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Monday 26 July 2010

Picking On The Poorest – 1

Here in the UK, provision of welfare benefits costs a significant amount of money – rather more than 150 billions, in fact. So any significant saving in this area might be thought a good thing. However, when the proposals come from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (representing less than one tenth of one per cent of taxpayers, and still no up to date accounts or list of donors), there is a natural tendency to scepticism.

And that scepticism is well placed: the publication last week of Welfare Reform In Tough Fiscal Times: Creating A Better And Cheaper Benefits System [pdf] by the TPA achieves its objective of simplifying the system while reducing its cost mainly through the use of one crude device, that of reducing the poverty line. Moreover, the report, while giving the impression of detailed costing and rigorous analysis, does not completely explain how much the system it proposes would cost.

Analysis of the TPA report is made less than straightforward by its sheer volume – much of it unnecessary. Parts of the text are repeated, some several times, while part of the appendices goes into an excessive level of detail on such items as computer records and payment frequency. One feature characteristic of much TPA “research” is the use of graphs and equations to demonstrate to anyone still awake that this is a learned and serious document.

But, surely, the themes it stresses – maintaining a “safety net” for the least fortunate in society while giving them an inventive to take up work – are sound? In themselves they are. But lowering the poverty line – not just its level but also its definition – coupled with the all pervasive “incentivising” does not tell us the full story. Fortunately, one of the report’s authors, by his candour, has told us where the TPA is really heading.

As ever, we start at the very beginning – a very good place to start. Stay tuned.

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