Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Thomas Byrne

GET UPDATES FROM Thomas Byrne
 

Fear the Backlash From the Squeezed Middle

Posted: 26/01/2012 13:31

Has there ever been a vote that a government has ever been so desperate to lose? This was the verdict from journalists as the House of Lords voted down proposals to cap the welfare payment that any family can receive at 26k, indeed this very loss has allowed Iain Duncan Smith to present himself as fighting for the squeezed middle against the out of touch Labour party. It's been the ultimate wedge issue for us. There's firm support for the cap that's been proposed from the voters of every party. Even a third of those polled by YouGov believe that a benefits cap should be less than £20k per year. Intuitively this seems to have been a lesson in political masterclass; the ultimate in doorstep politics. We can go to the doorsteps in 2015 with our heads held high and say that we stopped the rot in spiralling welfare payments for those who didn't deserve it. Herein lies the problem. Most voters are under the impression that most welfare payments go to those out of work, the scroungers in society that are intent on ripping us off. This isn't the case, the families that will be hit most hard by this benefit cap are the hard working squeezed middle who rightly feel entitled to a hand up as they lose their job in difficult times. We can all agree on the principle that we need to get welfare payments down and that no-one should be entitled to more than those in work. More housing benefit isn't the answer. Welfare isn't necessarily about money, but the benefit cap in its current form appears to cause more problems than it solves. Without further deep reform we can look forward to a backlash from the squeezed middle as they find that their benefit has been cut as their incomes stay stagnant for potentially the next 8 years.

The main thing that causes the steep rise in welfare payments is high rents which is what bears down so hard upon the cost of living for the squeezed middle. An expansion of home building would solve both problems in a clean sweep. Should the planning reform required to encourage homebuilding be successfully passed through parliament, It will be many years before we see the effects of this process in bringing rents down. Public opinion rejects the option of building mores homes, despite it being a simple solution to the crisis we face. In the British Social Attitudes survey for the past year, only 5% picked the option of 'Allowing developers to build more homes'. 46% of respondents were openly opposed to new homebuilding and about a third of the opponents are 'strongly opposed'. It is disheartening then that the government have picked a fight with one of the organisations best placed to help ride against the tide of resistance. Shelter have strongly backed the government on the need for more housing. Recent events could see any good will evaporate, if the government are seen as smearing the organisation in the name of political advantage

Although current public opinion is favourable towards the benefit cap, this could change as families start to feel the bit of the cuts that they didn't receive they will receive, and leave most voters feeling the party is too right-wing to represent their interests. Most people feel that the economy is going to get much worse in the coming years, worse than that they feel that the coalition aren't doing enough to tackle fairness at the top of society as well as the bottom. Only 10% feel that the government is doing a good job at tackling tax evasion. 60% feel that we are doing badly. As well as being seen as too 'right wing' we aren't doing enough to shed the image of being the party of the rich. Unless we are able to create the right transitional arrangement for the benefit cap, pursue necessary reforms making welfare more generous to those who are deserving, and tackle the root causes of the unacceptably large welfare bill, the anger of ordinary hard-working people will soon rightly emerge. I support the principle of a benefit cap. I think it's immoral that we live in a society where we can get something for nothing. I detest the false morality of the bishops and the left who feel that fairness stems the maximum amount each family can receive from the state, rather than what we can do for each other. There can be no excuse for a policy that pulls away the safety net for the families and children that need it. I am open to having my mind changed, but without more systematic reform this seems at best to be a political time bomb, and at worst something that victimises the very families we should be cherishing.

Surely too heavy a price to pay in the pursuit of short term political posturing?"

 

Follow Thomas Byrne on Twitter: www.twitter.com/byrnetoff