Sunday, 5 June 2011

In Defence of the Welfare Queen.


As always the reactionary press are full to the brim with hateful tales about the women who "choose" to be jobless and claim the plentiful benefits offered to single-mums by squeezing out as many babies. This "lifestyle choice" is a favourite topic at The Daily Mail where the job description of a journalist amounts to sucking on the end of a sewer pipe whilst saluting the F├╝hrer. In the run-up to the General Election of 2010 the right-wing media repeatedly pinned failure on New Labour and attributed a policy of encouraging young mothers not to bother with work and to remain unmarried. It is an easy job for journalists and it pays off, there is plenty of advertising revenue for a paper which doesn't raise difficult questions about the powerful and instead takes to bashing the poor. Baiting working-people against the so-called benefits culture is easy because the unemployed are not politically active and have no one who represents their interests to defend them.

The wider insinuation is that New Labour sunk the country into debt by giving too much to people on benefits. This is a complete falsehood and it is amazing that such a lie can be pandered by the media after the financial meltdown of 2008, which caused the recession that sent tax-revenues into decline so public spending became unsustainable. As for benefits, it was New Labour that hired an investment banker called David Freud to overlook welfare benefits and pensions in 2007, with the specific aim of cutting benefits. The banker recommended that we replace all of the crumbs - housing benefit, incapacity benefit, disability allowance etc. - with a single and means-tested payment designed to 'incentivise' work. Then the Conservatives came along in 2010 to drive the plan through Parliament and slash £18 billion from benefits in the meantime. Before New Labour was given the boot David Freud also laid out plans to do away with incapacity benefit in favour of a temporary scheme which "compels" recipients into the workforce.

The underlying assumption of cutting benefits to drive single-mothers into work is that children-rearing isn't work. It's just something that women do for free, like a lot of things. The effects of driving single-mothers into the workforce in this way are quite interesting. Jobs for people who have been unemployed generally require subsidies in order to guarantee that the firms will take them on. We can see this in Britain where David Cameron has cut national insurance, which he deemed a "jobs tax", in order to create jobs for the long-term unemployed. Effectively the cut in national insurance is a subsidy to firms that take on the long-term unemployed, which has the potential to lower wages across the workforce and further undermine trade unions. So single-mothers shouldn't be raising their children and living off of "handouts" instead these women should be coerced into work so that you can be paid even less. You'll never read that in The Daily Mail, where the most basic level of moral decency is also conspicuously absent.

According to one study, which was no doubt distorted by The Daily Mail in the usual manner, the average single-mother is on around £3,546 a year in benefits. That amounts to £74,466 for 21 years, about £74 a week which is less than a day's work at minimum wage. At the same time it should be noted that it costs on average around £200,000 to raise a child to that age in this country. There is little to no mention that the amount of benefit fraud costs around £500 million to £1.5 billion a year, with estimates of over-payments ranging to around £3 billion a year. So it is clear that it will be the disabled, the mentally ill and people on very low incomes who will be hit by the benefit cuts. These aren't the "welfare queens" that the Republicans have slammed for nearly 50 years, these are the people who are set to be forced off of benefits after the Coalition has stipulated that each job centre has to sanction 3 people a week. A sanction cuts off the benefits from the recipient for a period up to 6 months.

The only permissible issue to debate is to what extent child benefit is necessary. Most recently the debate over benefits was whether it was right of David Cameron to cut child benefit for wealthier families. The presupposition that a little over £20 a week more per child is enough to raise a child remains constant, along with the suggestion that the women who have raise children on benefits are simply "whores" who have chosen to live off of your money and not go to work. Notice the other presupposition: there are jobs for women which pay enough to raise a child on. These are the laws of the commentariat in it's eager campaign to pit the working-class against itself and even at the BBC we find the question is limited to "Should we be paying people to have children?" All the while the gutter press act as if contraception and personal responsibility are the answer, in other words no benefits for anyone, no free child-care and no doubt contraceptives shouldn't be handed out for free. Notice that this level of 'personal responsibility' is only expected of the poorest of the poor.

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