“Welfare tax”?

Go to the BBC video of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

Enjoy Miliband winding up Cameron on the Bedroom Tax.

Remember: in Cameron’s world, it’s not a “tax”, it’s a “benefit”. That was his effort, responding to Miliband’s first question. What is the “benefit” of losing £25 a week? That was enough to shock Malcolm — and got to Steve Bell as well:

Steve Bell 7.2.2013

Indeed the crude brutishness of Cameron’s manner made Malcolm miscue. So back to the BBC video.

The crucial moment comes about 7 minutes and 15 seconds in. Cameron is waxing loud and lyrical about Miliband’s policy deficiencies (though why Labour needs to be lumbered with detailed policy commitments this far out from a fixed election date is another matter).

Malcolm believed he heard Cameron say:

What this Government is doing is building more houses and controlling welfare bills. But, frankly, the question is one he has to answer, too. If he opposes the welfare tax, if he opposes restrictions on increased welfare, if he opposes reform of disability benefit, if he opposes each and every welfare change we make, how on earth is he going to get control of public spending.

What the Hansard reporter heard (or was persuaded was said) is subtly different:

The Prime Minister: What this Government are doing is building more houses and controlling welfare bills. Frankly, the question is one that the right hon. Gentleman has to answer, too. If he opposes the welfare cap, if he opposes restrictions on increased welfare, if he opposes reform of disability benefits and if he opposes each and every welfare change we make, how on earth is he going to get control of public spending?

Fair enough: on about the third hearing, Malcolm concedes Hansard is probably right, and Malcolm’s hearing is adrift. Still, the message lingers.

What is fiendishly wrong here is that people in social housing are being punished for disability, or for wanting to stay in long-established homes. They are also being caned because:

  • wages are criminally low, and are being driven even lower by deliberate government policies;
  • rents in the private sector are too high, and still rising.

Let’s take those in turn, and refer to two items in this current issue of Private Eye:

1. Giz a job

SURF, Scotland’s independent regeneration group, which aims to improve health and wellbeing in deprived areas, received 400 applications in response to an advert for a part-time admin job. Chief Executive Andy Milne also received an email from the folk at Liga UK, who were keen to let him know that they were a “government-funded training provider who help young people gety into the workplace”.

Liga helpfully suggested that Milne consider converting the paid job into an “apprenticeship” placement. After all, it suggested, “If you do take on an apprentice for this role, you only need to pay them £100-£270 per week.” Liga UK also offered a further inducement of the £1,500 placement fee from the government.

What Ligaq failed to mention was that if SURF agreed to shove the poor recruit out of the promised job, Liga could also claim an apprenticeship placement “success” and pick up its own fee. Milne asked Liga why on earth the government would want it to displace a real job with an apprenticeship. He is still waiting for an answer.

By no coincidence, just a week ago Channel 4’s FactCheck Blog ran the rule over:

… the latest stats on apprenticeships in England today, which show that more than half a million people began a placement in 2011/12.

That is costing the government (i.e. the tax-payer) around £1.4 billion — yes, billion — in 2011-12. Moreover, nearly a fifth of these placements run for six months or less. Such turn-over must be money in the bank for the likes of Liga. Moreover, as FactCheck adds:

… a few months spent learning how to stack shelves and a three-and-a-half year stint at Rolls-Royce both count as the same.

2. Gimme Shelter 

Welfare reforms brought in by the coalition were already bringing down rents, said a confident David Cameron in January last year. “What we have seen so far, as housing benefit has been reformed and reduced, is that rent levels have come down, so we have stopped ripping off the taxpayer.”

But have they come down? It seemed unlikely at the time, although it reflected a widespread belief in government that the local housing allowance (the form of housing benefit paid to private renters) was somehow causing rent inflation.

A year on, and with more housing benefit cuts due in April, rents are stubbornly refusing to go anywhere but up. A report from Shelter based on the government’s Valuation Office Agency figures says rents have risen 2.8 percent in the past year. That’s faster than the 1.7 percent rise in house prices and comes at a time when wages are at a standstill.

Several areas saw double-digit rises, including an eye-watering 10.8 percent in one local authority with which Cameron should be fa,iliad: West Oxfordshire, home to his Witney constituency.

This Shelter survey, The Rent Trap, is on-line. It covers only English local authority areas (as, indeed, does the Tory party’s world-view).

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Filed under Comment is Free, Conservative family values, David Cameron, economy, Ed Miliband, House-prices, Private Eye, Scotland, social class, Steve Bell, Tories.

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