Pay, welfare benefits, fairness and IDS

Pay, welfare benefits, fairness and IDS

It is unfair that jobless benefits have risen far faster than salaries, claimed UK welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith. But his efforts to justify a further onslaught on the living standards of unemployed people are unconvincing.

According to IDS, because jobseeker's allowance is up 20 per cent from £59.15 a week in 2007/08 to £71, while in the same five-year period wages rose by only 12 per cent, those in work are getting an unfair deal. Yet, as the opposition has pointed out, in the past decade benefits have not kept pace with pay rises.

Indeed, during the past few years, during an economic crisis fuelled by government blunders, many people have found themselves struggling financially even if they have managed to hold on to their jobs. However they are still for the most part far better off than those who are unemployed.

According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2012 Provisional Results (published in November), median weekly pay is £505.90 per week. So, if there are redundancies in a workplace hit by the recession, the unlucky ones may find themselves almost £435 worse off each week.

Perhaps some of those not laid off may feel angry that their former workmates are not affected even more severely. But others may have a different attitude to fairness than millionaire Cabinet ministers planning to slash benefits still further.

The government plans to bring in a cap of a one per cent rise per annum, well below the expected rise in the cost of living, on many working-age benefits. Numerous low-income families, both in and out of work, will be hit hard, at a time when even middle-income households are feeling the squeeze.

The poorest include staff such as care assistants, unpaid carers, sick people bringing up children under difficult circumstances and others whose contribution to society is huge. Slashing their income in real terms will have a knock-on effect on the economy as they pay less tax and national insurance, spend less in the shops, are less able to visit family members needing help and so forth. The social and human cost may be even worse. This is harmful and truly unfair.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular commentator on politics, religion, social affairs and theological issues. She is an Ekklesia associate.

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