Post by Ian
Eighteen Church of England bishops wrote to the Observer on Sunday 20th November encouraging the government to rethink their cap of £500 a week on benefits, to be brought in in the Welfare Reform bill.
I struggle with this. On the one hand, they have a point. People who have been receiving more than this, sometimes far more, will feel the pinch as the cap comes in. On the other, is it right that people can receive £26,000 a year tax-free in state benefits - especially in these hard times. This is equivalent to £34,765 before tax. There are a great many working people who do not earn this much and have to manage on what they earn. Why should anyone expect the "right" or "entitlement" to such a sum?
Surely, benefits should be a safety net and a "ladder back to work". However, there are families who have two to three generations that have never worked. Despite this, they expect to be able to cash in the giro each week. Priorities have become skewed, food and shelter taking second place to expenditure on mobile phones, cars and cigarettes. The work ethic disappears in to an attitude of entitlement as the next generation grows in to this environment.
My liberal tendencies struggle with this. I don't think people should be cast off in to poverty. Yet, my strong sense of fairness rails against a free hand out of money that others work hard for, and on which they manage to make ends meet for their families. I definitely don't believe that a life on benefits should be long term or easy. My own financial conservatism is horrified at the amount that is given out. It is more than possible to raise a family on this amount, and live comfortably if careful. I know this as I've done it.
I have no answers, and I don't know if the Welfare Reform Bill will fix anything. It might indeed make things work. It surely is not fair to give out an amount of money that many working people can only aspire to earn. This is why people are trapped in dependency. It becomes uneconomical to move off benefits back in to work. This goes against the idea of benefits as a safety net or as a ladder back in to the working world.
I think the bishops are out of touch with reality in speaking out against the benefit cap. Many working people will resent non-working people more than they earn, at their expense. Especially if this is done on a long-term basis. Even more so if the person who is receiving the benefits has never worked.
I would appeal to the government differently. The line must be walked, grant people the safety net if they fall on hard times. Give them the ladder back in to work. However, maintain a system that is fair to those who are working hard to pay the taxes that fund the system.
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