Reform the benefits system

Posted on 21-04-17 by Graeme Williams Number of votes: 0 | Number of comments: 5

I propose a change to the social security system so that people can choose to work for their benefits. In doing so they would receive the minimum wage and only work the number of hours required to "earn" their benefits. Such work should be 'socially useful', that is, of benefit to others and well as of interest to the claimant. Such work should be seen as a proper job with the claimant/employee being entitled to take on other work if it became available without having to give up their eight hours a week.

Following the end of WW2 Labour swept to power in a landslide victory that promised the creation of a system of social security which would provide benefits 'from the cradle to the grave'. Attlee's government used the influential paper produced by Sir William Beveridge as its blueprint with its call for an attack on the five evils of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

However, I wonder if we have lost our way.

The report argued that "social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want". However, the report goes on to say that this is only one of the problems and lists others including "idleness" by which the Beveridge report meant the inactivity brought about by unemployment rather than laziness.

Does the current system, while stopping the majority of citizens from falling into "want" (though even this is debatable), encourages "idleness" through the use of sanctions?

This use of benefit sanctions is clearly contrary to what Beveridge had in mind since the report goes on to say that "the State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family."

Does the present system do exactly what the Beveridge report said that it should not: stifle incentive, opportunity and responsibility?

In reform the present system our first aim should be to reaffirm the guiding principles of the Beveridge report. We need a system that provides a basic level of social security but does not leave people unable to work through sanctions. Recipient should have a certain level of financial security while continuing to use their skills and abilities for the benefit of both their family and the wider community.

The second aim is that any reform should be fair to all. No one should be required to work excessive hours in order to receive their benefits but equally no one should be seen as living in luxury at the taxpayers' expense. The system should be fair both to those who are receiving benefits and to those who pay tax.

The final aim of any solutionshould be that it is demonstrably cost effective providing more benefits (both financial and otherwise) than the present system.

I propose a change to the social security system so that people can choose to work for their benefits. In doing so they would receive the minimum wage and only work the number of hours required to "earn" their benefits. So, for example, if the minimum wage was £10 an hour and unemployment benefit was approximately £80 a week, then they would work 8 hours a week.

Such work should usually be 'socially useful', that is, of benefit to others and well as of interest to the claimant. While I would want to keep a broad a definition as possible as to what constitutes 'socially useful' nevertheless, I have set out some examples and thoughts in Appendix A.

Such work should be seenas a proper job with the claimant/employee being entitled to all the benefits of employment including job security, membership of a union, pension rights etc. Furthermore, just as people who have one part time job may take on another, they would be able to take on other work if it became available without having to give up their eight hours a week; as long as they were doing something that was demonstrably useful to society they would continue to have a job.

 

Referring to: Work, Pensions and Equality

The Work, Pensions and Equality Policy Commission is charged with developing Labour’s policy on social security, poverty and equalities.

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