The left lost the benefits cuts argument over housing benefit caps

Polly is decrying the coming cuts in benefits. Well, why not, we\’d rather expect her to do so. And maybe they\’re good cuts and maybe they\’re not.

But I think we can pinpoint where the left actually lost this argument. It was right back at the beginning. When the top limit for housing benefit was introduced.

So the bastard capitalist neoliberal Tory scum said that in future housing benefit would be limited to £400. And there were screams and wails about how this would mean the social cleansing of London. The left were really gearing up at this point. Then everyone realised that the limit was £400 a week. And suddenly the comments sections (no, not just the Mail, The Guardian too) were full of people shouting \”But, but, that\’s more than I fucking earn! What do you mean it\’s a catastrophe that housing benefit will be limited to well over average wages?\”

This democratic thing that vox populi, vox dei did mean that the campaign of outrage over such a, to the hoi polloi entirely reasonable, limit on benefits couldn\’t really gain any traction.

And they\’ve not really been able to gain much traction on any of the other issues since. Moving to only paying, what is it, 30% of median rents, the bedroom tax, all these other things, all of which are going to have a much greater effect, these just haven\’t generated outrage on the Clapton Omnibus. For that first roar from the left turned out to be against something that middle England thought was entirely acceptable. And I do mean middle England here, those on mean and median wages.

Why should someone get more than I sodding earn in total just to pay their sodding rent? Move you feckless bastards.

Whether it should have been this way is an entirely different matter. But I do think that this is the way it was. The protests against benefits cuts shot their bolt too early on the wrong subject. And much of the population just isn\’t listening to their wails as a result.

35 thoughts on “The left lost the benefits cuts argument over housing benefit caps”

  1. I’ll be interested in the views of IanB et al, who think it’s terrible to say to people on benefits that they shouldn’t spend their dole on fags and booze because it “immiserates” them.

    Few things immiserate people more than being moved forcibly away from friends and family, after all, and few things give more value added joy than a nice flat in a nice area, so presumably they thought this was “fascist” and “Puritan” too?

  2. pjt

    The Clapton Omnibus is the number 73 isn’t it? Victoria Station to Clapton Pond IIRC.

    Surprised Tim’s knowledge of London bus routes is so sharp given he’s been away so long, and being a Bath lad.

    Tim adds: Indeed…..the one that gets you from Clapton Pond to the LSE in fact.

  3. I can’t speak for Ian B but here’s an answer, Interested. We want to help people who’re in trouble, because we’re nice humanitarians. We want them to have a reasonable amount to live on, preferably temporarily while they sort themselves out and get back on their own feet. A reasonable amount might be half the national income average, maybe a bit less. And they should be able to spend it how they like.

  4. I think this might apply to the NHS too. Andy Burnham et al saying that it’ll be destroyed and we must save it. By the next election if things aren’t too different for the end user (still getting appointments at their GP, free at point of use and all that) how much resonance will that actually have with the average voter?

  5. “And they should be able to spend it how they like.”
    Well, yes, Mr R.
    But its a bit like the bloke sitting outside the supermarket with a bit of cardboard says he s hungry. So you drop a quid in his cup & he goes in, buys himself a can of Special Brew & sits back down with his sign & cup. Do you keep dropping quids in until he s pissed, in the hope he will stop by the chippy on his way home? Or do you buy him a sandwich? (or do you just ignore the f****r?)

  6. bis – I’d buy him a sandwich. This is to distinguish between the private and the public. I don’t want benefits generally managed like that. I do want to exercise my own discretion in the spending of my own money.

  7. As a leftie I would have to agree with TW; the left should be arguing that the high price of property makes it impossible for people to live and work in London ,even with reasonable subsidies.Problem is that most, including all of the Labour Party, will do nothing to arrest the inflation of property prices because this will lose them elections.So lets wait for the next housing bubble to burst and contemplate the collapse of capitalism -minus a Socialist alternative .

  8. @ Interested

    I, also, cannot speak for Ian B.. but I see it thus:

    ‘We’ get to decide how much we will pay people who are on the dole, or who need housing benefit. That’s how it must be.

    But once we’ve done that, once we’ve set the parameters, it should be left to individuals to decide how they spend what they have. I’m happy to tell someone that their housing budget is £400 a week.. but I’m not also going to demand that they go and live in a certain place or in a certain type of property.

    If the limit means that they cannot live where they’d like to live, then I’m fine with that. We’re all limited by what we can afford. It’s placing those further unemployed that I have a problem with.

  9. @Peter Risdon – even when the goverment is spending your money it is spending your money not its money.

  10. Flatcap Army

    “I think this might apply to the NHS too. Andy Burnham et al saying that it’ll be destroyed and we must save it.”

    And universities too. The claim that the government wants to exclude anyone apart from a handful of private school educated kids to go into higher education will also be shown to be complete hyperbolic garbage when there are still 100s of thousands of annoying students knocking around in 2015.

  11. But Mr R, benefits are your money. Whose is it if it insnt?
    DBCR
    “the left should be arguing that the high price of property makes it impossible for people to live and work in London ,even with reasonable subsidies.”
    Then dont subsidise. If people cant afford to work & live in London, then they wont. A city thats all chiefs & no indians probably isnt viable, so either the price of property will fall or wages will rise. Self solving problem.

  12. “Social cleansing”? I don’t see anyone complaining that the grandsons of East End costermongers who became software developers now have to commute in from Reading.

    Housing benefit is a transfer of wealth, of billions from the regions to London. It means that the wealthy of London get cleaners or nannies at a below market rate because the people of Redditch and Salisbury are paying a large part of their living costs. Or that landlords get long-term-unemployed people living there, increasing demands for housing in London.

  13. @JamesV // Mar 29, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Special Brew’s a quid a can now is it? Shit, I’ve been out of the country that long.

    I just checked Tesco. 1,85 gbp!!! I couldnt afford to be an alky at those prices. I d definitely need a government subsidy. I take it all back. Ian & PR are right.

  14. Peter Risdon – then we’re not too far apart, except that I’d not cut the dole as much as you. I would make it temporary, too, probably based on how much one had paid in.

    However, when the government takes your money from you by force, it remains your money and it’s perfectly proper to expect a say on how it’s spent.

    The Thought Gang: “I’m happy to tell someone that their housing budget is 400 GBP a week.. but I’m not also going to demand that they go and live in a certain place or in a certain type of property.”

    No, I’d leave it to the market, too – too many rentiers making money out of tax payers.

    But you do seem to be happily supporting policy that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt will have enormously life changing (and “immiserating”) effects on people, while hiding behind the market?

    There seems to be no practical difference – in terms of the effect on the people concerned, which is what exercises some fellow commenters – between that and the idea of limiting what benefits can be used for, but which you find offensive.

  15. “A reasonable amount might be half the national income average, maybe a bit less. And they should be able to spend it how they like.”

    So a total of about 230 quid per week per person for all benefits, thanks for giving IDS food for thought, Peter.

  16. Bus pedant alert. It’s the number 38 that goes to Clapton Pond, number 73 goes to Stoke Newington common….

  17. Noel C – are you into old land rovers by any chance? If so, I know who you are!

    Anyway ‘So a total of about 230 quid per week per person for all benefits, thanks for giving IDS food for thought, Peter.’

    Sounds very reasonable to me! I take home a very little more than that a week, and manage to feed, clothe and house myself… I also have to drive 250 miles a week to get to work and back, which takes a up fair chunk of said income. If I was on benefits, then presumably that (major) expense would become negligible.

  18. But theProle, IanB says at levels higher that that you would be “immiserated”, and yet you sound quite chipper?
    How can this be?
    Either you’re a liar and a fraud, probably some sort of evil “bankster” plant, or he’s a twat.
    Hmmm…

  19. Peter Risdon, I missed your “I would buy him a sandwich” comment.

    If you really think the guy wants a sandwich… .

    I was once accosted by a beggar as I was sitting in the sun with mates in London eating M&S sandwiches.
    Guy said can you spare some change, I’m hungry.
    We said no but you can have a sandwich?
    Turned out he didn’t like prawn cocktail, BLT, ham salad or cheese and pickle. Haven’t you got anything else? he says.
    One of my mates amused me by saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

    I prefer – and give to – honest beggars who say when asked that they want it for beer or gear

  20. So, theprole, the current cap, which is well north of 230 quid per week, is clearly a disincentive to finding work and is patently unfair when there are people earning less paying taxes to fund it.

  21. Oh can top that one, for discerning beggars, Mr Interested.
    There’s a middle aged woman, with a distinct hint of bag lady about her, patrols the portside of the Costa del Sols premier resort – Puerto Banus, with her cup, asking passing tourists for Euros. She arrives to “work” in a Mercedes.

  22. @ Interested

    “There seems to be no practical difference – in terms of the effect on the people concerned”

    The difference is that the housing benefit cap merely asks the claimnants to live by the the same rules as the rest of us. Restricting what benefits can be spent on is the opposite.

    Maybe that is ‘hiding behind the market’.. but so what? I’d rather let the market decide what life choices people have, than puritan fussbuckets and/or people who hold benefit claimants in lower regard than the rest of society.

    On the ‘benefits card’ thing, I do see where those who support it are coming from. I disagree out of my liberal principles, I disagree because I don’t think it will solve the problem it’s supposed to solve, I disagree because I don’t trust the motives of many proponents, and I disagree because once you let the government (egged on by their prohibitionist freinds in ‘public helath’) restrict what one group of people can do with their money.. there’s one mighty motherfucker of a slippery slope ahead of us.

    As for the housing benefit.. I think the comparison you’re making is weak. One argument is about what people get, the other is about what they are allowed to do with it. What people get must necessarily be restricted by whomever is appointed to make that call. What people then do with it needn’t be restricted by anything more than the market in which we all participate.

  23. @ #2 Interested
    There are two types of benefits: contribution-based (i) old age pensions (including graduated pensions and SERPS/SSE) and (ii) unemployment benefit (now called JSA) which are contractual entitlement (using that latter word correctly) and income/based benefits which are a hand-out because enough people in the right place think we shouldn’t let people suffer hardship for lack of money (when I was young the view was that we should make them suffer through no fault of their own – apparently only a slight change but I was startled to see that the benefits bill has risen tenfold since Churchill’s Conservatives replaced Attlee’s Socialists in 1951).
    If someone told me that I must not spend my pension on tobacco I (a life-long non-smoker) could tell him/her where to get off with a clear conscience. When the pits were gradually closing in the 60s because the coal seams were worked out, the pubs in the mining villages were doing better trade for six months or so until the redundancy pay ran out because middle-aged/old miners who were never going to get another job and had nothing to do spent their time in the pub chatting over a pint.
    On the other hand, if the state is giving someone a hand-out specifically to pay their rent or specifically to buy clothes for the kids, then it isn’t unreasonable to ask that it be spent for that purpose and not on booze or drugs.

  24. @TTG a well argued reply, thanks. I still think the comparison is closer than you accept but I see your point.

    I think you are wrong though that noone other than “puritan fussbuckets and/or people who hold benefit claimants in lower regard than the rest of society” could hold the other view (I’m neither, for instance).

    @John77 I’m not sure we disagree too much. I suppose if I ever actually had to formulate policy rather than just bluster on a blog I’d probably do something like x% in cash and x% on a card.

    Clearly where redundo or pensions are involved *and the latter have been paid into (might be a reasonable qualifier)* it’s absolutely no-one’s business what it’s spent on.

    @BIS seen worse still in India and the Middle East!

  25. @John

    Experience of the SNAP programme* in the States – which does allow the purchase of junk food but not cigarettes and alcohol – suggests you may be wrong.

    http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2013/01/14/foodstamps

    “Specifically, the researchers estimate that the program reduces food insecurity among high-risk children by at least 20 percent and poor general health by at least 35 percent. The results are based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey… conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control.

    (N)early half of all American children are expected to receive SNAP assistance at some point in their childhood.”

    *SNAP is the new name for the Food Stamp Program. It seems ludicrous to me that half of US kids will need food stamps, and I regret that and the concomitant extension of state power, but we must assume from the stats that at least some of the vouchers are being exchanged for healthy food.

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