The airwaves filled up nicely for the government yesterday, backed by constant use of rag headlines from rag right-wing papers, with the line that most struggling families would be ‘happy’ with £35000 a year.
And so they might. But the members of those ‘most families’ eagerly found by TV reporters to agree with the government’s proposition of a benefit cap at £26000 on a single family were not necessarily informed that this was based on the cap plus tax, but minus child benefit which would be absorbed as part of the overall £26k, regardless of the size of the family.
It is just one factor that has distorted a debate in a way which has delighted David Cameron, Iain Duncan-Smith and most of the media.
I would be hesitant in asking Lord Justice Leveson to add even futher to his reading load, but if he is looking for a good example of how a biased and distorting media helps pave the way for distorted debate about issues which impact for the worse on real people, then he could do worse than ask for a few years worth of coverage on benefits.
In several of the papers, echoed by the broadcasters, the debate is skewed to portray benefits as all bad, claimants as all scroungers.
There are abuses. There are scroungers. There are families who take take take without regard to any responsibility to the community that is giving. People are right to be angry about them. Governments and local authorities are right to seek to deal with the abuse.
But there are families that have been hit by unemployment, illness and misfortune who need and deserve support, and do not deserve to be thrown in with the rest.
As a direct result of the government’s determination to overturn the amednment on which they were defeated in the Lords yesterday, more families will be tipped from just above the poverty line to well below it … Which in turn and in time will ultimately lead to greater cost on the State, in terms of dealing with them when made homeless, picking up the costs of increased ill health, family dysfunctionality, descent into the criminal justice system.
Amid the ‘most families would be happy with 35k’ talk, ministers and media were also trotting out the line that three quarters of people polled support the cap.
Presented as it has been, as a simple way to deal with armies of cheats and scroungers at a time everyone (apart from bankers and editors) is feeling the squeze, what’s not to support? Had the debate probed a little beyond the one-dimensional, things might look a little different.
Not for the first time, the Tories have put brutal and effective politics ahead of actually improving the country. It’ll catch them in the end, when people realise – as with their failure on the deficit – that the policies for which they shout so loud have not had the effect they claimed they would.
Remember Plan A? Public sector cuts to get the deficit down, private sector to fill the gap, lots of jobs for the people losing theirs from the cuts and the benefit changes.
The plan is not for working.