Before you continue to read this diary entry, I’d like you all to do me a favour. Take a moment, and think about what springs to mind when you think of Social Security payments.
So, what did you think of? Was your first thought to those most desperately in need of help? Perhaps you were mindful of the recent rising unemployment figures? Or maybe some of the key words the Coalition has been using to characterise claimants came into your head, words like “skivers” or “scroungers”?
I guess that many of you also thought of the £26,000 benefits cap that this government introduced in four London boroughs this week.
It’s a catchy thought, isn’t it? The idea that they are restricting how much a social security claimant can claim every week and ensuring that it is “fair” is certainly what many people have expressed a desire for. The policy seems to have the support of the general public right now. The problem is, the benefits cap of £26K for me is, to a very large degree, an utter and complete fallacy.
I could go on for ages about how the government is spinning this latest policy. I could also go into the details of how the benefits cap is simply not logical but this Guardian editorial does that particularly well for me.
What worries me, however, is that because the government has pushed this £26,000 figure so heavily, it’s kind of becoming the norm to think that all social security claimants are receiving this amount (it’s important to note that the £26,000 is for a household, not a single person). The rhetoric of “giving tax payers value for money” is almost proof enough of this - after all, all social security claimants, no matter how much they receive, are tax payers as well.
As a disabled man in the support group for employment and support allowance (ESA) I am exempt from the benefits cap (please see the earlier link for a list of exemptions), but that doesn’t mean that the rhetoric doesn’t effect me. In fact, my wife and I get substantially less than £26,000 (less than half if my disability living allowance is not included) - we actually get less than what one of us would receive before tax for a full time job on minimum wage. And remember, with the introduction of the bedroom tax and changes to council tax support the amount we have is being eroded even further.
The rhetoric and demonisation of social security claimants only helps to compound the difficulties of living when you have a serious disability, like when George Osborne equates it to a “lifestyle choice”, and the benefits cap adds to that rhetoric. And maybe that’s the idea - another divisive policy to further alienate those worst off.
It certainly feels that way.