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
People looking for work have had their benefits stopped to meet government targets, the PCS union claims.
The union, which represents many job centre staff, said they had been under “enormous pressure” to stop claimants’ Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Some claimants said they had benefits withdrawn for “genuine mistakes” such as missing appointments.
The government says sanctions are a “last resort”, and strongly denies the union’s claim.
“Job centre staff are under enormous pressure to implement sanctions on unemployed people,” PCS union north-east regional secretary Simon Elliot said.
> Some of them. Others seem to revel in that little bit of power, and dont require any pressure whatsoever…
“Staff are faced with the threat of sanctions themselves in the form of what they call performance improvement plans if they don’t impose sanctions.
“If you look at the guidance for implementing the performance improvement plans it clearly states that it’s a measure against targets.”
David Taws from North Tyneside had his benefit suspended for forgetting an appointment.
He phoned to apologise but was told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would need to be informed.
“The letter turned up on the 20th of December and I was literally sanctioned over Christmas,” he said. “It was horrific – I had to go literally begging for food at a church hall.”
Another man, who did not wish to be named, said his benefit was cut for a month in September.
“I explained that I was caring for my nana,” he said. “I was up and down to the hospital with her. It totally slipped my mind. I phoned up and said I’m half an hour late for my appointment and they said, ‘OK, we’ll just put it as a miss’.
“I got a letter two weeks later saying I was sanctioned – for 28 days.”
Mr Elliot said staff were being forced to carry out “politically motivated” objectives.
> Forced ? You’re a bloody trade union, man ! You should be in there fighting.
The DWP strongly denied there were any targets for the number of sanctions that Job Centre staff must hand out. It also said there was a right of appeal.
North Tyneside Council Conservative group leader Judith Wallace defended the use of sanctions to “stamp out the something-for-nothing culture”.
She said: “If people are unemployed, and looking for work, clearly it is right that they should get benefits but, equally clearly, it’s right that there should be conditions attached to those benefits.”
> Yes ? And haven’t there always been conditions attached ? It’s just that they’ve never been used as a political weapon in such a cynical way before. And for all sanctions have increased massively, lets not forget that unemployment continues to rise in the North East.
And where are our local Labour MPs in all this ? Or any other local political party outside the coalition ?
- The new regime came into force in October 2012
- Sanctions of between four weeks and three years can be imposed
- More than 400,000 in England, Scotland and Wales had Jobseeker’s Allowance stopped in the first nine months of the new system
- In Northumberland and Tyne and Wear the figure was almost 17,500 for the same period
- In Durham and Tees Valley it was nearly 16,000
- It was more than 20,000 in Cumbria and Lancashire
Source – BBC News Tyne & Wear, 24 Jan 2014