the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Benefits redux and finale

I've been told to ease off on the benefits talk because I'm starting to sound like a Tory voter. I'll oblige after one last post.

So it's easy to moan but if someone made me Prime Minsiter for a day, what would I do?

Well, first I'd tell Brussels to stuff off and instead make it clear there'd be no benefit cuts for existing recipients.

Second I'd admit that the vast majority of people on housing benefits aren't feckless layabout scroungers (I think that's the popular term) - a point the Guardian and its readers make quite regularly and enthusiastically.

I'd then say that people, even those who are poor or disadvantaged or in need of help are still human beings who should be respected and trusted enough to make decisions for themselves. The Guardian and its readers are curiously silent on this point, usually.

Then I'd just give them the money. Inflation indexed, no questions asked, no strings attached. Let people pay their own rent. Or not. Let 'em do whatever they want with it.

Now, some people will stay where they are, they'll pay the landlord. No difference. But less DSS bureaucracy.

Other people will take the money, move to a cheaper home in the same area, or move to a cheaper neighbourhood. They'll have more disposable income. They'll spend some of it on transport costs (perhaps), they might drink it away, they might blow it on bling and iPods and Sky sports, they might use the extra money on clothes or food or books for their children or go on holiday or buy the occasional treat they couldn't afford, maybe they'll even save some of it.

But they're grownups, and as a matter of principle and pragmatism, let them decide how to spend the money. These people will have decided that they value that extra money each month more when it's not tied up in housing. Their income is the same but since they have more choice they've maximised what's important to them, they're better off.

Turning that around, giving someone an overpriced home in an expensive borough is telling them they can have a nice home as long as they're willing to be 'more poor' in other ways. How is this progressive? How is this in the best interests of those in need? It isn't. It's patronising and perverse.

I won't waffle on about the benefits for the property market, for local economies, the run-on effects of a national debate on 'fairness' when it's all in cash and all discretionary and when the benefits claimant from Rotherham asks why the claimant from Westminster deserves more in the eyes of the government.

So I'd just give people the money.

{2010.10.29 14:24}

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