Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Iain Duncan Smith's backyard gives a clue to the real problems

Andrew Fisher

Allegedly ballooning welfare payments have spurred the Westminster political consensus (available in blue, yellow and red) to advocate a welfare cap. This comes after most welfare benefit rises were capped  at 1% and a household benefit cap has been legislated.

But what causes benefit costs to increase? Two major drivers are low pay and rising housing costs - these drive tax credit payments and housing benefit costs.

The problem with these facts is that they identify as the problem low-paying employers and overcharging landlords as the problem. Given the Westminster consensus loves  to laud capitalists, it won't problematise these people - instead it labels those in receipt of benefits as scroungers, skivers and slackers.

Earlier this week, the TUC identified strong evidence for our thesis on Iain Duncan Smith's doorstep. His constituency of Chingford & Woodford Green (shame on them for electing him) is the low pay capital of the capital - with 43.4% of jobs paying less than the London living wage (£8.80 per hour). And across the whole country, one in five jobs pay less than the living wage.

This means Duncan Smith's constituents are more likely than any in London to suffer from the welfare cap. And under his Universal Credit (now rescheduled to go live across Britain in 2017) they are the most likely to face "in-work conditionality", i.e. the threat of sanctions to payments if they don't make effort to increase their working hours or their pay to reduce their dependency on government subsidies (for low pay and high rents).

In searching for an image to accompany this piece, I typed "Iain Duncan Smith" into the search engine of an infamous tax dodger - the three most common accompanying words for that image search are "evil", "wanker" and "angry".

But as well as low-paying employers and overcharging landlords there's another category who deserve reproach: a generation of government ministers who have overseen declining real wages, encouraged loss of bargaining power through anti-trade union laws, rising house prices through insufficient house-building, and the absence of any industrial strategy capable of providing sufficient skilled jobs - let alone anything approaching full employment.

So now this incompetent generation of politicians, who have failed to address these issues, instead demonise the least well-off. No wonder the users of Google associate those three adjectives ...

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