This Christmas at Gingerbread, we're asking our campaign supporters what's on their wishlist to Make it work for them in 2013. Our latest campaign aims to unpick how best to support more single parents into work, and with the first round of Work Programme statistics having made for fairly bleak reading, we're hoping our calls for solutions to this perennial problem won't fall on deaf ears.
This has prompted me to think about what I'd like to see more of - or less of - from politicians next year. Here are my top two wishes for 2013:
1. Let's put welfare myths to bed. For good.
Politicians and the media have long been fond of using extreme examples for, shall we say, dramatic effect. But in recent months the scale of myths and stereotypes trotted out to support increasingly drastic welfare cuts has been truly astonishing. Routine comments about generations of the same families choosing a 'culture of worklessness' (recently exposed as a complete fallacy); aspersions cast about households where 'the blinds are down long after the hard working neighbour has set off for work'; and time and again the false distinction drawn between 'strivers' and 'shirkers'.
This thinly-veiled reversion back to Victorian concepts of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor is completely at odds with the true picture of life for those who some are starting to call the 'precariat'. These are people - single people, parents, families - living on low incomes, most likely cycling in and out of work, and dependent in one way or another on financial support from the state because of the combination of low wages (if they can find work at all); high housing, energy and food costs; and the insecurity that comes from working at the low-paid end of the labour market.
These welfare myths have been so comprehensively debunked that it's shameful to see how willing some politicians are to replay them for political point-scoring. More importantly though, this form of myth-based policy-making is exceptionally damaging, and it needs to stop.
2. More joined-up policy-making
The holy grail for policy-makers is surely 'joined-up government' - where decisions made across different government departments all mesh seamlessly to form one coherent whole. I have no doubt this can be difficult to achieve - in some cases nigh on impossible - but wouldn't it be nice to see policy-makers try a little bit harder not to introduce policies that are so directly contradictory they end up making no sense?
Case in point #1: the government has long cited its drive to increase the personal tax allowance to £10,000 as one of its central mechanisms "to help lower and middle income earners" and as proof that it's delivering fairness. However, the interaction of the personal tax allowance with Universal Credit - itself designed to 'make work pay', remember - will effectively cancel out the majority of its value for anyone in receipt of Universal Credit. Meaning that workers on the lowest incomes will only receive a third of any tax allowance increase compared to those on higher incomes who will receive the full amount.
Case in point #2: the government has made much of the fact that Universal Credit is partly designed to encourage personal financial responsibility - by giving tenants their housing benefit, for example, rather than paying it direct to their landlord, "allowing claimants to prepare for the financial responsibilities they will face when in work". However, there is also an alarming undercurrent of support for proposals to pay benefits through some form of cash card to dictate the spending habits of those on benefits and to 'stop them buying booze and fags'. So which is it to be? Pushing claimants to take on more financial responsibility, or assuming that without (nanny) state intervention they will only fritter away the money they do get? [Which leads me back to my point about myth-based policy-making...]
The government has been criticised for a series of high-profile U-turns this year (pasty tax, anyone?), in which it's been accused of not foreseeing or thinking through the consequences of various policy decisions. Next year let's see instead more thoroughly considered and tested policies that actually support the people they are intended to.
As is becoming abundantly clear, 2013 will be extremely tough - on the unemployed and on workers on low incomes, on those with disabilities, on families, on single parents and, yes, on those who work with them and for them to help improve their circumstances. So having spelled out what I want to see from politicians next year, what do I resolve to do in 2013?
Simple: Stand taller. Get angrier. Fight harder.
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