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or tax credits, could be taken away to show criminals that privileges provided by the state can be temporarily withdrawn.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

Fixing the Broken not Healing the Wounded – a wrong-footed Government response

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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Our wise leader, David Cameron, clearly being an iconic Philosopher King, spent many days studying the possibly causes for the devastating riots in London and across England. He concluded after much intellectually rigorous pursuit, that the causes of the ‘sickness’ of Britain are – single parents and gangs aka ‘other people’.

Oh well, maybe he didn’t put quite as much thought into his words as I credited him for after all, he’s been toting those policy aims for decades. What more could we expect of him? Complex thought processes and analysis? Don’t be silly, he’s a politician who thrives on sound-bite politics that blames others.

I’m going to share a tiny bit of my own obviously clearly thought through analysis and that is this. There are no ‘easy’ solutions to the endemic problems that created a culture where people feel they can take what they want. This was not about ‘gangs’ although I’m willing to concede that might have been a fraction of one part of a ‘problem’. This is not about single parent families although yes, there may be people who are labelled that way. It seems that when our leaders set about scapegoating some of the voiceless citizens, we are heading for more divisions and damage than healing and unity which is what we really should be seeking. I’m not saying people should not be punished according to the law but they should not have new punishments invented specifically for them just to satisfy the vengence of the middle class who suffered for the first times when Ealing and Clapham burned.

These were Cameron’s words yesterday

Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face … Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback,” Cameron said as he described the violent disorder as a “wake-up call” for Britain.

“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.”

Setting out his personal priorities for government the prime minister promised he won’t be “found wanting”: “In my very first act as leader of this party I signalled my personal priority: to mend our broken society. That passion is stronger today than ever.”

There’s a lot here to get our collective heads around. A lot of dangerous assumptions and a clear view into the simplistic mind of someone who is supposed to be a leader and has proved himself beyond inadequate for the task.  The Financial Times for example, explains that these riots happened in a period where crime figures had been falling consistency? A moral breakdown? Perhaps not.

Irresponsibility? Like appointing a press secretary whom you have repeatedly been warned not to appoint and to continue to give him ‘second chances’ when you don’t consider second chances for the person who steals a bottle of water.

Selfishness? Like the MPs who gorged themselves on expense claims.

Behaving as if your choices have no consequences? Oh, well, for this one I have to reference the Iain Duncan Smith story from The Broken of Britain

Now, all those platitudes, we get onto the real meatiness that Cameron is gagging for.

Children without fathers? Excuse me? Does he realise how he stigmatises and chastises all the fine families that are raised by a single parent? Does he really think the presence of a man and a woman in a family unit regardless of whether they actually want to be together (the usual reason that splits take place) will ‘help’ the children? He is a fool and it is a dangerous message. Male or female role models do not have to be parents and unhappy parenting is not a useful environment in any circumstances. Cameron has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ family just as he has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ community. It is damagingly false and it seeks to further stigmatise and alienate those who for very many good reasons, do not conform to his traditional family view. Does he refer to families with two mothers or two fathers or single-father families? What about communities with extended friends as support? He is finding it too easy to paint ‘poor people’ with a brush.

Schools without discipline? Again an easy target. How about actually putting money and effort into the schools that exist then rather than trying to hive them off into ‘free schools’.

Reward without effort? Um.. Mr Cameron.. you know, you with the inheritence of millions. Can you tell us exactly what effort you put into the accident of your birth?

Crime without punishment? – Well, I suppose that depends on definitions but an awful lot of crimes seem to be getting some mightily grand punishments at the moment. Unlike the bankers who ravaged the finances of the nation.

Rights without responsibilities? Dangerous stuff here. See, he has been quoting that awfully subversive Human Rights Act. Possibly because he, in his privileged position would never have need to refer to it.

Communities without control? Interesting one. I wonder what exactly he means. Which communities are these? Poor communities? Communities of people with different minority ethnic backgrounds? Gangs? It’s pretty rhetoric and a nice alliteration but it is meaningless.

You see, I don’t believe Britain is ‘broken’. I think she is functioning as well as she can despite the government though. I think the more that the rhetoric fixes on the ‘sick pockets’ and less on the body politic the more she will begin to sicken though.

Cameron’s ‘solution’ to help to fix (note fix not heal)  this country is to bring in Emma Harrison from Action for Employment as a ‘Families Champion’. Really? That’s a bit patronising and it seems to dictate to us as adult citizens what ‘families’ the government approves of and disapproves of but back to Emma Harrison who has built her millions on the back of the government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ programmes. Is this really a call for more private profit-making?

What message does it send about making money off the back of so-called ‘broken families’ and trying to fix them?

For me, Cameron’s heavy-handed and quite frankly ignorant response to the riots is a sign of a far more broken element of British society. The ruling classes and their detached empathy sensors. That has already caused a lot of damage and is likely to cause far more in the future and we need to be wary of it and try and push the agenda towards healing rather than fixing.

Making Work Pay – Thoughts on the Welfare Reform Bill

Iain Duncan Smith, British politician and form...

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Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith unveiled his ‘flagship’ welfare reform bill amid much nodding and clapping on the part of the government. He was, he declared, going to end the ‘benefit culture’ and ensure that work pays.

There is something disconcerting  in the tone of IDS’ statement. It seems obvious to assume that work should be something that is a default option but I still find it hard to understand the emphasis on ‘the feckless’ and ‘the idle’.

To try and shame and insult people into work when there is no work to be had seems particularly callous.

I don’t have any moral problems with the changes to a universal benefit type system incidently. The current system does need reform and there are always changes and improvements that can be made but there are a couple of elements of this Bill that I feel particularly strongly about.

As anyone who has worked alongside me can confirm, knowledge of benefits is not my forte’. We have a team in the council (for the moment, very likely to be cut) to whom we refer people who we feel might not be getting as much as they should. Note that, because it’s crucial and absolutely shapes my ‘real life’ knowledge of benefits. That’s PEOPLE WHO ARE UNDERCLAIMING.

And yes, there are many whom I have come across over the years.

But back to the main points of the Bill announced – the BBC list the main changes as being

  • A single universal credit to come into force in 2013
  • Tax changes to enable people to keep more income
  • Changes to the disability living allowance
  • More details of the back-to-work programme
  • Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits
  • Annual benefit cap of about £26,000 per family
  • Review of sickness absence levels

The first two elements are fairly  uncontroversial.

Changes to the disability living allowance

Changes in the disability living allowance is anything but.  publication of changes in the DLA and referring to the Personal Independence Payment (PiP)  in the Part 4 of the Welfare Reform Bill seems to run counter intuitively to the fact that the actual DLA consultation ends today – you know, the day AFTER the publication of this bill. I wonder how much there actually is to consult on.

There is a little subsection about ‘persons of pensionable age’ which confirms their exclusion (as is currently the case) but I read it as meaning that there will be a change in that currently if you receive DLA prior to 65 (or equivalent pensionable age) you continue to receive DLA (Which is higher than the ‘over 65’ benefit ( Attendance Allowance). It seems that this will stop and all PiP will stop at pensionable age (which, of course, will be above 65 in the future).

This will mean a potential significant disadvantage to those who are disabled prior to their pensionable age.

DLA will also be removed from those who are not resident in the UK which I assume will affect some of those who currently claim within the EU. That has been taken away.

I am not expert at reading legislation but that’s how I  have read it. There are few details but then again, the consultation on the change between the DLA and the PiP is still in progress as this Bill has been published.

More details of the back-to-work programme

There are going to be four categories of ‘work related activity’ specified  required of claimants who are unemployed.

Work focused interview requirement, Work preparation requirement, Work search requirement and work availability requirement. I won’t go into the details of these because they are available on the DWP website.

More interesting, I found to be the four groups of people and what would be required of them in order to be paid their universal credit.

So there would be those with:-

‘No work-related requirement’

This will be applied if the claimant ‘has limited capacity for work’ – which is yet to be determined – probably by a private company like ATOS. If they have ‘regular and substantial’ caring responsibilities for ‘a severely disabled person’. I have only to listen to the government spokespeople and wonder about definitions.  If they are the main carer for a child under 1 or meet ‘other conditions’ which are not specified but obviously given the framing of the legislation some flexibility.

‘A work focused interview requirement only’

This is specified for a main carer of a child between 1 and 3.

‘A work preparation and interview requirement’

This is specified both for carers of children aged 4-5 as well as others who may have limits to their ability to work.  This is the part, that, for example, includes a ‘health assessment’.  It also includes taking part in employment programmes.

‘All work-related requirements’

Fairly self evident and that’s everyone else.

Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits

Sanctions are to be imposed if the work-related requirements are not met.  These are set out in 26(1) (chap 2) of the Bill.

So basically if someone fails to apply for a specific vacancy that might be suitable (lots of scope for interpretation here), doesn’t take up a specific job offered or is sacked (because of misconduct) or resigns from a job – ‘with no good reason’.

Currently sanctions apply in some of these cases but the main difference is the length of time that they may apply.

I do wonder who this is meant to punish and am concerned particularly about the effect it may have on children who are dependent on their parents for income.

Annual benefit cap of about £26,000 per family

The benefit cap remains associated with a family rather than listed per individual. I wonder if this links with Mr Duncan Smith and his ilks’ promotion of marriage..

Personally, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of a specific benefit cap because families come in all sizes and with many different needs. Yes, disability benefits are going to be excluded from the cap but it is important to remember that disability benefits are going to be reduced substantially (at least 20%) in any case.

As a Londoner, living in one of the highest cost cities in the world, it also doesn’t make sense to me that a blanket cap be placed nationally with no thought to the different costs of living in different areas. I’m not saying that £26,000 isn’t a fair whack. Of course it is, the figure is based on national average earnings, but, and this is a bit but, we are not all uniform in our needs and costs.

A definite benefit cap seems more about deterring some of the front page stories in the Daily Mail about ‘scroungers’ rather than a real chance to get to grips with defining and working on need.

Review of sickness absence levels

Cameron and his proxy Iain Duncan Smith, also announced a ‘war on sick note Britain’.

I suppose this is the relation to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) which is replaced the previous ‘Incapacity Benefit’ and is given to claimants who are unable to work due to illness or disability.

(Note – DLA is NOT an out of work benefit – it is non-means tested and it given in relation to meeting additional costs related to the disability itself – hence it allows a lot of people to continue to work – it’s a bit of a red herring to stick it in with all of the work-related benefits here).

For ESA, the government are reducing the people that a contributory (generally higher) rate is paid to one year only. This will significantly affect people who have long term illnesses and disabilities.

The ESA claimants who are in the work-related stream will be subject to the same work-related requirements as detailed above.

I have no doubt that there are many details that I’ve missed. This is just a precursory glance at the Bill and some of the writing around it this morning.

While there are elements that need to change the focus on a deserving and undeserving claimant does not credit to our society.

The victimisation and ostracisation of people who cannot work or cannot find work particularly in a climate of rising unemployment creates the potential of a much larger underclass and people who feel they have no stake in the future.

It doesn’t help that the cabinet that introduce this legisalation is very much one of privilege that have never known and understood hardship and the desperation that comes from not being able to find work when you really do want and need to.

No, they can buy their own children internships..

This creates more of a dichotomous state.

Us v Them

Rich v Poor

Deserving v Undeserving

There has to be a better way to live than to punish, force and shame people into work.

Three Strikes

Iain Duncan Smith-Nightingale House-March 2010

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Over the weekend, I was listening to This Week in Westminster and I was curiously concerned by Conservative MP, Nick Boles who appeared on the programme, assertion that no-one would be affected by the ‘third strike’ of the ‘three strikes’ benefit sanctions to hit those who refused jobs that were offered because, and I’m not quoting verbatim but something along the lines of no-one in their right mind would turn down three jobs that were offered to them if they didn’t have support either by their own financial means or a partner supporting them.

Sanctioning the workless to three years without benefits for turning down three jobs was something so far out of his own concept for comprehension that he didn’t and couldn’t address the question of ‘what happens when a family have no means to support themselves because they are subject to these sanctions?’.

For me, this was a concern. Of course people who don’t work and are offered jobs and can work, should – but there are so many variables and subtleties that this seems like either a gross oversimplification or we haven’t seen (and the coalition haven’t shared with their own MPs) the complex contingencies that will be in place to prevent child poverty growing as a direct result of these sanctions.

The ‘three strikes’ goes something along the lines of if you turn down one job, benefit is withheld for three months, two jobs increases this to six months and after the third offer, the sanction is for three years.

Iain Duncan-Smith confirmed yesterday that this will apply to parents equally and having children will not stop these measures being taken.

Again, everyone wants to work  but I think we really need to examine who makes these judgements and the governments assertion that this will not be a discretionary role and that everyone will be subject to the same guidelines. The fact that there is no room for discretion worries me. What counts as a ‘refusal’ to work? This is all the more crucial as the move from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance continues on apace and there are many well-documented cases of poor decisions being made by the ESA – evidenced by the  high rate of successful appeals against their rulings (the BBC quotes a 40% successful appeal rate)  about who is and who is not ‘fit’ for work.

There are many details about what counts as an ‘offer of employment’ that need to be resolved and how much choice anyone will get about the area that they might wish to be working in or whether that will have any relevance. Apart from these details, my concern is that it will be children who will suffer as a result of potentially living in households where there is no legal income.

My fleeting experience of working with benefits in general is that often the most vulnerable and voiceless are terrified out of claiming what they may be entitled to and people who ‘defraud ‘the system’’ know exactly what and how to claim. The measures to prevent families being driven into poverty need to be clear and there needs to be an examination of the potential effect that these policies will have on children and people with disabilities and ill-health, whether those categories are accepted by ATOS or not.

(Incidently,  if you go to the ATOS link, you see at the bottom a list of numbers with the request ‘Please do not give these numbers to patients – if that doesn’t tell you a lot about accessibility and also stupidity (seriously – they put that document on a website and then tell ‘practitioners’ not to give it to patient) then I don’t know what is).

Sinful Wastrels

Unemployed man looking for a job in 1928

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I haven’t had time to read through the White Paper on Welfare Reform called Universal Credit : Welfare that Works yet. I finished work late last night and went to bed almost embarrassingly early. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to look at the details over the weekend.

In the meantime, just a couple of generalised thoughts. I strongly object to a politician using language like ‘sinful’ in reference to social (or any kind of) policy. We may have an established church but I have no time whatsoever for the drawing on religious language. To say it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth is an understatement.

This government is frighteningly making more and  more moral judgements on people with whom they disagree. Perhaps it is a display of guilt about their overt targeting of those who are jobless.

While I understand the general narrative that there is an ‘underclass of scroungers’ I also challenge it. I turn to my constructionist theories and look at what has actually created this so-called ‘underclass’. It is about the structures and choices that have been left open for people, the lack of a coherent and progressive social policy and the poverty of opportunity rather than pure laziness.

I do not believe the human condition is inherently ‘lazy’. Nor is it a class-based attribute yet we are increasingly seeing these issues tied together. What leads to a lack of desire to work? Perhaps the way that society views certain types of jobs like ‘care work’ which should be the most highly admired  but is relegated to a ‘poor status and poor pay’ profession and the perceptions and opportunities of promotion are poor.

Moving back to social work briefly, I’ve mentioned this many times but my route into social work came initially through voluntary work with adults with disabilities which then turned into (as I used the experience I had gained through CSV) paid work as a care assistant. I think there could be a clearer career path identified for care assistants (those who want to, of course) to grow professionally into social work degrees  but often the people who take these roles are encouraged to have lower aspirations where actually moving sideways into a professional role would create a more secure base to work from in the future.

By humiliating and castigating people for whom there are no jobs, we are potentially creating a greater problem for future generations and a perpetual underclass.

Like a lot of these ‘cuts’ on the agenda, there seems to be little long term planning behind them.

A reform in the benefits system needs to come, of course it does,  but it should not be seen as a cost-saving exercise. It should be accompanied, perhaps on a cost-neutral basis on a systemic restructuring of the way the society operates and puts much more of the focus on improving access to equal educational opportunities. The changes in the university tuition fees could be tied into this.

The nefarious political and moral drive behind the welfare reforms have been seen for what they are. They are a bunch of over-privileged millionaires dictating morality to people who survive on the scraps that the state throws them. When they deign to be more selective in their search for employment, they are penalised heavily or forced into ‘community work’ as ‘volunteers’ where the large companies will, no doubt, benefit.

Four weeks of unpaid forced ‘work’ is not enough to create a ‘work ethos’.  It is more of a ‘workhouse ethos’. Nothing wrong with voluntary work – for me it was the route into work and into a profession that I love but that was because I wanted to do it and I needed to do it. Of course people should be inherently wanting to work but I don’t believe that people don’t want to – it is just about fitting the type of work to the person and punishing people in a time of high unemployment for not working. There need to be changes that work on the expectations and the equal or rather, more equal access to opportunities alongside changes in the welfare systems.

Yes, the money is running out. Yes, there need to be cuts. But unemployment benefit or rather jobseekers allowance should be about encouraging rather than penalising and stigmatising. The problem is that by creating a negative narrative around people who are unemployed and broadening that out, as the government are, and have done to people who are unwell (on ESA) and disabled by labelling people are ‘lazy scroungers’ the government is actively creating a more isolated section of society for the readers of the Daily Mail to scoff at. Until they lose their own jobs. Or are cursed with ill health such that they are not able to work.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in wanting to reform the benefit system but encouragement to work has to be more whole-hearted and resting the blame of a recession on those who lose their own jobs seems to me, more ‘sinful’ than turning down a job that isn’t suited to a particular unemployed individual’s skill set.

But as an agnostic , I’m particularly poorly placed to make a judgement on sin. I don’t want my government to do it for me.

On yer bike!

Housing is an issue that has been a consistent backdrop to all of the work that I’ve done since I began working in statutory social services.  There is a massive shortage of affordable housing. This leads to overcrowding, poor conditions and some heightened social problems.

I’d personally venture to make a link between the previous Conservative government’s Right to Buy scheme and the lack of public housing Especially in the areas where I live and work in London where the cost of housing has made millionaires of those who did access their ‘right to buy’ and thus deny future generations access to low cost local housing.

I also feel strongly because I have seen private landlords squeeze and squeeze those who are still renting privately – including many older people who still have the secured tenancies – as every kind of adaptation is denied as a means to get the ‘cheap’ tenants to leave a property whose market rent may be much higher. It seems particularly cynical when the properties were bought as investments with sitting tenants.

So now Mr Duncan-Smith is proposing a ‘get on your bike’ type policy of promoting workforce mobility and according to the Telegraph, speaks of people who are ‘trapped in estates where there is no work’ without the possibility to move due to not being able to lose their tenancies. His proposed scheme would allow these people to ‘go to the top of housing lists’.

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Forgive me if I chortle bitterly at this point. There’s no benefit in ‘going to the top’ of a list if the list is already full and there is no housing available.

Along with this, and perhaps to promote his programme of ‘mobility’ he also talks of “tons of elderly people” living in homes they cannot run as he announced plans to tackle under-occupancy in large council properties.

I have to wonder about firstly his choice of language when he speaks of ‘tons of elderly people’. Is it really a dignified way to refer to people who have worked out their whole lives and who wish to retire in the same houses that they have brought families up in?

Yes, there is an issue of under-occupancy but when the Tories are fighting for the rights of those who own their own homes to pass the properties through the inheritance systems to their own – hardly disadvantaged – offspring yet they would batten down the right to a security of tenure to those who haven’t had the opportunities to buy their own property and refer to ‘tons of elderly people’ creating a perception that it is the fault of these people that there is a shortage of public housing stock rather than a direct result of the policies of the Conservative Party in the 80s.

More broadly, my concerns about this way of thinking is one of placing the blame on those who cannot find work and penalising people depending on where they live in the country. There is a concern that there will be a shift away from some parts of the country and moving to somewhere in which there might be more vacancies might not be any more guarantee of employment.

Currently and for as long as I’ve been working in London, there have been programmes focusing on under-occupancy. These are based on volunteering to give up a larger property and often involve (or at least the schemes I’m familiar with) financial incentives. Duncan-Smith seems to therefore be promoting a more ‘stick’ than ‘carrot’ approach.

My moral difficulty with this lies around the multi-millionaire ‘ruling’ classes forcing decisions about housing and where to live on those who are living much closer to the poverty line and there is such a disconnect between the experiences of these politicians and their knowledge of what life is actually like where neither housing nor employment is secure.

The solution to the housing ‘problem’ is to shift more housing into public ownership and to put a halt on the right-to-buy schemes although already some brakes have been put on that programme.

I have no doubt that some of the tax credit system of welfare benefits seems to be grossly overcomplicated and not necessarily fair but there seems to be a wholly uncomfortable picking off by the government of the weakest and poorest members of society.

And it’s not a society I feel comfortable living in.