Anyone reading this that also follows me on Twitter will have had a delicious appetizer of what is about to come. You see, it is not my intention that I personally take issue with every “issue of the week” that dominates our media… it just so happens that these past couple of weeks have dealt out fuckery at the same rate that the US healthcare system dishes out prescription meds to “problem children.” Essentially, the more I thought about and discussed this issue with others, the more this post became something of an inevitability. My opinion on this proposed legislation could perhaps be observed as both one-note and multi-faceted. So I hope you, my dear reader, will sit back as I explain precisely why I think the Conservative government’s supposed new housing benefit strategy is wrong, and the multi-numeral reasons why. I hope that this post will be described by future commentators as “deliciously ranty.”
And so it begins.
All of those unfamiliar with the detail of Cameron’s plan, I can spell it out to you extremely quickly and simply. For this is not just policy, it is an idea so absurdly basic and uncomplicated that it seems almost designed to appeal to those entirely unable (or unwilling) to get their head’s around anything more highly convoluted. As a student of Policy, someone who is educationally committed to analysis and understanding of government frameworks and decisions (amongst other things), it is almost entirely unfathomable that the country’s leading politician could be consider one of the most basic bitch, black-and-white ideas I have ever come across to be either groundbreaking or potentially flagship. The government policy documents read as this: “People under the age of 25 are disallowed from claiming of Housing Benefit.” Now if at university one of my lecturers required me to explore and discuss this by means of assessment, I can only imagine my 14 word essay would read as follows…
“This policy has clearly been pulled directly out of David Cameron’s clueless, privileged arse.”
I have honestly never heard of a piece of potential legislation that has sounded so much as though it has been thought up in less time than it takes to cook a frozen pizza. Not that Dave’s ever eaten one of those. In my mind’s eye, the meeting in which this idea was imagined shows a sweaty-palmed Cameron with some dilapidated intern, concerned that he has to make some form of benefits-bashing announcement later that day with no fucking idea what he’s going to say. Said intern cautiously produces a spinny device not unlike that used whilst playing popular limb-locking party game “Twister”, that i’m going to call the “wheel of welfare.” Cameron, noticing that “Winter Fuel Allowance” has been scored out and flustered by his lack of alternatives, agrees and spins. The arrow lands of the section entitled “housing benefit.” “Right, that’s ok!”, thinks Cameron. He can work with that. But what can he do with it? “But what can I DO WITH IT?!”, he yelps at his intern. Mousey intern, in their bewilderment, suggests some possible “age restriction? Yes, age restriction!” before getting back to what they’re not being paid to do. Dave struggles to define a specific age himself, eventually settling for allowing his 2 year old daughter to pick up a solitary random piece of Duplo that he has personally vandalised with the numbers 16 to 40. And so a policy is BORN!
As many of you will have seen, this was then announced using a myriad of cliches and hypothetical constituents, the majority of whom have ceased and failed to exist in 21st century Britain. You have the young engaged couple who live with their respective parents, toiling away, saving up to get married and move out. I’m going to call this couple Sally and Johnny, and choose to believe that Dave met them in brief hallucinogenic episode in which he found himself transported back to 1952. He also mentions a young girl, just out of college. She wants to move out but apparently the ridiculously under-regulated private rental market is pricing her out! Her job as a receptionist just doesn’t pay enough… hey, I wonder if she’s entitled to some of the several billion pounds worth of benefits that go unclaimed every year?
Now, when Cameron’s plans revealed themselves to me over the airwaves, I couldn’t help but think that he had woefully misjudged the public mood. Following the storm regarding tax avoidance last week, myself and many others assumed that people would remain het up about the disgusting amounts of money that wealthy individuals and businesses manage to not pay into the Treasury as should be required. I figured that any governmental attempt to redirect the vitriol away from their wealthy pals and back towards the poorer in society would be met warily at best by those on the receiving end.
Well, if recent YouGov polling is to be believed, apparently not! Either this populace has a somewhat unsavoury appetite for demonisation or i’ve truly underestimated how blinkered and easily manipulated people can be. A majority 55% of people polled agreed with this idea. Even 42% of those aged 18-24 enjoy shooting themselves in the foot by agreeing.
Now, this is what I think of that. Whilst it is extremely nice that 42% of those in my age group feel comfortable enough to feel as though they will never find themselves in desperate need of a safety net in relation to financing their accommodation, I cannot tell whether their assertions are born of optimism or hardened vindictiveness. Maybe 42% of 18-24 year olds are just positively gleaming at the prospect of being chained to the parental abode whilst trying to set themselves up in life, regardless of the economic prosperity or suitability of job roles in the area? I don’t know. One observation I will make though, is that I imagine at least a couple of percent included are probably entitled to some form of housing benefit that they’re entirely unaware they could claim. Because that’s exactly how much they actually know about the UK welfare system.
Because if they actually knew any more about the UK welfare system, they would realise that over 200,000 (of roughly 385,000 claimants in total) of those claiming housing benefit under the age of 25 are already parents of children themselves. They would also know that a substantial proportion of housing benefit claimants are not the “filthy dole scum scoungers” (I say in my best Daily Mail mock-outraged tone) you might expect but actually, the good hardworking people that David Cameron spends far too much of his time trying to verbally fellate. The people that work their hardest and still do not earn enough to cover their rent, primarily because their pay is far too low and their rent is TOO DAMN HIGH!
This is before we even consider the age group, the one being demonised yet again, that are the targets of this reform. This demographic are desperately trying to get a start in life that will allow them to prosper and succeed. Now, as I have mentioned, at the heart of these Tory reforms lies an assumption that young people can stay in the parental home until the age of 25 without qualms from either party. My issues with this particular cornerstone are plentiful, but I will try and keep my protests succinct. This idea is absurdly old-fashioned, entirely unaspirational and so evidently devised through rose-tinted upper middle class lenses. Simply the complete ignorance of the 21st century familial landscape and the tyranny of individual situations is both laughable and reprehensible. Everything Cameron utters regarding the realities of life for “normal people” completely flummoxes me in it’s obvious limited existence, primarily inside of his own head. And how entirely unsurprising of the Tories to counteract their own rhetoric about being mobile whilst seeking work! What does Cameron seek to gain by the infantilisation of a young generation that are supposed to be enterprising and sufficient enough not to collapse under the weight of considerable demographic pressure in the form of both retiring and non-retiring baby-boomers? The only lucky people in this scenario are those whose parents happen to live in the cities where the real careers lie. And even they aren’t getting the chance to begin the proper adult life that they deserve. It’s an idea that you might have realistically floated back in an era with scarcely any social mobility and far less concentration of employment. Back when Princess Elizabeth was ascending to the throne, perhaps.
We just celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. Oops.