Monday, 17 September 2012

Welfare Cuts = Inhumanity By Numbers

Above: Merkel will try and cut anything you put in front of her, apparently. Photo by Alexander C. Kaufmann

It’s pretty scary to watch anti-welfare zealots defending the benefits cutbacks that are currently being introduced in England and Germany. Their faces redden; the veins in their neck start to bulge; the volume of their voices rise and they start to shout other people down. Their fury is only abated when someone suggests doing something nasty and quasi-inhumane to welfare recipients: make them scrub toilets for 1 Euro an hour! Make them take blood tests to prove they’re not drinking alcohol! Force conraceptive pills down their throats! Apparently, paperwork and background checks aren’t enough for these zealots. They want something they can sink their teeth into; they want their pound of flesh.

To watch them is to understand that the benefits debate is not a simple matter of reform and economic recuperation; it’s a blood sport, a vendetta. It's about revenge. Revenge for all the perceived hardships that the employed endure when they can’t afford to pay a bill; when they can’t buy that new jacket; when they have to work overtime because full-time doesn’t cut it anymore; when they spend their paltry free time on hold for hours because the call centre hasn’t employed enough staff.  They blame all this on the unemployed.

“What about all those dole scroungers?” these anti-welfare zealots fume. “Why aren’t they at work answering the phones?” In their minds they see millions of welfare recipients, sitting on their arses and laughing at sitcoms, as millions of cheques slide in effortlessly through the post. The statistics may say that there really aren't enough jobs to go round but the zealots simply don’t believe any mantra but their own: the unemployed are lazy, guilty and stupid.

If there are no jobs then why so many unanswered phones? Why so many vacant seats behind the supermarket tills? The television may talk about job-seekers who are sad to stay at home all day and prefer taking responsibility for themselves… but they don’t believe. Maybe that's because they, themselves, hate having to work and feel trapped at their job because it doesn’t pay enough or leave time for anything else.
And anyway, why would anyone go so far as to attack one's MP, employer, or the inadequacies of the welfare system itself, when one can simply blame the welfare cheats for everything?

George Osborne and Angela Merkel have turned the unemployed into perfect, prefab scapegoats, complete with little targets painted on their heads. No need to look any farther than one's own neighbours, family or friends for someone to blame it all on.

George Osborne’s begun sending out personal tax breakdowns designed to show people exactly how much of their taxes are spent on welfare. He hopes they'll so outraged by the high figure that they'll support his equally outrageous benefits cuts. Personally, I always suspected that that gelatinous fool would hang himself if we gave him enough rope, and this new breakdown pretty much prove my theory correct. Using the details that he and his administration released about welfare spending, I have managed to punch enough holes in his theory that welfare and ‘benefit cheats’ are bankrupting taxpayers, that I could use it as a tea-strainer.
Right: The marshmallow man, as depicted by the Mirror.

A Telegraph article about the new (as of last March) personal tax breakdown indicates that an employee earning £25,000 would pay £1,900 a year in taxes towards the welfare system. From reading the DWP’s report on benefits spending, I learned that the 0.7 percent of all job seekers benefits that are paid are fraudulent. So I calculated 0.7 percent of £1,900 and figured out that this hypothetical employee would end up paying £13.30 a year towards benefit fraudsters.

This didn't seem like much but when I read a little bit more, I realized I'd made a mistake: not all of that £1,900 tax bill actually goes to jobless benefits. Almost half of it goes to pensioners. Large chunks of it also go to child welfare, disability, incapacity and housing benefit. In fact, traditional unemployment benefits (a.k.a. the dole) only account for about £190 of that £1,900 annual welfare tax. Take 0.7 percent of that figure and your hypothetical employee is actually paying just £1.30 per year* towards dole fraud. That's, like, 11 pence per month. It's an outrage, I tell you! Those hateful, vile, benefit cheats are just running the economy into the ground!!

NOT.

Being less bureaucratic, the English system probably does not screen the unemployed as carefully as the German system does and therefore, the percentage of fraudulent payments must be much lower in Germany than it is in the UK. So if the cost of benefits fraud is 11 pence or less per month for the average taxpayer, in Germany and England, then why are both countries in such a palaver about cutting benefits at all? Don't they have plenty of bigger, costlier wastes of taxpayer money that the government could expose and curb? Of course they do, but welfare is pretty much the only thing they can cut without pissing off their rich and corrupt friends.

Mention this to one of those anti-welfare zealots and they change their tune pretty fast. Assuming a more level-headed stance, they sniff, “Well, it’s not about the money. It’s the principle of it.” They don’t actually need that extra 11 pence a month, don't you know. It's just so galling to them that 0.7 percent of people claiming the dole don’t follow the fair principles of welfare! That they don't take only what they need for as long as they need it, and then get back to work! What kind of people do that sort of thing?

The minority of people, that's who.

Newsflash: unprincipled people exist in every part of society, not just on the dole. They add expenses to every system that we pay for. They steal candy bars from corner shops; they lie on tax returns; they run red lights; they visit illegal prostitutes; leave restaurants without paying their bills; accept bribes. A hundred thousand little “unprincipled” acts take place every day and we pay for it via our taxes to the police, the health system, the government, the education system, and our service costs. Yet we bravely shrug these off because we realize that, at the end of the day, the majority of people follow fair principles and offset the damage caused by the minority who don't. The majority people adhere to fair principles because they want to, not because they're being harangued by the Principle Police.  The minority will look for any way they can to cheat and if they can't do it one way, they'll damn well do it another.  What would we rather have - an increase in muggings at knifepoint, or spend 11 extra pence per month that we don't absolutely have to?

Yep, that's what I thought...

It seems that there's just something about the fact that the welfare state is 'handing out free money’ that just awakens the dormant fascist inside of a certain people. These angry, anti-welfare zealots (and they are zealots, there’s no other word for their senseless scapegoating) have existed for as long as the welfare state has been around. They’ve always made the same arguments, claiming that vast sums of money have been, or are about to be, embezzled by welfare fraudsters. The fact that it’s never happened yet (because they’ve made damned sure that there are plenty of safeguards to prevent all but the few, very determined fraudsters from cheating) doesn't seem to appease them at all. They carry on screaming about benefit cheats and fraud, generation after generation

I wonder, what would happen if these zealots applied their steely standards to every social system, and not just to those that are used by the poor? Shoppers would no longer be able to walk into a store wearing clothes with pockets, just in case they’re one of the 9 percent that steals. Men would have to have their I.D. checked every time they entered a red light district, just in case they were one of the 30 percent who illegally pays for sex. Blimey, by their logic, we'd all have to spend a day in jail at least once in our lives because a minority of us are destined to commit serious crime. Forcing oodles of legitimately unemployed people off of the dole to deter fraudsters (either by denying them money or making them take jobs they won't keep) makes as much sense as any of the above suggestions.

The statistics show that the majority of people on welfare are as law-abiding and self-respecting as anybody else. If the anti-welfare zealots can’t accept that, then maybe they need to have their heads examined.

Mandatory counseling for anti-welfare zealots: now there’s a welfare program I’d like to see on my personal tax breakdown! Are you reading this, Osborne?

* Please note that in the same period, dole money was underpaid by 0.4 percent, effectively "recovering" more than half the losses that occurred due to fraud. So the actual cost to the taxpayer is less than half of the £1.30 a year figure I calculated.

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