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Stereotypes, ignorance and prejudice: five Tory welfare myths

The central Tory mantra, which will reach a crescendo this weekend as the cascade of cuts kicks in, is that those on benefits are a millstone round the nation’s neck which cannot be afforded, and they should be made to work, with severe sanctions to force them to do so. This ugly vilification of the poor is riddled with stereotypes, ignorance and prejudice which are a caricature of reality:

1:   “Benefit scroungers’ swing the lead in 5-bedroom mansions in Kensington”. Indeed a recent poll revealed that people think that 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, when the government’s own figure is only 0.7%. Since April 2010 when the Coalition came into office, the use of B&Bs to take in homeless families beyond the 6-week legal time limit has ballooned 8-fold, and this type of temporary accommodation often crams families into one room and sharing a kitchen.

2:   ” Work gets people out of poverty”. Only if work is available, and with over 2.5 million unemployed and an average of 8 persons chasing every vacancy (22 in the North-East where joblessness is highest), it isn’t available for the great majority. Even if you can get work, hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers still fall below the poverty line: 90% of new claims for means-tested housing benefit have come from families with at least one employed adult.

3:   “There’s no real poverty in the UK and people on benefits aren’t really poor”. Try living on job seeker’s allowance at £71 per week. And contrary to the idea that there are no poor children in the UK, the truth is that some 3.6 million children currently grow up below the poverty line (officially defined as living in families with income below 60% of the median wage), and on current policies that is expected to rise to 4.2 million by 2020.

4:   “Welfare benefits are too high”. Nearly three-quarters of the welfare budget is spent on pensioners. A recent poll found that people think that 41% of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to the employed. The true figure is just 3%.

5:   “The best way to get rid of poverty is to reward businesses and entrepreneurs which will trickle-down to the rest of society”. Pay at the top of the biggest companies has certainly soared in the past 10 years to £4.8 millions for CEOs, 185 times average pay, but there has been no trickle-down: if the minimum wage had risen at the same rate as executive pay, it would now be £19 an hour rather than £6.19.

One Comment

  1. Jonathan Price says:

    The definition of poverty is fundamentally flawed, and ensures that there will always be people in poverty. The definition should revert to an absolute measure, as that then offers both a proper measure of poverty and some hope of relieving it.

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