As happened with the Poll Tax, it should be possible to bring down IDS’s workfare plans. The Poll Tax disappeared surprisingly quickly in the face of massive public revulsion. Challenging workfare will be more difficult, because Poll Tax protesters had two advantages not immediately available to workfare protesters: the injustice was plain as a pikestaff, and more people were disadvantaged. Even so, with sufficient publicity, the same should happen, preferably without the violence.
But on the other hand workfare rests on a much shakier foundation than did the Poll Tax. Readers can read details of the practical difficulties already threatening the whole workfare edifice , and the extensive scam opportunities it is giving rise to in
But responses to earlier posts, and to my comments on The Void, suggest that it will be harder than I expected to persuade those who want to get rid of workfare how crucial it is to attack the principle of means testing. As my earlier posts and pages explain, the government and the anti-scrounger press can ignore all protests as long as the system actually encourages the behaviour they allege. The statistics do not back up the allegations, but it is still true that the system discourages people on benefits from seeking work.
What makes this particularly sad – infuriating for me – is that the donkey work has been done for us – by an unexpected source. Readers may be suspicious of Dynamic Benefits (2009), a report by a think tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith
Sure enough, most of Dynamic is as dodgy as you would expect, given its provenance. But the bit I advise shouting from the housetops, or better still in this day and age, via the internet, mobile, Skype or whatever, is the thorough demolition of what is/was wrong with the welfare state in the first section. Chunks from the early sections of Dynamic could be cut and pasted under the heading “The case for a Citizens’ Income”. But not only is there no mention of the CI, neither is there anything inconsistent with the present government’s ‘workfare’ plans. Dynamic takes for granted ‘Welfare to Work’ schemes as part of the answer, and even more ominously projects savings to the Exchequer in the medium term.
Dynamic Benefits was commissioned, not written by IDS. He may or may not have agreed with, or been pleased to see all its contents. Those of us with a very different agenda from the government can use the facts so starkly explained to support our case. Even before the government ran away even further from the implications of those facts, Dynamic phrased the question it had set itself as:
“What is the minimum change we can get away with which reduces the existing work disincentive?”
For those of us who see workfare as oppressive, especially in a recession with limited employment prospects anyway, a better question would have been:
“What would be the fairest tax/benefit arrangements?”
I have received some curious comments from people who follow johnnyvoid. One thinks that Marxist socialism is the answer. It may be, but will anyone with an ATOS interview next week please say which gives them the most hope, that millennium, or a direct attack on workfare now? Another agrees with me:
“Citizens’ Income would not allow scope for the scapegoating and demonisation of the poor. I believe it is credible, and viable and above all affordable.”
Yet (s)he thinks now is not the time to press for it because the government has a scapegoating agenda. Of course the government will not want the CI to become a mainstream idea. That is why it is important for the rest of us to get it into the public debate. The CI is not difficult to understand. Means testing is a tax – massive to anyone losing benefits, irrelevant to nearly everybody else, but there are those who hope nobody will notice.
Why is this monstrous injustice not even noticed by its direct victims? I am dumbfounded myself, but at least there is a historical reason. It dates from the 1942 Beveridge Report. That report assumed that full employment for male breadwinners would be guaranteed in perpetuity once Hitler had been defeated. Lady Rhys Williams, a Liberal member of the Beveridge Commission, proposed a minority report pointing out that whenever that faltered, the serious problem which Dynamic Benefits explains so fully would occur. But the Trade Union dominated commission insisted on total suppression of Lady Rhys Williams’ dissenting report proposing, even then, a Basic, or Citizens’ Income. As long as full employment was a realistic aim, the national insurance based scheme would render this danger minimal. That this mind set has persisted for so many years is odd, but for this still to be so even for those being persecuted by it is bizarre.
As I write, there are two news items where the Citizens’ Income should be in, if not actually the end of the discussion, but of course it is not mentioned: the Labour idea of 6-month jobs, and the introduction of means testing on Child benefit for higher income groups. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says it will promote incoherence. Quite, but as a look at their report:
reveals, they apparently fail to notice the obvious solution. I will leave readers to work out what is lacking from Ed Miliband’s proposal.