good proportion of last year.

I haven’t probably followed the progress of the Green Paper as much as I should have – apart from having a vague awareness that ‘it is coming’ but the article made some points that sprung out at me and that I’m sure I’d have caught earlier had I been paying more attention.

The reason that is stated for the delay is some kind of wrangling between the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions – because there may be on the cards a proposed scale back of the Care Component of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and AA (Attendance Allowance) to use this money to pay towards the cost of care services. In essence (although not in monetary value) they are the same benefit but DLA is paid to under 65s and AA is paid to over 65s (at a lower rate usually but that’s another argument for another day).

In the case of residential care, this money is already taken by the local authority when they fund placements but the proposals, reported in the Guardian, would be used to fund some kind of discretionary ‘social care’ grants which would likely be used to filter this money to local authorities who could then possibly reallocate according to their means-testing.

These benefits are wholly non-means tested and are provided to pay for additional costs related to disability. There are few non-means tested benefits left and understandably they are deemed to be less efficient than those that are targeted to the highest need. It would though, be a political bombshell – hence, the Guardian claims – the delaying of the publication of the Paper.

Personally, I’m torn. I have, first-hand, seen the benefits of a non-means tested benefit for older people. The criteria are clear while often it is a question of persuading people to take what they are entitled to, particularly, in my experience anyway, with older people rather than creating a further layer of tiered funding that it more arbitrary and unfathomable and creates another level of bureaucracy, no doubt.

However, money is needed to fund care services. The money has to come from somewhere and if it is a matter of taking from a blanket benefit paid regardless of levels of savings and assets or raising the bar to accessing services, I’d rather the former.

Whatever is announced there will be political implications. People don’t like paying for care, perhaps it is the line between health and social care that becomes too blurred and we are accustomed to a health service that is free at the point of delivery.

Personally, I think over the long term, some kind of insurance system is bound to be implemented and is possibly the most equitable but it won’t solve any of the short term issues that are going to arise.

Interesting times.