Another Day, Another Bad Idea

Shiv Malik highlights the latest silly welfare reform idea from the government. The idea is to cut housing benefit for workless people under twenty-five. Here is the Telegraph spin on it:

The radical proposal is being worked on by Downing Street and the Department for Work and Pensions as part of a drive to make sure people are better off working than on benefits.

At the moment, people under the age of 25 can get housing benefit to help pay the rent for bed-sits or rooms in shared accommodation if their wages and savings are below a certain level.

However, they could be forced to live with parents or other relatives, like many other young people in their first jobs.

Like many welfare reform ideas it sounds good at first glance – why should an unemployed person get a free house when some working people have to live at home? A further moment’s thought reveals potential problems with the idea, that may cost us more in the long term. With something like five people chasing every vacancy it’s not necessarily the claimant’s fault if s/he cannot find work. The claimant could have lost a job through no fault of their own, such as redundancy or sickness. The policy will disporportionately affect working class people, whose parents maybe can’t afford to keep them living at home, or don’t want them living at home. It is a policy aimed at dividing the young against each other. Its effects will be homelessness, and the cramming of yet more people into overcrowded social homes.

Tuition fees, workfare, and now discriminatory benefit changes – why does the government encourage intergenerational warfare? Most political books are dated even by publication, but the Malik/Howker Jilted Generation argument just gets stronger by the day. This is a country where the growing numbers of young people sleeping on streets attract little or no comment, and a modest tax on the allowances of better-off pensioners triggers front pages of confected outrage.

This new housing benefit idea is particularly bad because it goes against not just the letter, but the actual spirit, of welfare reform. It’s not about encouraging independence. All it does is transfer dependency to the family instead of the state.

And it is clear that this is the government’s only idea. In Helen Lewis-Hasteley’s thorough and informative article on intergenerational conflict, she talks of ‘Britain moving to a ‘family welfare’ model, with the younger generations relying on the elder more, as happens in some Mediterranean countries.’ Lewis-Hasteley points out the obvious problem with this model, which is that it will only benefit people from wealthy families. It is a model of internships and inheritances and family connections, what Alastair Campbell calls the ‘Downton Abbeyisation’ of our country.

The other problem is that it encourages young people to be dependent on their families, which is not a good place to be in. Dependence has a bad effect on character. And our parents have done enough for us. They should be able to enjoy their old age. But the government’s assault on the young will ultimately hurt the old, because it is not interested in autonomy, independence and hard work, just in replacing welfare dependence with family dependence.

(Image from The Prodigy official website)

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4 Responses to “Another Day, Another Bad Idea”

  1. [link] The war against the young | slendermeans Says:

    […] June 27, 2012 by slendermeans The excellent Max Dunbar, one of the best young writers I know, takes you through the arguments against [cutting housing benefit]:  Like many welfare reform ideas it sounds good at first glance – why […]

  2. The war against the young » Spectator Blogs Says:

    […] under-25s has made me reconsider.The excellent Max Dunbar, one of the best young writers I know, takes you through the arguments against: Like many welfare reform ideas it sounds good at first glance – why should an […]

  3. quick hit: The war against the young | feimineach Says:

    […] excellent Max Dunbar, one of the best young writers I know, takes you through the arguments against [cutting housing […]

  4. The war against the young (feimineach) Says:

    […] excellent Max Dunbar, one of the best young writers I know, takes you through the arguments against [cutting housing […]

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