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This month, the government has managed to leap the first hurdle in introducing a series of cuts which would lead to restrictions on benefits and those claiming job seekers’ allowance. 2012 already saw the introduction of legislation which would mean that families earning more than £50,000 a year would have their benefits cut, and the Guardian claims that “Britain’s poorest households will be hit hardest by government plans”, as they find themselves losing out on money that they could well desperately need. Furthermore, the government is being perfectly honest about how these limits may affect the poorest, as the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted those “further down the income distribution” would be the ones to suffer the most income-wise.
In his Autumn Statement, George Autumn said that these measures were about “being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees their neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits”. It is wrong to assume that those on benefits are misusing their payments, or are perhaps less deserving of the money, John Harris points out that “to be one of the economy’s losers isn’t about being a victim of forces beyond your control, but character failings”. Although it is true that there are a significant amount of so-called ‘benefits scroungers’ out there, who use their benefits inappropriately and seem to have no desire to find work, there are also probably thousands of people who are constantly searching for employment and unfortunately, are having no luck. The Guardian mentions that the Labour party “branded the plan a “strivers’ tax” as 68% of households caught by the below inflation rise in benefits were in work”, which is true to some extent. People who work in part-time employment whilst looking for full-time work, and thus hardly make enough money as it is, may rely on benefits in order to feed themselves and their families. It is undeniable that these families are just as hard-working as “the person who leaves home very morning”, and it seems unfair that they have to struggle just because they haven’t been awarded the luxury of full-time employment and a regular wage.
Harris also mentions an idea put forward by Westminster council which suggested that due to the increasing use of smart cards when it comes to accessing leisure facilities, councils could easily gather usage information, and therefore perhaps it would be beneficial for councils to make those living off benefits to make use of these facilities to “reward or incentivise residents”. Harris interprets this as “they should be able to pack anyone who is obese and on benefits off to the gym, on pain of having their money cut”, but would it really be so awful to encourage those on benefits to improve their health? I personally would love it if I was given a gym membership for free and told to go, it would save me some cash. However, ideas like this are controversial as it’s simply another way for the government to waste money on things that are not entirely necessary. Cash cards as a mean of distributing benefits could be a way to tackle inappropriate spending of benefits, allowing those receiving benefits to spend the money where it is really needed, such as on food or clothing. This would prevent the so-called ‘benefit scroungers’ who are managing to live comfortably off their benefits from wasting money going out boozing every weekend. But again, is it not a basic luxury to be able to have a glass of wine in front of the television?
All in all, it is difficult to dictate how the benefits system should be managed, it is no secret that Britain’s economy is suffering and there are far too many notorious ‘benefit cheats’ who are taking money from hard-working taxpayers with no real intention of finding work and repaying this generousity. A re-structuring of the benefits system would not only avoid wasting ridiculous amounts of money that would improve Britain’s economy, but it would also need to find a way to protect the rights of those unfortunate few who truly deserve some aid.