This article was written by Tom Clark, for The Guardian on Tuesday 4th November 2014
The occupational pensions of MPs, ministers and the prime minister could be classified as welfare spending in the tax transparency statements that George Osborne has promised every taxpayer.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is writing to millions of tax-paying households with detailed figures on how the government spends their income tax and National Insurance contributions. Welfare is recorded collectively as the single largest expenditure, consuming nearly one pound in every four.
This presentation has been criticised as a politically motivated departure from Treasury officials’ original plan to break down social security into the components paid to different parts of the population, such as elderly, disabled and unemployed people.
By revealing that payments specifically earmarked for the unemployed, for example, represented only 3% of the total, this approach may have set back Osborne’s case for a fresh £12bn in benefit cuts.
Now experts are drawing attention not only to the lack of differentiation in the welfare chunk of spending but also to the inclusion of substantial elements of spending that would not normally be considered welfare at all, notably personal social services and public sector pensions. Even ministerial pensions are likely to be covered.
The Treasury said: “The headings in our tax summaries are based on internationally recognised (UN) definitions.” But in a briefing note published on Tuesday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies detailed how the welfare total included £28.5bn on “personal social services”.
“This is a number that in many analyses one would want to report separately from other welfare spending,” the IFS said. “Unlike other elements of ‘social protection’ it is not a cash transfer payment and in many ways has more in common with spending on health than spending on social security benefits.
“Another £20bn of the spending counted under welfare is pensions to older people other than state pensions. That includes spending on public sector pensions – to retired nurses, soldiers and so on. This is not spending that would normally be classed as welfare.”
Declan Gaffney, a social security researcher, said the inclusion of public sector pensions was bizarre.
“The Treasury needs to clarify exactly how it arrived at these figures, and publish the workings – spelling out exactly whose pensions it included. Does it, for example, include MPs and the prime minister himself?”
Gaffney has used IFS tables to calculate a more conventional figure for total welfare less state pension expenditure, and concludes that the government’s choice of definition inflates the published welfare spending total by around 40%.
The Treasury did not respond to a question about whether the pensions of MPs, ministers and the prime minister would be classified as welfare.
A spokesman for PCS, the civil service union, said:
“Tens of thousands of civil servants work hard to deliver social security support and they know how important and necessary it is. For their pensions to be hijacked as part of the government’s latest political attack on our welfare state is absolutely disgusting and it exposes just how far ministers will go to poison the well of public opinion.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 04 Nov 2014
Government cuts to welfare benefits, rising living costs and stagnating wages are to blame for a ‘huge increase in the numbers of people with council tax arrears’, a leading charity has warned.
According to figures released today (13 March 2014) by the charity Stepchange, 45,561 people approached the charity for help and advice after falling into arrears with council tax payments in the last year, up 77 percent on the previous years total of 25,000. The average council tax debt was £102, the charity claims.
Stepchange says that the figures ‘highlights how the squeeze on household budgets is leaving more people struggling to pay essential living costs’.
StepChange Debt Charity chief executive Mike O’Connor said:
“More and more people are struggling to pay essential household costs. Stagnating incomes, changing work patterns, rising living costs and changes in welfare benefits are a toxic combination. Government, business and charities need to ensure that safety nets and protections are in place to ensure that short-term financial problems do not escalate into problem debt which can blight the lives of individuals, families and whole communities.”
The figures come almost a year after the coalition government scrapped council tax benefit as part of widespread welfare reforms and replaced it with a locally administered Council Tax Reduction support scheme.
Under the new system, many more low-income families – including some in receipt of state benefits – are now expected to contribute toward their council tax bill, the exact amount of which is decided by their local council authority.
Margaret Hodge MP (Labour), Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), has recently described the change to council tax support as “fundamentally perverse”, after it was revealed that 71 percent of councils were requiring households to make at least a small council tax contribution, regardless of whether they can afford to pay or not.
The PAC also found that some households, now expected to contribute toward council tax as a result of government welfare cuts, were losing as much as 93 pence out of every £1 earned, when combined with a cut in housing benefit and increased income tax and national insurance contributions.
Margaret Hodge said:
“This just goes to show, for some, work simply doesn’t pay under the new scheme. For them, work incentives have actually weakened rather than strengthened – the opposite of what the Government intended.
“Some of those 225,000 people stand to lose 97p for every extra £1 earned – a fundamentally perverse result.”
Stepchange surveyed 845 helpline clients and found that 50 percent had council tax arrears at some point over the past year, while 19 percent claimed that they had been threatened with bailiff action by their local council.
The Charity has also warned that changes to bailiff fees, due to be introduced in April 2014, could see an additional £310 added to a households accumulated council tax arrears every single time a bailiff pays a visit to a person’s home.
Stepchange has urged councils to do more to help people who fall into arrears on their council tax and ‘ensure that vulnerable people do not see their debts inflated through the unnecessary use of bailiffs’
Source – Welfare News Service, 13 March 2014
It’s the sort of headline you could take in several contrary ways…
The Lost Generation: Conservatives say their plan is working
… but in this case its a mission statement from Rebecca Harris, the Conservative party vice chairman for young people’s issues, so we may suspect it’s not humour or irony….
Even before Labour’s great recession hit in 2008 things were tough for young people. During the 13 years of Labour Government half a million people lost their jobs and youth unemployment rose by 45%. It’s a longstanding problem.
This isn’t good enough.
> You noticed ?
Jobs really do matter. Giving people the feeling of a wage in their pocket every month is the best way to help people plan for a secure future.
> Really ?
That’s why we have a long term plan to get the economy of Britain, and the North East, working again.
> Long term = “we may get around to the North East eventually. Say, 2050 ? But you’ll have to vote Tory first, of course.”
We are creating more jobs by backing small business and enterprise with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes. Already there are 13,000 more businesses in the North East than there were three years ago.
> Yeah ? But what are they ? One-person self-employed start-ups ? What’s more noticable is that are far more empty shops, offices and factory units than there were three years ago.
We’ve cut Labour’s jobs taxes to make it easier for those businesses to create jobs.
> And added a whole raft of new problems to make creating jobs look like too much hassle… and that’s before Universal Credit lurches onto the scene (if its wheels dont fall off first…)
That means more jobs for young people, as well as greater prosperity for the entire region.
> Why does it mean that ? Proof ?
Once young people find work they now get to keep more of their income as well. By raising the level at which people start to pay income tax we’ve taken 2.4m of the lowest earners out of tax altogether.
> No-ne is ever “out of tax” – there’s VAT for a start. And you’ve made them accountable for Council Tax and, in some cases, the Bedroom Tax too. Give with one hand, grab back with the other.
Ed Miliband used to claim that a million jobs would be lost under this Government – but in fact the private sector has created 1.6m new jobs. Our plan is working.
We’re also making reforms to schooling to increase young people’s skills. Under Labour, rampant grade inflation meant their GCSEs and A Levels did little to help them get a job.
> More GCSEs and A Levels do not equal an increase in skills. They don’t create jobs either.
We’re reforming exams so that young people gain an education that is actually worth something to employers.
> Er, dont you mean: “so that young people gain an education that is actually worth something to them“ ? No, you really dont, do you ?
At the same time we’ve created 1.5m new apprenticeships so that people can learn while they work.
By giving young people decent skills we can help them get jobs, and get jobs that pay well. It’s a long term plan for the future.
> A very, very long term plan. About 2050 ?
The signs are encouraging. There are 7,500 more young people off Job Seekers Allowance in the North East than a year ago. We’re committed to getting even more get off benefits and on to that important first step of adult life.
> Off JSA does not necesserily equal someone getting a job, as we all know too well.
The economic damage Labour did to the economy caused unforgivable harm to the life chances of young people. Even now they offer only short term gimmicks that would do more harm than good. Young people deserve better than that.
> Maybe if that old hag Thatcher hadn’t… oh, I see – you’re revising history here, it was Labour who killed off what was left of industry. Nothing to do with Thatcher at all.
Our long term economic plan is working and young people are working for a secure future once again. Let’s stick to the plan.
> I could suggest somewhere you might stick it…
Interestingly, the original article was illustrated with a photo of Smilin’ Dave Camoron getting down with a couple of apprentices in a factory… in, er, Oxford. Probably as far north as a Tory likes to go…
Source – Newcastle Journal 01 Feb 2014