Archive for January, 2012

Child Benefit and welfare reform

Recent debates over welfare reform highlight some of the profound difficulties in making cuts in the way this government has approached it.  In effect, the current reforms are presented as ‘salami-slicing’ – that is, taking each programme and reducing it, taking a little off the end.  So, Child Benefit is not abolished, it is just withdrawn from those families deemed to not need it.  The approach leads to problems because they try to do it on the cheap.  To assess each family, its financial status etc, would require a whole new army of administrators and detailed criteria.  Much simpler is to say that an income over a certain level disqualifies you from receiving the benefit.  However, the injustices are, much like the Poll Tax, glaringly apparent upon the simplest of analysis, and opposition has focused upon this.

A more profound analysis might ask different questions.  Why do we have Child Benefit?  Why is it paid to all, regardless of income?  It was, historically, a tax allowance.  But this meant that the wage earner received the benefit in a reduction in income tax.  Since the wage earner was, in the past, normally the man of the house (so much of the welfare state assumed this in the 1940s and 1950s), the money didn’t always benefit the child, most of whom were cared for by women.  So, to replace the tax allowance, Child Benefit was introduced – a simple payment to all mothers of children of qualifying ages.  There is no stigma attached, it was popular with women of all political persuasions (research suggested that it was the main source of income independent of the husband for even Tory women) and it was cheap to administer.  So much of this has changed.  Can we conceive of a different system that takes into account the changes since?  Indeed, can we not think of entirely different ways to achieve the original policy objectives (what were they again), even assuming those objectives remain valid?

But policy inertia dominates.  Nothing too radical is proposed (yes, there are long term plans for a single benefit system, but that is some way off).  The opposition simply opposes.  And, in the end, we will lumber on with little real change.

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Maggie the movie

I heard the old chant: ‘Maggie, Maggie Maggie.  Out, out out!’  It appears people have been demonstrating outside the cinemas when the Thatcher movie is showing.  I am not sure if the chants are ironic, or perhaps it is some kind of collective memory trip.  Speaking to people in Merseyside, it seems to me that quite a few are very uncharitable towards Maggie.  Some have said they wouldn’t watch the film.  Others have suggested that they will – just to see her looking frail and old.  Not kind.

Race and conviction

I am slightly hesitant about commenting on the Stephen Lawrence convictions.  In part, this is because there is little to say at face value.  But I am always a little wary of any convictions supported (even pre-empted) by The Daily Mail and the police – why is everyone so certain about the two convicted and the other three that ‘got away’.  I don’t want to spin conspiracy theories, but let us hope that the jurors thought long and hard about the evidence.  Similar levels of certainty surrounded the convictions of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four in the 1970s.  The police were under pressure to get convictions then as well.

And then, within 24 hours, the police are using the case to argue for more resources.  The ‘crack squad’ that caught these two (they took 18 years) are to be disbanded because of cuts.  Save their jobs or the other three will go free!!  Rubbish.  If, as we are also told, murder rates have declined in London, a cut in the numbers of officers investigating the crime would make sense – there are other priorities.  Or should London police still be geared up to investigate cattle rustling,  just in case?

And then, instead of debating the state of race politics and racial violence in the UK (good headlines from The Independent yesterday), the press turn on Diane Abbott.  It seems to me that she is now a victim of exactly the divide and rule tactics she suggested were used.  Instead of using the word ‘white’, she might have been more tempered in her language – and even then, I am not in agreement with her.  But look at the record and you will scratch your head.  Why is she vilified now?  Why are we even talking about it?

Less reaction, more consideration and understanding might be in order all around.