miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
[personal profile] miss_s_b
One of the big successes the Labour party had in the last government was the creation of the term "bedroom tax" for something which is not even a tax, and the blaming of the coalition government for it when it is something they started*. Labour are really good at blaming other people for things they started and/or wholeheartedly embraced - tuition fees, privatising the NHS, etc. - but what I'm really interested in is the use of language to fight a perceived injustice.

One of the most consistent trends of the last ten years (again, started by Labour) is the punishment of the poor for being poor. Benefit caps, having to jump through arbitrary hoops to continue receiving a meagre JSA, ridiculous work capability assessments, all of these are equally embraced by both Labservative parties. I was working at the CAB under Blair, and a huge amount of time was taken up by appealing disability benefit decisions, etc. And part of the reason these things are accepted by the general public is that they have swallowed the Kool Aid that people on benefits are scroungers - to the extent that even people on benefits, while they assert their own right to receive benefits, will none-the-less think everyone else on benefits is a scrounger.

The problem is that most benefits don't actually benefit the person in nominal receipt of them. The claimant doesn't see any gain from soaring housing benefit because it goes into their landlord's pocket, not theirs. Tax credits mainly help employers who either can't or won't pay decent wages. JSA conditional on workfare benefits all those employers who get subsidised to "employ" a free workforce rather than people they actually have to pay and train. So I propose a change of wording.

Housing benefit is easy. Housing benefit is Landlord's benefit. When you refer to it as Landlord's benefit you are calling it what it is. Tax credits, I propose, should be called "Exploitative wage top up". There's a whole raft of disability benefits which should be called things like "paltry amount grudgingly given to try and keep you out of hospital" or something similar.

What benefits do you think should be renamed?


* yes, I am aware that the LHA has some differences from the private sector version, but it's the same concept.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 12:04 pm (UTC)
ggreig: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ggreig
Tuition fees == Career ladder entry charge (and by the way, we've pulled it up after us).

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thamesynne
Oh, definitely! I was just reading an article by David Goodhart in the Guardian, which appeared to be arguing that the problem with Labour is that its leaders don't believe in it as a right wing party and it needs one that does. Part of his contention is that Labour is now populated by people who, having gone through university, now expect everyone else to climb the ladder. What he didn't mention - possibly because it would be counterproductive to his thrust - was that they expect everyone else to climb a ladder they've now, if not pulled up after them, at least coated with WD40, having forgotten how much easier it was for them to do so.

But he does outline a problem; how can Labour represent the working classes when the working classes have come to see Labour as part of the problem? Here's a hint: they're not going to do it by standing just a millimetre to the left of the Tories and shedding the occasional crocodile tear.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 12:53 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thamesynne
LHA wasn't wholly bad when it was introduced. The idea of being able to keep £15 a week of the allowance if you found somewhere cheap enough to permit that did, very briefly, transform it into something that wasn't just a landlord's allowance. Of course, that was swiftly put a stop to as soon as enough people took it up. (I got a tenner a week extra out of it for the first year or two.) And basing it on the median rent did at least mean that there were as many properties cheaper than it than there were more expensive, so you had an evens chance of seeing at least some of that £15 a week.

What Labour have consistently failed to grasp, though, is that every time they do something punitive, they don't just directly betray those they're supposed to represent; they make it permissible for the Tories to do something far worse, because none of their purported good intentions actually matter once something's out there.

So my renaming proposal is this: Rename "conditionality" as "initiative restriction". Like the bedroom tax, this puts the focus squarely on the practical effect of the problematic part, rather than giving it an ostensibly reasonable name behind which authoritarians get to hide the full horror of trying to micromanage people's lives whilst simultaneously looking for ways to trip them up.

Another idea might be to rebrand "means testing" as "prudence discrimination", since one of its more visible effects is to clobber people who did exactly what the Tories are whining that Labour didn't - that is, put some money by in the good times for help during the bad. Telling people with a meagre £16k in savings that they're locked out of the benefits system altogether - seriously, in which parts of the counry would £16k last even a year? - is just preposterous.

Similarly, call the benefits withdrawal rate "job tax". It's effectively a tax on getting a job, and in some cases can exceed 90% - and Universal Cockup doesn't solve that problem. Yes, it says that the maximum withdrawal rate will be 65%. But that's still a 65% job tax at the bottom, when the Tories railed against a 50% income tax at the top.

And then, once those terms are broadly accepted, introduce a citizen's income by the back door - announce that the benefit system will be reformed to remove initiative restrictions, cut the job tax to the same rate as basic income tax, and no longer discriminate against prudence.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 05:31 pm (UTC)
nickbarlow: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nickbarlow
Tax credits could be 'underpayment top-up' or 'living wage enablement'.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 05:59 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
"them. The claimant doesn't see any gain from soaring housing benefit because it goes into their landlord's pocket, not theirs."

I get annoyed every time I see this.

Because the person does get get a massive gain - they get somewhere to live. Which costs money.

It's like saying that I get paid less than I think I do, because I have to spend some of my pay on food. And therefore part of my monthly pay is "Tesco money".

It feels like the worst kind of sophistry to me.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 07:20 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thamesynne
"the person does get a massive gain - they get somewhere to live. Which costs money."

You're begging the question here.

Also, the word you seem to have skidded past is "soaring". If my rent increases year on year in step with the LHA rates, I haven't gained a thing - I still have exactly the same flat, maintained in exactly the same way. But my landlord has gained a whole lot. Moreover, if my rent increases outstrip my LHA increases, the landlord gains increased benefit, but I actually lose out, because they start demanding a slice of the minimal benefits allotted to me to live on, or the meagre pay that already so badly fails to cover my living expenses that I've become eligible for LHA in the first place. So in fact, not only do I not see a gain from soaring housing benefits - which are, let's remember, "soaring" because rent is soaring while pay and benefits are stagnating, rendering an increasing number of people eligible for LHA and in need of it - I actually end up seeing a loss.

And rent increases are essentially pure profit, either for the rentier or for their mortgage company; the costs of maintaining a property do not rise nearly so much, tethered as they are by concrete costs and competition. Leaving tenants at the mercy of the market, especially in an environment where tenancies are essentially at-will (to borrow an American phrase), will inevitably cause rents to rise to whatever level doesn't actually push the whole damn system off a cliff - because virtually nobody builds more properties with rental income. Why on earth would they? They'd be competing against themselves!

It's a question of power. Zero-hours contracts and zero-rights tenancies are symptoms of the same root cause - a calamitous landslide of power towards those who already have it. The collapse of Marxism has emboldened the neo-aristocracy, who never really went away, to reclaim what they felt they had to give away a century ago for their own safety. And now they can pretend to be doing us a favour while they do it.

You want to talk about sophistry? Talk about that. Talk about how the wholesale recentralisation of power has been spun as liberation. Talk about how one solution to the question of resource allocation, and a solution which necessarily tends towards oligopolistic equilibrium, has become so unconsciously accepted as the only possible alternative that even those people who pride themselves on proposing alternatives don't question whether there might be better approaches (when any fool who hacks on OS schedulers can tell you of half a dozen).

There are better things for you to be questioning than the narrative accuracy of a statement which is - trust me - literally true, and possibly overly optimistic in its assessment.
Edited (icon change) Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 07:39 pm (UTC)

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 07:59 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
You're begging the question here.

I'm afraid I don't understand how.

Also, the word you seem to have skidded past is "soaring"
I agree. I meant to respond to the bit that said "The problem is that most benefits don't actually benefit the person in nominal receipt of them"

Which is untrue, because the person in receipt of housing benefit gets housing. They don't get cash - but then housing benefit isn't supposed to be about people who can't afford a place to live getting cash, it's supposed to be about getting them housing, and it does so.

I _completely_ agree that housing is too expensive, that renters should get more protection (I understand that the UK has some of the worst protection for renters anywhere in Europe, and I think that's a terrible state of affairs), and that we should be building vast wodges of new homes, because that might stop the prices going up all the time.

But none of that means that housing benefits aren't a benefit to the person who gets a roof over their head.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thamesynne
On begging the question: "Money for X is a massive gain because X costs money"...? Textbook, I'm afraid. Right up there with the Nizkor Project's example: "that must be illegal, or there wouldn't be a law against it".

"it's supposed to be about them getting housing, and it does so"

No, it doesn't, unless the tenant is very lucky. Landlords are free (except in Northern Ireland, I believe) to actively discriminate against LHA claimants, even though there's a good case to be made for this constituting indirect discrimination on any number of grounds, but the most tryable is probably disability. That vastly reduces the number of properties a tenant on LHA can access. Moreover, even if the tenant successfully claims LHA, it's very likely to not cover the full rent they have to pay, at a time when increasing numbers are finding themselves without the means to make up the difference.

"the person in receipt of housing benefit gets housing [not] cash"

Again, not necessarily true. LHA is generally paid to the recipient, not the landlord; it's the recipient's duty to hand it on. (For a long time I received LHA into, and paid my rent from, different bank accounts; the LHA got used as living expenses and my income support went on housing.) And as I stated before, when LHA was introduced it was incentivised precisely by letting the person in receipt of housing benefit keep up to £15pw extra cash if they found somewhere cheap enough.

"the UK has some of the worst protection... in Europe"

Not all of the UK. Scottish tenants are better protected than most; eviction is not totally arbitrary in Scotland, and excessive fees are banned. And as I say, it's my understanding that Northern Irish landlords must make tenants aware of their right to claim housing benefit.

"housing benefits [are] a benefit to the person who gets a roof over their head"

It depends on the quality of that roof, doesn't it? In some cases they trap the claimant in inadequate accommodation; even when that's not true, the insecurity involved in knowing you can be cast out on your ear at the drop of a section 22 notice is enough to keep - well, me, frankly - awake at nights. What kind of benefit is that to anyone, exactly, without redefining "benefit" to the point of meaninglessness? And then there's the question of, well, the bedroom tax. What kind of benefit is provided to the apocryphal widow who is now saddled with the requirement to find £25 a week towards the rent of a 3-bed house she can't move out of because there are no 1-bedroom flats, sociable or within reach of LHA, near her children and their families? Are you seriously arguing that a situation which traps and impoverishes her - by £1300 a year - is a "gain" because it's better than a damp cardboard box?

Stepping back a second - I'm getting a strong impression that you have only the vaguest idea of the facts, or the practicalities, around which we're having this discussion. If I'm wrong about this, please accept my apologies - but please also note that you have not shown your working.
Edited (proofreading) Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 08:53 pm (UTC)

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 09:05 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
I've claimed housing benefit before, for several years, when I was unemployed. I've dealt with the awful bureaucracy, the difficult landlords, and the flakiness of the money coming through, particularly when the system changes. I know what I'm talking about.

You seem, to me, to be dismissive, using sophistry, and not actually interested in engaging with the topic.

If I'm wrong about this, please accept _my_ apologies. But you really aren't coming across as interested in discussing this so much as complaining that the benefit _isn't good a enough benefit_. With which I have no argument. It isn't good enough. That doesn't mean it doesn't, still, house many many people, and is better than it not existing - and thus a benefit to the people it is paid to.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 09:37 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thamesynne
I literally cannot reply to this.
(deleted comment)

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Again, not necessarily true. LHA is generally paid to the recipient, not the landlord; it's the recipient's duty to hand it on. (For a long time I received LHA into, and paid my rent from, different bank accounts; the LHA got used as living expenses and my income support went on housing.)

But the point is that's irrelevant, because money is fungible.

From the point of view of the claimant, they get £X per month from housing benefit and pay £X per month out in rent. And it doesn't matter from their point of view whether X is £10, £1000 or £100,000, because it's not really supposed to be regarded as money, it's supposed to be regarded as 'a roof-over-your-head token'.

And it doesn't matter from the landlord's point of view, because the amount paid is the market rent, ie, what they could, if they weren't letting it to someone getting housing benefit, get by letting to a private tenant. It's not a benefit to the landlord because the landlord gets £X per month and again, because money is fungible, it doesn't matter to them whether they get it from housing benefit or from a private tenant (and indeed they may not know the difference; I had to claim housing benefit for a while, and I don't think my landlord ever knew): they get the same £X, and the value of X depends entirely on the supply and demand in the local market.

So no, housing benefit is not a benefit to the landlord. They have a property to let out and, assuming the local market is liquid, they will get the same whether they let it privately or to someoen getting housing benefit, so where is the supposed benefit to them?

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 09:45 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It's a question of power

No it isn't, it's a question of supply and demand. If demand for rented properties increases while the supply remains static, then of course rents are going to soar, because that's how economics works.

If more houses were built in the places where people want to live, so there was more supply, then rents would fall.

If power comes into it then it's only through those who have the power to stop more houses being built, ie, the councils who control planning permission for new developments.

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
And, to be fair, the people who have the money to build houses and don't

Well, the only reason to do that would be if you get a better return from your money by investing it in something other than building housing, and if that is the case you can hardly blame them for putting their money where it will give the best return. That is, after all, what one does with money.

But...

those who are landbanking the land until it becomes more favourable to build on it.

... I find it hard to believe this is happening to any great extent, given the number of places I have seen where any piece of spare land with planning permission, even a garden, has had a building hurriedly put up upon it.

(There were a few years there where, yes, development stopped and land was 'banked' for future development; but that period seems to have ended now, at least in places where people want to live, and development has begun again — I suppose in terms of what you wrote, the 'more favourable' times have now arrived again.)

Date: Friday, May 29th, 2015 11:44 pm (UTC)
londonkds: (Default)
From: [personal profile] londonkds
There's already a perfectly good name for workfare - forced labour.

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