100,000 children face poverty: benefits reform is getting this very very wrong

A leaked government document suggests that benefits reform will mean an extra 100,000 children will be thrown into poverty by the new cap, which is apparently a bold move to discourage benefits dependency culture by pushing people back into work.

If the government are serious about discouraging benefits culture (I’m not going to go into the argument about media scapegoating, subcultural norms, or any depth here), then they are going about it the wrong way. The reality is that for huge huge numbers of the workforce, full time work means they STILL have to get benefits in order to live. The minimum wage is not fit for purpose. We have a scenario where the absolute worst form of state spending occurs: essentially, the tax-payer foots the bill to allow people at the bottom of the pay scale to live because the private sector insists on creaming profits before giving real reimbursement for the labour which keeps the cogs of their corporate empires turning. While this is allowed to continue, there is no incentive to work.

Being a right wing government, the coalition have decided to attempt the alternative: they don’t have the strength to face down those who are benefitting the most from this scenario of cheap labour, so instead of raising the standard for those who work, they are going to try to drop it for those who don’t. Nevermind that unemployment is at a record high, nevermind that there is no clear or intelligent policy for meaningful jobs creation, nevermind that public sector jobs are being slashed left right and centre while the promised private sector roles which were going to miraculously open up fail to materialise.

But moving aside from the short term problems, there is and never will be any moral justification for a policy which will leave 100 000 children impoverished. Poverty is an indicator for a lifetime of inequality, including poor health, poor achievement in education, and future poverty itself. In a libertarian dream world, childhood poverty is that little nudge which drives a child to move out of the housing estate and up to the dizzying heights of success: why would anyone see their parents scraping around for food and fuel and want to emulate their existence? But the reality doesn’t work like that. The social statistics show that the biggest likely consequence of childhood poverty is adulthood poverty. Psychological research can explain this a little further with the behavioural process of learned helplessness. What this means is that basically it is a human trait that if we are exposed to failure repeatedly over a period of time, we will stop trying even when escape is possible.

A government prepared to push children into poverty – let’s not forget, the same government happy to advocate cutting off benefits for cancer patients after one year, the same government who are slashing rape and domestic violence support, the same government who are putting record numbers of pensioners into a position where they cannot afford to heat their homes – are a government at war on the weakest in society. We have to bring them down.


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