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Caroline Davey Headshot

Why Bother With Facts on Welfare When Fiction Is So Convenient?

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Once again, the old myths and stereotypes about benefit claimants - or should I say "feckless workshy scroungers" - have been wheeled out as cover for radical proposals to cut welfare by a further £10billion.

Despite starting his speech by saying: "We're not going to get through this as a country if we set one group against another, if we divide, denounce and demonise", George Osborne went on to do exactly that - setting up division between "the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits" - which the Guardian followed up with a nice riff on why people might choose to keep their blinds down - between "young people who have never worked... and working people twice their age... still living with their parents"; and between "people in work [who] have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don't".

Of course, these are all stereotypes that play well with a certain strand of popular perception - but what's the reality? And what would cuts like the ones the government is floating actually mean for people on the ground? Because it's clear that this announcement comes at a time when those on low incomes are already struggling, and risks plunging even more children into poverty.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has already forecast a steep rise in the rate of child poverty to 2020 on the basis of welfare cuts already announced. Despite the fact that many of these cuts are yet to be implemented - with 88% of the cuts still to hit - organisations supporting low income families are already reporting rising levels of poverty and hardship.

Here at Gingerbread, we've taken a spate of calls in the last couple of months from single parents unable to afford school uniform for their kids as they start the autumn term. And the food bank network run by the Trussell Trust helped over 128,000 people in 2011-2012, a staggering 100% increase compared to the previous year, and is now opening four new centres a week to cope with rising demand.

Let's take a moment here: Food banks. In the seventh richest country in the world. In the 21st Century.

Further cuts to families who are already - literally - on the breadline will be devastating. Over half of under-25s on housing benefit have children living with them; and what about the family with three or four children who are suddenly faced with redundancy - will they lose their child benefit and child tax credits overnight too because they didn't foresee a global recession when they had their children? And as the IFS has shown, in order to reach the £10billion figure proposals would need to go significantly beyond what was suggested at Conservative conference this week - who else will feel the axe when the full details are fleshed out?

It's vital that we separate fact from fiction: the vast majority of people who receive government support do so because they can't earn enough to support their families, or even find a job in the first place. Not to mention the reality of the low-pay/no-pay cycle at the bottom of the labour market meaning it's almost inevitable that many will churn in and out of work regularly rather than be able to find a secure and permanent job. Rather than taking support away from those who need it the most, the government must instead focus on creating more jobs and making work pay for everyone.

But not to worry, there'll be no dividing, denouncing or demonising as these debates play out and final policy proposals come forward in the coming months, because we're still "all in this together". So that's okay then.

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