So the Welfare working group has come out with their first piece (main site, ht Welfare Watch). Did they have any sort of point, or were they just getting paid on the basis of how many times they could mention “welfare dependency” and “getting people into work”? 😀
However, I jest. I can’t judge their policies at present, as there aren’t any – they have just released a first document outlining the issues they think will need addressing before they think about policies.
I can say that I found the lumping together of sickness, invalid, and unemployment benefits a bit disconcerting. And I can also say that, contrary to their language, I think the idea of welfare dependency is being overplayed as an issue – but if we get some cleaner evidence out I’d be willing to change my mind.
The thing that most scared me in the report was the discussion on “poverty” and getting people to “work their way out”. I hate it when people go on about poverty traps, and then turn around and say we should get these people into work by “cutting benefits” or “tightening eligibility”. But note, they have not said this yet – and I am not keen to put words in their mouth.
Now hopefully they didn’t mean it this way. Hopefully what they mean is that there are major issues in the labour market, which can make it difficult for people to move back in after a sustained period outside of the workforce. If the welfare working group is interested in increasing the integration between the labour market, welfare policy, and education then that is a good thing.
But if, as I’ve heard a lot in the past, we are going to get told that benefit eligibility should be cut so that people have to get jobs, because “it will be good for them” I fear we are just going to hurt a lot of people – like we did in the early 1990’s, but without the excuse of international credit markets threatening to devalue us.
Note: Also, try to remember that a social safety net is part of our social contract as a society – it is something we agree to as a group of disparate individuals. If we want to debate the size and scope of this safety net as a society then that is reasonable. But lets not move down the road where our sole focus falls on “benefit abuse” – as it leads us to forget about the far larger group of people who we are intrinsically willing to help.
And don’t forget that the “labour market” is only really voluntary if we believe labour has an outside option. The benefit provides this outside option – and in theory it should be funded by a tax on land. But I digress again 😉
Note 2: Why are we so willing to focus our attention sharply on how injured people “should” be working (even if the opportunity cost of doing so is very high for them) – and yet we are unwilling to cut back on working for families, which is largely welfare for the middle classes?
If you are worried about whether government can balance the books, if you are concerned that there are government policies that are distorting investment and spending decisions, if you fear the fact that some transfers appear “unfair” – the primary target of your ire “should” be working for families, not invalid benefits.