So we will see a battle in heaven later this afternoon in the House of Lords.
The Lords Spiritual and Lib Dem deities such as Paddy Ashdown currently resident in gods waiting room, will attempt to vote down measures by the government to cap benefits at a maximum of the average wage.
Now, a benefits cap in and of itself is a perfectly fine and workable policy. Indeed it’s probably just. When around 60% of workers earn less than the proposed cap is it right to ask those who get up every day and pay taxes to fund lifestyles they themselves don’t have? It’s a rhetorical question.
The blokes in cloth (for, alas, the clergy don’t seem too hot on gender equality) have stuck their moral oars in the gears of government, to butcher several laboured metaphors. They’re worried that a cap could increase poverty and homelessness which is a worthy concern, I concede, but I hardly think anyone getting £26k a year without working is stuck in a poverty trap.
Of course most people helped by benefits are not spongers or trying to avoid work. Many are recently unemployed, with children where housing benefit, income support and child support provides a temporary means to maintain them until they can find work. Our benefits system should be a safety net for those who fall on hard times and a ladder to help people climb back up.
It should be noted that Ashdown, unlike the Church of England, is in favour of a cap, and just thinks the transitional arrangements and adjustments should be made clear to ensure no one is left homeless because of the new measures.
This seems sensible to me, fools rush in where angels fear to tread and with the best will in the world the coalition are no angels when it comes to rushing into legislation. Making sure you get it right never hurt any minister.
26k is an arbitry figure because it is not regionally weighted. A family in Newcastle will be able to get by on that amount quite happily, whereas a family in Surrey, where rents are higher, will struggle a bit more.
There are two things that the government should do to ensure that the effects of homelessness are negated – the first is to delay introduction until the government’s house building program is well underway. The problem which needs addressing isn’t that a cap might price those on benefits out of decent housing – the problem is that we have insufficient housing supply to cause rents to fall. The bottom line is we need far more affordable housing, quickly, or else we’re just enriching landlord fat cats.
The second is to apply a cap with a change of circumstances only after a period of delay – people who unfortunately find themselves out of work shouldn’t be forced to move house because they can’t keep up with the rent or the mortgage, but by the same token the taxpayer shouldn’t be expected to keep people in a lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed indefinitely.
This isn’t an area where we can make big savings, or indeed, should look to do so – after all most people get nothing like 26k in benefits. Welfare provision is there for people who need help. It’s a safety net. It shouldn’t breed dependency and we should ensure that people have an incentive to work to improve their lot, but it shouldn’t penalise people who have fallen on hard times or who genuinely need help – doing that is state sponsored barbarism.
I should, however, bash some bishops.
Quite why clergy get votes in Parliament and a platform for their preaching which I otherwise easily evade by avoiding pulpits is a mystery beyond my reasoning. It is a strange quirk of the British establishment that you can be a legislator without the merit of being elected but rather the dubious qualifications of having ‘out goded’ your fellow bishops and having a bigger cassock than that bloke in Canterbury.
I do sometimes wish these unelected clergymen would, you know, get real jobs and stop sponging off of the rest of us
Bishops Bashed. Job done. Have a great day.