Analysis: Welfare Cuts
There is a sterility surrounding the current debate with claims and counter-claims about myths and changes in benefits, so perhaps a more fundamental look at poverty and its alleviation, is needed, rather than highlight atypical cases in large families or special circumstances.
Poverty is relative and depends on where you live, past experience, ‘expectations’ and surrounding norms. Falling below average national income is one approach. To use an international average as the basis for defining poverty might be regarded by some as both rational and Christian, but unrealistic in today’s world overtaken by unregulated markets conducted by the rich and greedy who have most of the power.
Nevertheless, there is a case for no economic growth, certainly in the West, with new enterprises replacing those that disappear. The expanding world population cannot be sustained unless there is a redistribution from rich to poor, both nationally and between nations.
In any event, places at the table must be found for the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil etc., (the socalled Brics). And it is becoming apparent that the impending tsunami of emigration from poor countries, especially as their own climates change, and the movement of people cannot be controlled or stemmed.
But we can at least look at current poverty in our own back yard, the purpose of this note, which is not based on complex statistics arising from a sample survey; rather it is how it seems to be in the village where I live.
I believe we should look at what appear to be typical cases rather than the average. Governments legislate for the latter and then immediately anomalies, problems and arguments arise. The exercise of informed and wise administrative discretion often proves to be a better way of curing poverty than a complex set of rules based on wide sweeping decisions.
Examination of a typical low weekly household budget for two struggling on the margins with little money might be: Food £25 Rent £100 Electricity, heat and water £30 Travel £15 Council Tax £30 TV, Newspaper, School, misc £15 Contingencies, Emergencies £20 Total £235 per week. Say £12.000 pa, or half of the national average.
This bare budget does not allow for any frills, alcohol, cigarettes, Xmas, Sky TV, or holidays, but with care it provides a safety net on what may be termed the bread-line, at a level which the minister himself has claimed he once survived, and which I too am testing in my quest for simplicity, or the simple life.
What is the income of a typical single mother not in work with an only ‘teenage’ child? Housing benefit, just cut because she is in a three bedroom council house ................................................£70 per week Other social benefits inc child allowance ..£80 per week Total ............................................................£150 per week
The elderly married couple living on their combined basic OAPs of some £200 per week, or £10,400pa enjoy pension credit.
It is the former especially the child, for whom the cuts are the most unkind, and where survival also requires a safety net. This requires income redistribution so as to provide more generous benefits.
These are the poor who deserve our attention. They are being failed by our prejudice, possibly by ignorance, too often a lack of compassion, by sweeping measures and political point scoring bickering. Let us give them our attention, and make sure they have a safety net.
The excellent detailed work undertaken for the Rowntree Trust on Minimum Income Standards (MIS) recommends the income people need to achieve a socially acceptable standard, which it points out is relevant to the discussion of poverty, and that households classified as in relative income poverty are generally unable to reach acceptable standards of living as defined by the public. Those with 60% of median income are usually classified as poor, or in poverty.
OAPs receive pension credit, a safety net benefit on top of pension which brings them up to MIS, but the out of work benefits for the single parent with one child leave them on the poverty line, with much less than their basic expenditure needs.
UNICEF UK states in a recent poverty report by Dragan Nastic that “child poverty is about more than income or the lack of items in a given list, and that children can be poor in love and attention, in parental time and skills, in relationships and community”.
Which sounds very much like the scriptures to me and a reason why we should reflect on what Jesus would have done about it. I believe we need to identify the families whose budgets fail to provide basic needs and to make sure that their poverty and that of their children is protected by a safety net. If we can do it for pensioners, surely we can do it to make sure our children are provided for.
In many cases it is mothers who struggle - and they need our help. We must “mind the gap”. Church Typos Lift up our Messianic brothers and sisters in Israel who are suffering during our prayer time. Note: All numbers have been rounded to assist the reader
and to show the order magnitude. The following series of advertisements reportedly appeared in a daily newspaper: Monday: “The Rev AJ Jones has one colour TV set for sale. Telephone 626-1313 after 7pm and ask for Mrs Donnelley who lives with him, cheap.”
Tuesday: “We regret any embarrassment caused to Rev Jones by a typographical error in yesterday’s paper. The ad should have read: ‘The Rev AJ Jones has one colour TV set for sale, cheap...Telephone 626-1313 and ask for Mrs Donnelley, who lives with him after 7pm.’”
Wednesday: “The Rev AJ Jones informs us that he has received several annoying telephone calls because of an incorrect ad in yesterday’s paper. It should have read: ‘The Rev AJ Jones has one colour TV set for sale, cheap. Telephone 626-1313 after 7pm and ask for Mrs Donnelley who loves with him.’”
Thursday: “Please take notice that I, the Rev AJ Jones, have no colour TV set for sale; I have smashed it. Don’t call 626-1313 anymore. I have not been carr ying on with Mrs Donnelley. She was, until yesterday, my housekeeper.’” Friday: “Wanted: a housekeeper. Usual housekeeping duties. Good pay. Love in, Rev AJ Jones. Telephone 626- 1313.’”
Mistakes are inevitable in the publishing business. Urban Myths A Lutheran newsletter has some tongue-incheek suggestions for church members unhappy with their pastor: “Simply send a copy of this letter to six other churches who are tired of their ministers. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list. Add your name to the bottom of the list. In one week you will receive 16,436 ministers, and one of them should be a dandy. Have faith in this letter. One man broke the chain and got his old minister back.”