My interest in how welfare worked was sparked off pretty much as soon as I landed on these shores as an immigrant, but I started taking it more seriously when I'd moved up the ranks within my chosen field of work - employability. One of the watershed moments for me came when Lord Freud crossed the floor out of utter frustration with the Labour Party's feigned impotence over welfare reform and joined the Conservatives. In the decade I have spent working with the unemployed, the underemployed and the disadvantaged, I have watched the Labour Party make a hash of many opportunities to make welfare work. My experiences have convinced me that this was deliberate. Maybe this will be something I talk about at a later date.
For now, there's something more immediate: Stupid season is upon us again.
The thing is, Welfare Reform has ALWAYS been a subject of discussion in the UK. Labels like 'feckless scroungers' have ALWAYS been bandied about. The Daily Mail has ALWAYS maintained the tone it does - for as long as anyone can remember. None of this is new.
Of course, the rhetoric on both sides intensified after 2010, but that was expected. Welfare Reform has ALWAYS been a key Tory plank. It was always going to attract the worst of Labour and the Left. But then, just when you think the Labour Party and it's associated shills couldn't sink any lower, they turn around and surprise you. The latest opportunity presented itself in form of the gruesome murder of 6 young children by their father, girlfriend and a close - too close, as we have learned - family friend.
Yes you're reading this correctly - it is the LEFT that is making political mileage out of this horrific tragedy, not the Right. Before I explain why I think so, I need to touch upon something else.
The language of the Leftons (my collective term for Labour voters, Lefty journalists, tweeters, unions, bloggers and communists) is quite bizarre. Here are two examples:
The first example relates to housing benefit. Under Labour, people renting homes in the private sector could claim housing benefit for a fixed amount of rooms, depending on family size and composition. If you choose to rent a dwelling with more rooms, you make up the difference - housing benefit will not cover it. Rents in the private sector tend to be higher than council housing, so families were careful when making decisions about the kind of houses they rented, should they ever need to claim housing benefit. Each local authority produced (and still do) printed grids that matched family size and the gender divide of the children with the number of rooms they would pay full housing benefit for. Allowable benefit rates (LHA - Local Housing Allowance), subject to geographical locations were provided to claimants. The LHA if you lived in Kensington & Chelsea was higher than if you lived in Waltham Forest. These, I have to say, were generous and in part played into the hands of private landlords and the buy-to-let market, fuelling house prices - especially in London. Again, this is another story for another time.
What the Conservatives have done, is extend the same rules relating to the number of bedrooms you can claim housing benefit for to public housing, where the rents are a fraction of market rates anyway. Housing benefit will only be paid for a fixed number of bedrooms, depending on size and composition of family. If you choose to rent a dwelling with more rooms, you make up the difference - housing benefit will not cover it.
That difference is what the Leftons labelled as Bedroom Tax. However idiotic that sounds, the name stuck and the Lefton poison seeped deeper into the nation's psyche.
The second example is that of the reduction of the 50% tax rate for higher earners. Higher earners only ever paid 40% - which was changed only during the death throes of the last government - knowing fully well this would be unworkable, unsustainable, undesirable and unpopular. The term 'scorched earth' comes to mind, for what they were certain of is that the next government would scale it back, and that they wouldn't be the next government. This would give them plenty of ammunition, which it did.
George Osborne's decision to reduce it - not back to the 40% which it has always been - but to 45% - still higher than anyone had ever paid, even under 13 years of Labour, elicited the predictable outcry - and the spin that comes with it.
What did they do with that? They labelled it as a "£42,000-cheque-for-millionaires". Almost in unison, every Left-wing blogger, tweeter, journalist, politician and commentator picked up the disingenuous phrase and ran with it. Online, on TV, in the papers, in their blogs and on social media. And the Lefton poison sank deeper into the nation's psyche.
This is exactly what they've done with this latest incident. We're all aware of the Philpott story. For a moment the entire nation held its breath in incredulous disbelief as the scenes unfolded on our TV screens and our newspapers. And then the Daily Mail, as the Daily Mail is wont to do, printed a headline.
Philpott was already a celebrity of sorts. He was the subject of a BBC documentary - his sordid lifestyle was public knowledge, he played the system openly and unashamedly. Everyone knew.
This should have sparked off a debate, about how it was possible for this man, who'd never worked a day for the past 20 years, to have lived the life he did. How he fathered 17 children without an income or the means to raise them. He lived loud and he lived big, right in the public eye. There was no such debate. Instead the Lefton Brigade - the press, the blogsphere and Twitterverse hijacked the issue and turned it into "The-Nasty-Tories-Are-Tarring-ALL-Benefit-Claimants-With-The-Same-Brush."
Philpott and his accomplices were jailed, but even as the sentence was read out, the Chancellor was asked if this horrific case raised questions about the welfare state which sustained the killer’s odiously degenerate lifestyle. His reply, measured and calm, included, "There is a question for government and for society about the welfare state, and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state, subsidising lifestyles like that. That debate needs to be had."
George Osborne did not say the system created Philpott’s evil. He said Philpott was ultimately responsible for the deaths of the children. And then he simply raised a question about a system that allowed Philpott to live as he did for so long at the state's expense.
Tarring all benefit claimants with the same brush?
Ed Balls, piped in with how he thought George Osborne was being ‘cynical’, acted ‘desperately’ and had ‘demeaned’ his office. This is same man behind the relentless rape of Britain's economic fortunes during his time in power.
Welfare reform is ALREADY underway. Welfare reform is a widely popular policy. The vast majority of tax payers AND benefit claimants are appalled by how Mick Philpott, well, took the mick.
This will backfire on Labour and the loons appearing on TV and in the press. They've forced themselves into a corner where they find themselves defending the status quo, which according to swathes of the British population, is indefensible.
Neither is the cold-hearted cynicism with which the Ed Balls and Owen Jones of this world are using this to score political points. Completely indefensible.