Tag: welfare state

Call for research evidence: would UBI mitigate the social & economic disadvantages experienced by disabled people?

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Jane Mathieson is conducting research for her dissertation, which aims at reflecting on current experiences of those of us with invisible disabilities claiming disability benefits. She is exploring how Universal Basic Income (UBI) may improve our quality of life, potentially addressing social and political prejudice, removing barriers from disabled peoples’ socioeconomic inclusion and participation. 

Universal Basic Income is a regular payment made to every individual, which is not means tested, non-withdrawable and is paid without work conditions.

It would:

  • Guarantee everyone a secure base  
  • Replace the draconian, complex benefits system with a scheme fit for the 21st century 
  • Provide us all, including people who need extra income related to illness, disability and housing, with the freedom to develop our potential, to be included in society, to contribute our talents and to have the dignity we all deserve.

UBI would greatly reduce the ghastly punitive bureaucracy of the welfare system and give people more choice about which kind of work they take. It would also promote the idea of universality more generally, since it is an unconditional form of income. In non-universal welfare states, the state is primarily concerned with directing resources to “the people most in need”.

This requires a tight bureaucratic control in order to politically determine who is eligible for support and who is not. Furthermore, “those most in need” is a somewhat vague category of people, and as we have observed over the past decade, it comes with a bureaucracy that constantly re-defines ‘need’ and perpetually shifts the goal posts to suit the neoliberal austerity agenda.

People have been refused Employment and Support Allowance, on the grounds they are “fit for work”, for example, and therefore, not among those in the greatest need of support. However, many have died within weeks of being deemed fit for work by the state, indicating clearly they were not capable of working, and that they were in fact among those most in need of support. 

Beverage’s idea of the welfare state was universal and comprehensive one. He saw the role of the state as one of protection, which promotes the economic and social well-being of citizens, based upon the principles of  democracy, equal opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for citizens unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for an adequate standard of living. Social insurance is a system where people pay towards their own social security, should they need it. The vast majority of ill and disabled people have worked and therefore contributed to their own support. However, that support provision has become increasingly conditional and precarious.

I’m distributing this questionnaire to support Jane’s work.

It’s useful to explore in particular how UBI may work for those who need more support, such as those with caring responsibilities, as well as disabled people.

Here is an introduction to Jane’s research. You can click on the hyperlink highlighted in blue at the bottom of the page to participate in the survey: 

Taken for Granted: the implications of Universal Basic Income on those with Invisible Disability and a cost-benefit analysis for the State

You have been invited to be part of research to consider the experiences of those with invisible disabilities claiming benefits under the current system and how the implementation of Universal Basic Income may affect them. 

Please read this information sheet to find out more about the research and why I am doing it. 

My name is Jane Mathieson and I am currently in my final year of a BSc (Hons) Degree in Applied Social Science. One aspect of the course involves conducting academic research for which I have chosen to focus on Universal Basic Income and how its implementation may affect those with invisible disability in terms of well-being, social inclusion and work-related activities. 

The concept of true Universal Basic Income is that it is a benefit given to a large proportion of the population, regardless of household or family structure, age, employment status or disability. It is defined as a financial support which is sufficient enough to meet a family’s basic needs without earnings or additional sources of income. It would be seen to replace all income related benefits in their entirety, but not additional financial support such as Personal Independence Payment which is paid to compensate for the additional costs of being disabled. 

An online questionnaire will be distributed among members of Disability and Welfare Rights organisations through their online forums and social media. Hard copies will be made available on request. Participants may be invited to volunteer to take part in semi-structured interviews via Skype or another face-to-face communication platform. Please note there is an open comments box at the end of the questionnaire for you to share any additional comments or personal experiences. 

Confidentiality and anonymity: If you are happy to take part, please complete the consent form. I may write about what I find out in reports, conference papers, journals and books. I will also share any findings with other people who arrange similar activities, as well as other researchers.

It will not be possible to know who said what in anything made public. You can ask for feedback about our findings if you would like. If you choose to proceed, please complete the following questionnaire. On submission all data will be anonymised. All data collected will be stored on a password protected, private laptop, hard copies will be stored in a locked filing cabinet. 

Right to withdraw: You have the right to stop taking part in the research at any time during the questionnaire up to the point of submission when your details will be automatically be anonymised. Should there be a face-to-face interview, you also have a right not to answer specific questions or to ask for any audio and video ­recording to stop. 

Thank you in advance for your time and participation. Should you have any further questions regarding this research please contact me by email at jm158340@truro-penwith.ac.uk 

You can access the information sheet and questionnaire here.

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Social security is a provision paid for by the public to support the public ‘from from the cradle to the grave’ when they fall on hard times

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This post follows on from my previous article, which critically addresses David Gauke’s irrational defence of the punitive use of social security sanctions.

Some logical gaps in government rhetoric

The government claim that more people are in employment. However, the government have ensured via systematic deregulation that the ‘supply-side’ labour market is designed to suit the wants of employers and not the needs of employees. Supply-side policies include the promotion of greater competition in labour markets, through the removal of ‘restrictive’ practices, such as the protection of employment.

For example, as part of supply-side reforms in the 1980s, trade union powers were greatly reduced by a series of measures including limiting worker’s ability to call a strike, and by enforcing secret ballots of union members prior to strike action.

More recently, the Conservatives have attacked trade unions again, encroaching on work place democracy and civil rights. People claiming social security are being coerced by the state to take any job available, regardless of conditions and pay, or face sanctions.

This also seriously undermines any kind of bargaining for better pay and working conditions. It leaves workers without protection against profit-driven monopsonist employers (large employers that tend to dominate the employment market, such as Capita, G4S, Atos, Amazon, Uber, for example) leading to lower and lower wages. The government’s claims about the merits of increased labour market ‘flexibility’ have nonetheless introduced a considerable degree of precarity, which makes workers feel insecure, and more fearful of losing their jobs. It has also led to lower wage growth and rapidly increasing inequality.

As a consequence of government decision-making, much employment is insecure and wages have been driven down to the point where they are exploitative and no longer cover even the basic livings costs of workers. Wages have stagnatedand are most likely to remain stagnated for the foreseeable future. 

So we now have a politically constructed economic situation where even nurses and teachers are forced to visit food banks because they can’t afford to eat. 

At a time when the government boasts more people than ever are in employment, the numbers of cases of malnutrition and poverty-related illnesses are actually rising

The official UK unemployment rate has been well below the EU average for some years, and the as the government keeps pointing out, the employment rate is almost at a historic high, yet the welfare state is seen as a major concern, with the government claiming it presents people with ‘perverse incentives’, which prevent them from working. That very clearly isn’t true. However, the employment figures disguise the serious problem of under-employment, employment precarity and low wages.  

Furthermore, a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals that more than a  fifth of the UK population is now living in poverty amid the worst decline for children and pensioners in decades. Nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than five years ago, during which time there have been continued increases in poverty across both age groups – prompting experts to warn that hard-fought progress towards tackling destitution is ‘in peril’. 

The analysis highlights that 3 factors which had, over previous decades, led to a fall in poverty, are now cause for concern; social security support for many of those on low incomes ensured that people didn’t experience severe hardship and poverty, but it has been falling in real terms, changes to welfare policy have seen the numbers in poverty rising again, affordable social housing is no longer accessible and rents are increasing (particularly in the private sector), and lastly, rising employment is no longer reducing poverty.  

Work very clearly does not pay. 

The UK is regressing. We have a government that is undoing the social gains made following our progressive post-war settlement. 

The economic problems, inequality and poverty that we are witnessing have not arisen because welfare creates ‘disincentives’ to work, nor is there a shortage of  ‘hard workers’ or a sudden growth in the number of ‘shirkers’, or people with faulty characters, as every Conservative government since Margeret Thatcher has claimed. 

There is a shortage of good, secure and adequately salaried jobs. The small rise in the national minimum wage will unfortunately be offset with increasing living costs and the welfare cuts to both in and out of work social security. It’s not, by the way, a ‘national living wage’, as the Tories keep trying to claim. It’s a very modest rise in the minimum wage, which is rather long overdue. 

Image result for welfare spending uk pie chart

‘Making work pay’ is a simply a Conservative euphemism for the dismantling of the welfare state – a civilised and civilising institution that came into existence to ensure that no-one faces starvation, destitution and the ravages of absolute poverty.

Most of our welfare spending goes on pensions, first, then the bulk of the rest goes on supporting people in work who are paid exploitatively low wages.  

Making work pay for employers: the ‘business friendly’ government 

Trade unions are disempowered, because the government hates any form of collective bargaining which is aimed at improving the living and working conditions of ordinary people. They legislated to ensure that any collective action is very difficult. The government also punishes people on low pay with sanctions. As if taking money from people already on the breadline will somehow address the profit seeking executive decisions of employers. That’s cruel beyond belief. 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report says that the squeeze on living standards now risks storing up problems for the future, with people being caught in a  ‘standstill generation’ – one where people are unable to build the foundations for a decent, secure life. 

Over the last couple of days, I have seen a few people of pension age claiming that pensions are ‘not welfare’. That pensions are a ‘right’, and that people who paid in all their lives deserve support. Of course they do. 

However, so do our young people (who live in a much less kind society than the one our generation enjoyed), working people, disabled people and everyone else who faces material hardship. We ALL pay into the welfare state. It was designed to provide ‘from the cradle to the grave’ support for everyone who should need it, as set out in Sir William Beveridge’s report Social Insurance and Allied Services, published on 1 December 1942.

Beveridge’s vision was for an national insurance-based welfare state in which entitlement would be earned largely by the function the citizen undertook, either through work or by assuming caring responsibilities. When Winston Churchill finally turned his attention to domestic politics after the Second World War he conjured up the phrase by which Beveridge’s proposals would be described: he envisaged a compulsory national insurance that would afford coverage ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

Social security originally included maternity grants, child benefit, unemployment and sickness benefits, old-age pensions and a grant to cover the costs of death. 

The underpinning welfare principles of universalism and collectivism 

The national insurance scheme is intuitively fair to most people, it is based on collective ethics, rather than being governed by private market insurance rules. 

‘Welfare’ means Wellbeing/Safety/Health. Beverage was tasked with the responsibility of determining what was needed for Britain to take care of the basic needs of citizens, ensuring no-one lived in poverty, and to create a set of reforms that ensured everyone had a basic standard of living, regardless of their circumstances.

Welfare was originally designed to be universally accessible when people were in need of assistance. No-one deserves support in meeting their basic survival needs more than anyone else. Or rather, every person ought to have the same right to adequately meet the costs necessary for survival – basic costs for fundamental needs such as for food, fuel and shelter, for example.

It’s a measure of how successful the Conservatives’ intentional, purposefully divisive stigmatising campaign has been of those in receipt of social security that some social groups want to now distance themselves from the very term ‘welfare’.

Yet the welfare state was a truly great British achievement, it was a civilised and civilising reform that improved the lives of many, sparing them the abject misery of absolute poverty. The Conservatives don’t pay for welfare provision: we do. Yet to hear their anti-welfare rhetoric and to read their anti-humanist ideology, anyone would think the funding comes from their own pockets, such is their scorn and indignation that people should have, and expect the right, to an adequate standard of living and healthcare.

Yet this is what Cameron had in mind when he said he wanted to end ‘the culture of entitlement’. He was signalling that the Conservatives intend to dismantle welfare,  other public services and provisions. The government portrays our welfare state as a ‘free good’, but WE have already paid for it. As did our parents.

Instead of regarding welfare as ‘unsustainable’ and as the problematic ‘vulnerability’ of some citizens requiring support in a system that invariably creates wealth for a few, and increasing hardship for the many, perhaps it’s time to view the government’s obsession with welfare conditionality, ‘behaviour change’ and punitive sanctions – which have turned a provision aimed at meeting basic material needs into a means of disciplining poor people – and with dismantling our social security, for what this really is: state oppression. 

In the 1940s, a widely shared international consensus specifically linked social welfare to democratic citizenship, upholding universal rights, greater equality and social justice. We share with Europe a common history of social rights, democratic participation and welfare capitalism. In light of the recent global transformations of the economic order, significant changes in the distribution of wealth and power have reshaped the meaning of citizenship and redefined the relationship between the state and citizens in a post-welfare-state era. The lasting and damaging effects of austerity and inequality will inevitably negatively influence democratic inclusion and participation, as well as having a profound impact on people’s material wellbeing. 

David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu show in their book, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills (2013), that the human costs of dismantling the welfare state may be measured out in increased morbidity and mortality figures, as evidenced in the global recession. The book explores government responses to financial crises through the lens of health outcomes. The authors argue that austerity is never the right prescription as it hinders return to growth and causes immense suffering to citizens’ health and wellbeing. 

In those countries that maintained their welfare system, no such increases occurred. Stuckler and Banjay also point out that those countries which maintained their welfare system recovered quicker from the recession than those that didn’t, indicating that welfare spending is an excellent stimulus to the economy.

The truth is that for Conservatives, their perceived problems of the welfare state is not really an issue of its ‘sustainability’ or cost, it is a purely ideological issue. The Conservatives’ most treasured class-based prejudices and beliefs in the not so free Free Market are chronically and morbidly offended by it. 

I guess Beverage didn’t foresee the sixth great ‘evil’ – the overarching anti-collectivism of belligerently imposed neoliberal socioeconomics, which extends ever-widening inequality and increasing poverty of the masses wherever it travels. 

Welfare was designed for everyone in need, regardless of their age. That was the whole point of welfare – to ensure no-one in the UK is starving and destitute. 

As citizens, we need to stand on our hind legs and bypass the intentionally divisive rhetoric. We need to stand together to defend what is OURS: the welfare state was never funded by the government and never was. 

The wefare budget is therefore not the government’s money to cut.


 

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Lies, Damn Lies and the Welfare Debate – Emily Thornberry

proper Blond

Originally published in the Huff Post on 13 July, 2015

Next week the Government plans to bring forward a new Bill on welfare reform – the latest salvo in the Tories’ ongoing war of attrition on our welfare state and the principles that underpin it.

Softening up the ground for this next round of cuts, which will go further and deeper than anything we’ve seen so far, was a column written jointly by George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith and published in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago.

The piece, which reads like a greatest hits compilation of clichéd Tory platitudes on welfare spending, was so shot through with errors, misleading implications and flat-out lies that it set the tone for the most ill-informed debate in recent memory.

So in the interest of setting the record straight, I’ve picked out my top eight tall Tory tales (there are many more than eight, but as space is limited I’ve kept myself to the worst offenders) and put them together with the actual facts. Without a willing handmaiden in the Murdoch press empire to help me, I’m relying on you to spread the word:

Lie number one:
“This country accounts for 7% of all welfare spending in the world, although we have just 1% of its population and produce 4% of its GDP.”

Even if you accept that these figures are accurate (and there’s no reason why you should – Osborne and Duncan Smith did not provide a source and I haven’t been able to find one) the implication – that we are spending more than we should because our welfare budget is out of proportion to our share of the global population – is ridiculous because it does not compare like with like.

To say that we spend more on welfare per head than, say, Somalia or Zimbabwe tells you nothing more than the fact that we have an advanced, industrialised economy, a domestic tax base, an established democracy and a modern welfare state, which many countries do not.

A much more valuable comparison would be between the UK and other industrialised democracies, for example within Europe. A comparison with the rest of Europe puts us below the average in terms of welfare spending as a proportion of GDP.

Lie number two:
Under Labour “Britain’s welfare bill was fast becoming completely unsustainable.”

Taking as a measure of “sustainability” the amount we spend on social security as a proportion of GDP (the most widely used measure), welfare spending stayed virtually flat during Labour’s time in office. Between 1998-99 and 2008-09 welfare spending represented on average 10.7% of GDP, never deviating more than 0.2% from this figure in any given year.

When the global financial crisis hit the proportion rose to 13% – a significant rise which nonetheless was neither surprising nor particularly concerning, given the historic tendency for welfare spending to rise during a depressed economy and fall back down to normal levels with the return of economic growth.

It’s also a bit rich for the Tories to preach about an increasing welfare budget when the bulk of social security expenditure in the UK goes to pensioners, an area where the Tories have increased spending, not cut it.

Lie number three:
“Not that any of this debt-fuelled largesse improved lives.”

Maybe not the lives of anybody the authors knew, but the truth is that, largely thanks to the support Labour provided to low-income working families through tax credits (which Osborne is about to gut), child poverty fell by a third under Labour – equivalent to more than a million children lifted out of poverty.

IDS may be busy redefining poverty so he can pretend it doesn’t exist, but I think most people can still understand that poverty is real, that it isn’t a good thing and that a person moving out of poverty would normally consider the change an improvement in their life.

Lie number four:
“The welfare system we inherited in 2010 trapped people in dependency and actively discouraged claimants from seeking work. All too often, those who worked hard and did the right thing were punished – while those who did the wrong thing were rewarded.”

Presumably what the authors mean by “doing the right thing” is working. But despite their best efforts to draw an artificial dividing line between “work” and “welfare”, the reality is that most people of working age who claim some kind of benefit do work. For example, more than two thirds of people claiming tax credits are employed, and tax credits account for around 50% of all spending on working-age welfare. Meanwhile, benefits specifically for people who are out of work, like Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support, make up just 3% of such spending.

The fact of the matter is that when governments fail – as the Tories have done – to tackle the root causes of working peoples’ need for welfare support, like low pay and high rents, the number of working people relying on benefits increases. For example, the proportion of housing benefit claimants who are employed has doubled since the Tories took office in 2010.

Lie number five:
“The new benefit cap of £26,000 a year means that no household can receive more in out-of-work benefits than the average working family earns, a simple matter of fairness.”

The Tories’ cap has nothing to do with fairness, as demonstrated by the fact that their new Bill abolishes the cap’s link with average earnings and gives Ministers carte blanche to lower the cap arbitrarily, at any time and for any reason.

Their cap also takes an across-the-board approach, affecting many more people who aren’t able to work – including people with disabilities, single mothers with young children and people with full-time caring responsibilities for sick or severely disabled relatives – than people who are.

Lie number six:
“We also took action to cap the rise in benefits so it was in line with the incomes of those in work.”

They did no such thing. Since 1980, the main out-of-work benefits have risen in line with prices, rather than earnings. So Jobseeker’s Allowance fell from being worth a fifth of average earnings in 1980 to a tenth in 2010.

Lie number seven:
“In 1980, working age welfare accounted for 8% of all public spending. In 1990, when Margaret Thatcher left office, it was still under 10%. But by 2010 it had risen to nearly 13% of public spending.”

Similar to lie number two, but since the lie is repeated (or, to put it more charitably, the highly selective and misleading half-truth) the truth might as well be repeated too. As noted, welfare reform stayed virtually flat under Labour until a sudden increase was brought about as a result of a recession – just as had happened in the early 1990s under John Major’s Government.

Lie number eight:
“This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings from the £220 billion welfare budget.”

They most certainly were not. The Tories ran on a manifesto promising £12billion worth of welfare cuts, a figure which no-one took seriously in large part because they failed to specify where the savings would come from.

Happy myth-busting, readers!

Emily Thornberry.

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See also:

The reasons why we can’t afford not to have a welfare state are not ideological: they are practical – A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

The welfare state: from hung, drawn and quartered to Tory privatisation

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone