Anal­y­sis: Wel­fare Cuts

The Church of England - - ENGLAND ON SUNDAY - By Tommy Gee

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.”

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