In this spin-free (sic) world of the new coalition government, I draw your attention to a piece in today’s Guardian.
It is but a tiny molehill amid the mountainous coverage of George Osborne’s first and, alas, not last Budget.
It is tucked away at the bottom of page 5 beneath the headline ‘Osborne’s £104,000 claim “not based on real cases.”‘
I must admit that even I, immune though I am to most Tory spin, let out a little ‘tut-tut’ when the Chancellor reported that ‘some families’ receive £104,000 a year in housing benefit.
Yet the little Guardian report suggests this may not be so. In this era of Freedom of Information, surely if such sums were being paid in such a controversial benefit, we would know how many, where they lived and who they were. Not so. ‘We don’t have any figures on how many people are claiming that rate,’ a spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions is quoted as saying.
But the same spokeswoman admits the £104,000 is based on what a family who were housed in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the wealthiest parts of the UK, WOULD receive IF they were given a five bedroomed home. In other words the chances are there are no such families taking £104,000 at all.
In a weird form of mitigation the spokeswoman says that whilst they have no records of such large claims (we are only the government, eh?) a search of the websites of the Sun and the Daily Mail would ‘throw up stories of people being paid the same if not more.’
So let us be clear, dear, if I may patronise you as much as you appear to be patronising the Guardian reading public. The Chancellor made an eye-catching claim, one that will be used to justify major cuts, without any government knowledge that such a claim was justified, beyond reports published on the websites of two tabloid newspapers not best known for their objectivity. Interesting approach to communication of major policy decisions.
There were a lot of measures announced yesterday but a lot of unanswered questions about the impact. Chief secretary Danny Alexander seemed not to have a clue, nor even to have thought much, about how many jobs might be lost as a result of the huge public sector cuts coming down the track.
He was so happy to be sitting alongside David Cameron and his nodding dog party leader, Cleggo, as Osborne delivered their Budget, that he had perhaps not asked the kind of questions a progressive might have done.
He was so happy to be able to have a table in the Red Book showing that the rich would pay the most that he did not think through the disproportionate impact on the poor of departmental cuts which as of today are just figures but will quickly become programmes scrapped, progress halted, people thrown on the dole. And he seems not to have thought much about the idea that people who go on the dole cost the State money, rather than the other way round, and do not give much back by way of tax or spending.
The £104,000 figure may be a myth. But the lost jobs and the impact on spending (government spending up, private sector spending down) will be all too real, once cuts in theory become people, real people as opposed to the ones not on £104,000 a year housing benefit.
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