Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Reality of the ‘Something for Nothing Society.

The financial realities of the ConDem’s austerity package is finally kicking in, affecting most families, friends and communities within the U.K. There are so many families losing their jobs, living on the breadline and struggling to make ends meet. Unfortunately it looks as if this trend will continue for some time under the uncaring and unscrupulous Westminster government.

With communities being ripped apart, and many suffering the indignity of losing their jobs and collecting welfare the last thing they need is to be labelled a ‘something for nothing society.’ Yet this is how, not only Labour but the rest of the Westminster politicians see people on benefits. It is also one of the main differences between Labour for Independences Real Labour policies and that of Scottish Labour.
Welfare, since its creation, has always been a contentious topic, the third line on the rail track, touch it and die (at least politically). But it’s an important issue and one which will be a leading factor in the independence debate.

So before we get started, let’s get the facts straight. The welfare system is in need of reform, the current system offers no financial incentive for many to work. There are also people out there who abuse the system. But these people are in the extreme minority. Most people who are on welfare are on it for need rather than greed.

The current system of change under Ian Duncan Smith ignores this, while the need for reform is not in question, a blanket cut is not the answer. For many suffering disabilities the embarrassing situation of claiming benefits is humiliating enough without having to undergo testing as to how disabled they actually are. How can someone prove to ATOS that they have mental health issues? How do you test someones physical disabilities without stripping them of their dignity?

The real change in the welfare system will only come about when there is a real incentive for people to work. A member of my family, after giving birth to her first child, worked 16 hours a week in a minimum wage job. When she was offered 5 extra hours a week, she had to refuse them as it would have meant she lost all her tax credits, leaving her unable to live. This is not encouraging work rather restricting individual responsibility and holding families back.

Only when there is a true incentive for people to give up their welfare for work, will be when work, even the most basic becomes more financially appealing than staying on welfare. This will only happen when a minimum wage is reflective of the demands made on a family.

The other issue, is the complexity of the tax credits, The truth of the situation is that most people who use them, don’t understand how they are worked out. In fact those who ‘cheat the system’ should be awarded honorary degrees for working out the process. The realities for most is that they fill out their claim and receive a payment. What happens too often is that the tax credits office then come back the following year claiming that the claimant has been overpaid and is now due money. However to prevent hardship they continue to pay them leading to more being owed, and a never ending spiral of debt and poverty. The system needs to be made simpler and have the awarded claim be undisputable.

The unsettling reality of the economic situation we find ourselves in, is that more and more people will experience the welfare system. This is not something which should be mocked or have those in that position be blamed for the economic crisis we face. Let’s not forget who got us into this situation in the first place. The banks and the government for failing to regulate them properly. It is the people who are now being blamed for this crisis who are suffering the most. To label them as a something for nothing society, is crass, uncaring, and shows a basic lack of knowledge and understanding of the hardships faced in communities each day.

Labour for Independence wants to see more people in work, for their own self-respect, for the financial benefit for their families and for our economy as a whole. But what is needed is dramatic changes to incentivise work, increase the minimum wage to a living wage. Reduce the risk of debt by simplifying the credit system.

The only way for real reform to take place in Scotland is for the reforms to be made by a government who represents every person in Scotland not just those who turn a profit. Those in a Westminster ivory tower, who have no idea of the hardships faced by those most affected by austerity can never truly grasp what is needed. This, like so many other issues are best resolved in an independent Scotland and with Real labour ideals at the heart of it. Without it we will never be able to solve our biggest societal challenges and will always be labelled a ‘something for nothing society!’

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