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David Cameron must beware of hitting his dream ‘striver’ voters

9 October 2012

Now that the Tories have at least agreed within their own party that they can find £10 billion of further cuts to the welfare budget, they are starting to ramp up the rhetoric on why it’s fair to do this, and how they can achieve it. Yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne said this:

‘Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits? When we say we’re all in this together, we speak for that worker. We speak all those who want to work hard and get on.’

Today, David Cameron described the sort of person that he thinks the Conservatives don’t speak for as he fleshed out some of his thoughts on where the next round of welfare cuts might fall. He said:

‘But the point I’d make is this: we do send some strange, strange signals in the benefit system If you’re a young person, you leave college, you get a job, you’re often having to live at home – often into your thirties, because you can’t afford a flat – and yet if you’re out of work you are able to claim housing benefit and get a flat. So you’re able to live separately from your parents, while the working person isn’t able to. Now is that fair, I’d ask?’

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The Prime Minister makes a compelling point. A welfare state under which people out of work are better off and have more choices than those in work is a failing system. But there is one flaw to his argument that I find extremely difficult to believe he hasn’t grasped yet. This would all be very well if most housing benefit claimants were indeed out of work. But they aren’t. In fact, analysis of the government’s own figures suggests that 93 per cent of the increase in housing benefit claimants between January 2010 and December 2011 came from those in work, and a quarter of people who are renting a property and in employment claim housing benefit. Overall, 17.5 per cent of claimants in that period were in work. So when George Osborne is talking about a shift-worker leaving home in the dark, he’s describing someone who may well be getting state help to pay their rent. Housing benefit claimants are quite often the strivers who work hard, do the right thing and struggle to make ends meet that the Tories are so keen to reach out to.

There’s clearly an argument here about wages, which Boris Johnson, with his voluntary London Living Wage, might want to contribute to. But Conservative MPs I’ve been chatting to over the past 24 hours since the chancellor announced his intentions to go ahead with welfare cuts are actually getting a little bit nervous. Some are worried that the new round of cuts will either hit low-paid strivers like that shift worker, while others are muttering about threats to benefits for families. They are concerned that cutting the latter will affect swing voters while previous cuts have either hit those who don’t vote at all, or those who would never vote Conservative. The Prime Minister isn’t wrong to talk about entitlement, but he is wrong to assume that all housing benefit claimants are scroungers. They could well be his dream voters.

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Show comments
  • Farquar Buttonhole

    Usual tosh being spouted by people who haven’t a clue what it is like to struggle on benefits, to be evicted by private landlards for no fault of one’s own. To have the worry of having a roof over one’s head rather than a cardboard box. To have to not put the central heating on at this time of year with the temperature down to 6 deg C.

    Of course £10 billion is going to make all the difference to balancing the books isn’t it?
    Heaven forfend that the £95 billion unpaid taxes should be a priority.

    Of course it is the claimants own fault that they were made redundant because of government cutbacks in the public sector, or made unemployed due to the recession that this shambling bunch of zombies is perpetuating.

  • Taz

    Cameron compares the hard worker who is well into his 30s before he can live apart from his parents to the unemployed worker claiming housing benefit to be able to live independently. Why is he not shocked by the fact that somebody can work 15 years straight and still not afford a home of their own to rent or buy?

    If you acknowledge that both of these are bad situations, why is there only really emphasis on the straw man scrounger?

  • Claire.S

    The key to this is the income tax as per James 102. As an individual you have to be earning in excess of 20,000 per year NOT to get housing benefit. That is just ridiculous. Much cheaper to take people out of tax and let them shift for themselves and break this dependency on the state. Would also give them back some pride. And thats not even starting on the subject of the massively complicated tax credits system which was always just a make work scheme for Gordon Brown’s mates.

  • Daniel Maris

    The problem for the Conservatives is that they are primarily a capitalist rather than a populist party.

    The capitalist brain doesn’t really want to reform welfare or stop mass immigration whatever the populist heart of the party might say.

    So what do we get? PR puffery as usual.

    You can’t end welfare dependency without bringing in full employment – making work in effect compulsory.

  • 2trueblue

    Isabel, your blog starts off in a negative tone, why? Do you agree or disagree?
    This is why I get fed up with journalists, you colour the article in the first line.

    There is a difference between someone who has help with their rent/council tax and someone whose total bill is picked up by the state/us.
    Child benefit is the crazy, it should only be paid for the first 2 children, then it really is a choice….. for the person/s who want more children. The present system actually promotes large families, at our expense.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Just goes to show how insidious the socialist dream and the attempt to bribe the whole country to vote Labour has been, undermining real effort with a fake reality that no western economy can now, or in future, afford.

  • Mike Barnes

    Wages didn’t rise during the last boom. That is fact. Benefits had to be paid to working families so they could afford to live.

    If the minimum wage had kept up with executive director pay since 1999 it would be well over £19 per hour by now. Nobody on £19 per hour would need tax credits. However while business was booming minimum wage stalled and Brown was forced to dish out the proceeds of growth so we could afford to eat. It had nothing to do with buying votes.

    • AnotherDaveB

      The minimum wage is already a contributory factor to unemployment. Increasing it would be foolish.

    • HooksLaw

      The minimum wage is just that a minimum for low grade or entry level jobs – its idiotic to compare it with boardroom pay and bonuses rather than inflation.

      • Mike Barnes

        Why is it idiotic to compare the two exactly? You think it’s good for social cohesion when one tiny sector of society takes so much of the wealth at the expense of the majority?

        Even David Cameron recognised the need to share the proceeds of growth more equally when he was pretending to be nice to get elected.

        • james102

          Executives are not in competition from workers from the four
          corners of the Earth—yet.

          • Hobbes

            No, that’s because in a lot of cases, the renumeration boards and chair boards are closed circles that feed back into each other. There’s no competition because it’s essentially a cartel. If boards were opened up to true capitalist competition their salaries would *plummet*.

    • james102

      Supply and demand determines wages. Immigration has kept
      wages down by increasing supply. And I would prefer no: “fallacy of the lump of
      labour” comments unless they include the implications of welfare benefits and
      the minimum wage.

  • anyfool

    The trouble with Cameron and Osborne is that they have not realised the extent of Browns interlocking of benefits and wages, they do not realise it goes well past the average wages and that tinkering about with it can actually hurt people above median income who have factored this into their monthly budgets, not as easy an option as they think.

    • HooksLaw

      I suspect they do, but the electorate in its wisdom have not given them a majority to work with. Equally even with the desire to amend things there is the political difficulty of changing things so quickly it destabilises society. You may not care about riots in the streets but governments do.

      • james102

        The state sector is too large, particularly areas that deal
        with political ideology such as policy units in local authorities, ‘pilgrims’
        (employees that are paid but work full time on union business)’Equalities”
        units and training ,local newspapers distributed by councils, so-called
        charities which rely on government grants to lobby governments about
        various fashionable causes…legal aid
        for foreign nationals,NHS treatment for
        health tourists and others not entitled to it, foreign aid to countries
        such as India which itself gives foreign aid to other countries, and no doubt
        many others that posters could identify. Cut them out. Use the money to raise
        the tax threshold for lower paid workers and adjust benefit entitlements.

      • George_Arseborne

        HooksLaw states that if the electorates doubt your competence they will never give you a majority. So Cameron and Osborne are the Weakest Link in the Conservative Party

    • Stiffit

      It’s not just the quarter of all tenants who are dependent on Housing Benefit, it’s their landlords who are relying on the benefits to prop up their rental income.

      • james102

        In most cases these landlords are housing associations and
        councils so around it all goes.

        • Stiffit

          But probably decreasingly:

          The number of claimants in the private rented sector increased by 213,000
          between January 2010 and December 2011 compared to an increase of 87,000
          claimants in the social rented sector. This is despite the fact that the private
          rented sector only accounted for less than one-third of claimants (29.8 per cent)
          in January 2010. Average claims in the private rented sector were £108.54 per
          week during December 2011 compared to average claims of £76.51 per week
          in the social rented sector. Therefore, the increase in claimant numbers in the
          private rented sector may put upward pressure on Housing Benefit expenditure.

  • TomTom

    Osborne and Cameron should learn what the system is before mucking around with it. They have no idea of how that tax system turns workers into benefit recipients, or how once your income drops you end up in a nightmare world of unethical choices

    • james102

      Completely agree. All those ‘single parents’ living in social housing estates that are
      nothing of the sort but the father of the children can’t register because the
      family will lose benefits and they would not be able to support themselves.

      The government has created a situation where for the working
      class it is foolish to be honest.

    • claire.s

      Yes they need to sit down with two webpages: an income tax calculator and a benefits calculator.When you see that at the national average wage you are still getting benefits,tax credits etc you see that the majority of the population is dependent on the state-not healthy. Slash tax, with a flat rate and income tax starting at around 25,000 and you could cut lots of admin costs and set those people free.

    • George_Arseborne

      To actually stop people from receiving benefit or what l call top ups, think of living wages and reduce Taxes. As rightly stated 93% of those claiming are in work or strivers that Cameron and Osborne jokingly appealing to them

  • james102

    53% of households are net recipients of welfare, which is

    Many of the same people claiming housing benefits are paying
    taxes which if they weren’t they could pay their rent with.

    The whole European social model is in its death throes due
    to demographics, so we need to start changing now.

    • telemachus

      I do not actually disagree with you
      I too am sick of the something for nothing mentality of a segment of our population
      It is the way the message is given and the glorification of some of the less caring Tories in rubbing the faces of all the disadvantaged in their need to be ever so grateful
      I would like to hear some economic message of optimism
      Something to tell me the country should be striving for greatness and at the same time giving our youth a purpose in jobs however created
      In short the message I am hearing from the platform and the fringe in Birmingham is depressing

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