It strikes me that April Fool’s Day is an oddly appropriate choice to usher in some of the biggest spending cuts to Britain’s welfare state since its inception. But for all the anti-austerity protests of recent years, these cuts seem surprisingly popular.
Three quarters of Brits think the country spends too much on welfare (ie: looking after people who can’t look after themselves). Half of people think the government is not being tough enough on those receiving benefits and an amazing 37 per cent think that most (yes, most) people on benefits are “fiddling” the system. So over half of the 5.7m people on benefits are liars? Blimey.
Do you agree?
Benefit fraud convictions have shot up since investigators were given extra powers (to do stuff like look at Sky TV bills), but the cost of tracking down fraudsters is around £100m each year, compared to the £215m recouped from convictions. To put that in perspective, UK banks were fined a thousand times that amount last year for misbehaving. Yearly convictions for benefit fraud number around 10,000.
Sympathy for Britain’s needy is dwindling, being replaced by a “get off your arse and do something” attitude. The welfare cuts being implemented today are summarised really well by the Guardian, but the main two points for young people are to do with housing and out-of-work benefits.
You know that three-bed holiday home you wanted, courtesy of Her Majesty’s Treasury? Well…tough.
Housing cuts are twofold. First, the national government is passing control of council tax benefits to local governments and cutting the budget by 10 per cent. Second, those in social housing with a spare bedroom will lose 14 per cent of their benefit. Two spare bedrooms loses you 25 per cent. This is the infamous “bedroom tax” which has received a lot of media attention recently.
BREAKDOWN: Although 5.9m Brits claim housing benefits, only 380,000 people under 25 do. Half of them have kids, about a quarter are looking for a job and not far off half will find that job within three months. There are about 6.7m people in the UK aged between 16 and 25.
VERDICT: About 6 per cent of 16 to 25-year-olds claim benefits. About half are not looking for a job, disabled or employed. Don’t expect to be standing on homeless bodies next time you’re waiting for the bus, but this one could hurt a minority.
Instead of receiving one (or more) myriad job-seekers’ and workers’ benefits, claimants will be offered one universal credit. This is only on trial in a part of Greater Manchester, but should be rolled out nationwide in September. The idea is that job-seekers are pushed more to find jobs and penalised if they don’t make the effort or turn a job down.
BREAKDOWN: One in five people between 16 and 24 are unemployed and claiming job-seekers’ benefits. That’s a million people who will need to be reassessed and, after inflation, they will also suffer a cut in the amount they receive each year. Here’s how they’re spread geographically.
VERDICT: Universal credit is a trial and not universal yet, so there’s no conclusive evidence that this will be more or less stingy. The limited rise below inflation is a pain, though, and youth unemployment is a big problem – young people are the ones with longer to work and instead of progressing down a chosen career path are at home watching Top Gear.
My question: young people are the taxpaying, economic engine of the future – why are heating allowances and bus passes for the elderly fiercely protected regardless of income but a young person’s career prospects are not?
Only 6 per cent of Brits would trust the Lib Dems with benefits reform, but in all fairness, Vince has a point about cutting benefits to pensioners. It’s also rather telling that more people (34 per cent) would trust no political party, than any of the main three.
Bottom line: you’ll feel these cuts, unless you’re retired.