[Updates, two so far, at end of post]
The debate over Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit reforms is hotting up, with the key battleground the so-called “benefit cap”, which would impose a ceiling on the total amount of benefit that a household could receive. This is being justified on the grounds of “fairness”: the reasoning is that ordinary taxpayers (by definition “hard working”) are paying for it, those getting it being characterised as less deserving.
There is a problem with this approach: not everyone who receives benefits is unemployed, and not all the unemployed have been so over the long term: with unemployment numbers rising, many are losing their jobs but would dearly like to get back to work. Instead of acknowledging these shades of grey, the ranters and frothers of the punditerati have decided to demonise and unload.
So out have come some very scary numbers, as typified by former Tory Party spinner and comfortable receipt of Government largesse Nick Wood, head man at Astroturf lobby group Media Intelligence Partners (MIP), who has been given access to the bully pulpit at Mail Online by the preposterously pompous Simon Heffer. Wood kicks off by pitching “our £200 billion annual bill for state handouts”.
Actually, as has been shown by – of all people – Tim Leunig, the man who got Policy Exchange a bad name by suggesting folks in the north should move to the south east, the amount the “benefit cap” will save is just £270 million, so around one tenth of one per cent of the scary number Wood is pitching. But all he can talk about is “slackers”. Those in work do not feature.
And Wood is on the case of those who oppose the measure: bishops (they’re “unelected”, rather like their accuser in this case) and other peers, especially Paddy Ashdown, who has done rather more for his country than Nick Wood ever will. But this is as nothing compared to the rant from Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, who sees “twisted leftism” at work.
Taking money off people, Mel tells, is “true compassion”. Ashdown is denounced as “preposterous”. Again, the “working poor” are painted as being worse off than those on benefits: the thought that many in work claim benefits of some kind does not enter. Instead, Mel goes after the Church of England, accusing it of “amorality” and accusing Rowan Williams of occupying the “most warped of moral low grounds”.
She then accuses the Church of being “content” to have people “trapped” in poverty, and of being “all but destroyed” by “infantile leftism” (Mel’s been shouting “infantile” a lot recently). The percentage of true batshit in this rant is high – even for Mel – but neither she, nor Wood, nor any of them, will address the real issue.
And that it that this reform is a little red meat to appease the likes of the Mail, it will save comparatively little, and it will cause many families significant pain. Not good.
[UPDATE1 24 January AM: Nick Wood has returned to the fray, in even more frothing mode, today. Members of the House of Lords, who voted last night to include Child Benefit in the "cap", are denounced as "ermine-clad, superannuated fools", as opposed to being passed-over Majors like Wood. But there is a memorable whopper to come.
"If you decide to have six kids, sideline the father(s), invent an array of baffling medical complications for you and the tribe, and hire some amoral human rights/benefit lawyers, you can take over a mansion on Park Lane, claim the earth in handouts, and live happily ever after" he rants. Perhaps things are not going so well at Media Intelligence Partners?
After all, Wood must have time on his hands to be able to churn out these daily rantfests, and maybe anger management and reality issues as well]
[UPDATE2 24 January PM: Now they're all piling in, with appalling old hack Chris Moncrieff leading the charge, describing the bishops, who voted for including Child Benefit in the "cap", as a "disgrace" and having a "shockingly misguided sense of virtue". He trots out the line that the £26k figure is "£500 a week", but if there's (say) £1k a month housing benefit in that, it will go directly to the landlord, the family in question won't see it, and the actual total benefit will be £14k. That thought is not allowed to enter (no surprise there, then).
He is joined by Mark Littlewood from the IEA, another repository of outdated economic thought second only to the Adam Smith Institute in exhuming long discarded ideas. He, too, asserts that £26k is plenty for a family to live on, and also does not mention housing benefit. He does, however, claim to be able to, more or less, channel William Beveridge. Interestingly, he at least mentions that some of the well off also receive benefits, but does not quantify the amount (it's a lot more than the £270 million that the "cap" will save).
Then there is an intervention from Alexander Boot, who describes himself as a "polemicist", for which read "ranter". He dumps on the bishops because some of them have tried to use plain English versions of the Bible. Then he goes completely gaga and lectures his readers about what good Christians would do (that the bishops are Christians does not occur to him). He also suggests that Robin Hood was not a good role model. And housing benefit is not mentioned at all (again).
It's no surprise that so many of the Mail's pundits pile in at once. Were they not so inclined, when the word came down from the Vagina Monologue, they would not keep well]