Politicians Don’t Always Tell the Truth – Shock Horror!
(Report of a presentation by Paul Morrison from the JPIT.)
Those who gathered to hear Paul Morrison when he spoke to a rapt audience at Fareham United Reformed Church recently. (October, 2015.) could have been so shocked that they were unable to continue after hearing his first two startling revelations:
- Politicians don’t always tell the truth. …… and
- You can’t always believe what you read in the Daily Mail.
To be fair, it was not just the Daily Mail, it was the press in general.
Paul is the Policy Advisor from the JPIT (Joint Public Issues Team). We started with the assumption – a pretty fair assumption, that the Conservative Party did not think they would have to implement the £12 billion worth of cuts that they campaigned about prior to the election, because they expected to end up in coalition again.
The Principles of the Welfare State and the work of the JPIT.
Paul went back to the beginnings of the Welfare State in post-war Britain. One of its founding principles was that people would have “enough”, and that principle has now been lost. It was not only the Health Service, to be free at the point of delivery. All the other social care measures introduced were designed to make sure that people were looked after and enjoyed the basics with some dignity. That is why the JPIT has in recent months produced various reports highlighting social issues:
- “The Lies We Tell Ourselves….” – highlighting and dispelling the myths that surround prejudices many people have about people on benefits, such as “They’re all on Drink and Drugs….” And “They cause the Crash….”
- “Faith in Foodbanks” – highlighting the enormous need for and examining the issues and misconceptions about foodbanks.
- “Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions!” – highlighting the punitive and arbitrary system which can take away people’s financial lifeline with minimum notice for the most trivial of reasons.
The latest such report – “Enough” (which can be downloaded from here -http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/enough/ ) goes back to – as the title suggests – that idea of the modern welfare state, the agonies which can surround decisions as to whether you feed your children or pay the gas Bill, and the unfairness of the bad start in life this gives many children.
The Church’s History on such things – tackling and challenging.
But why should the Church be interested? Paul told us about the Foundery – the base which the Wesleys bought in London to house their worship – they were still Anglicans at the time. The Foundery had previously housed the manufacturing of weapons, and part of the roof had been blown off, so it was cheap. But it was in the East End of London and, although the building had been bought for worship, it soon came to be used as a base for tackling many of the social evils that abounded at the time – things that the Wesleys felt their faith required, nay demanded them to do. They were living cheek by jowl with abject poverty, so they responded to the need, supporting mothers, saving people from the need to go in to prostitution when they seemed to have no alternative, educating their children.
But, very importantly, they also asked why things were as they were. They challenged. It was from this sort of base that slavery was eventually abolished. But it also led to prison reform. People were poor because society was structured in such a way as to make them poor, structured to put people in debt. Most people in prison were there because of debt. They had to pay to get out of prison. This usually meant loans, thereby increasing the debt. The Church highlighted the problem and things changed.
The Current Social Situation.
Then came those two shocking revelations. The language of the press – and the government – in using terms like “benefit scroungers” can become internalised – people come to believe the things that they read even if they are extreme. And if the people under attack are poor, they can’t fight back. Whereas companies and large institutions can hire lawyers and can afford to fight their corner, people who are on (or below!) the poverty line cannot afford to do so. So the myths and prejudices get perpetuated and hardened. Paul mentioned that the “The Lies We Tell Ourselves” report quoted David Cameron speaking in 2011, using statistics from 2003, but using statistics which were inaccurate. What was said had no basis in reality.
More recently the “Listening to Troubled families” document, which was published in 2012, reported on work with the 120,000 “worst” families in the country. It was based on 16 case studies – a sample which even the wildest statistician would not take as representative. That gave the press the opportunity to come up with graphic stories which were totally based on rubbish, such as “The prevalence of child sexual and physical abuse and sometimes child rape was striking and shocking.” Those words did not appear in the report, they were in the Press release, so was this a case of government spin being perpetuated by a grateful press?
And there were numerous other cases of false statistics cited – the “workless” figure being quoted as 4.5million people, when that figure included full-time carers (such as mothers with small children) and the disabled, who could not work anyway.
But What About Poverty.
But what about poverty. 1 in 4 people in this country are in poverty – that is 13,000,000 people. 1 in 3 children are in poverty – that is 3,800,000 children. And Paul highlighted that poverty is REAL. It has real effects on people’s life chances, health and many other things. While people think that job-seekers’ allowance is a huge part of our welfare bill, it is actually only 1.4% – tiny – while pensions is huge. But one area of real progress in recent years has been pensions. In 1991, 38% of pensioners lived in poverty, which was the largest proportion. Now it is only 14%, so pensions money is well spent.
What is Social Justice?
We then went on to Social Justice. The Government view on Social Justice is about “fixing broken people”. Paul put forward a view that it should be about Changing the Structures in Society (back to the Wesleys?!) “If everyone did everything alright, then everything would be OK”.
But the main problem at the moment in Government Speak is people “not choosing to move in to work”. With the current (highly controversial) welfare cap proposals, the government line is a very strong “All households taking action to move in to work will be unaffected by the changes.” The implication is therefore that people actively trying to sort their situation out will not be affected (although the financial realities seem to tell a different story).
This attitude is perpetuated by the concept of a benefits cap – a short sharp shock which, according to government, had people rushing to the Jobcentres. But in the real world 83.8% of families or people affected did not rush to the job centres. For the rest, 11.5% would, through the natural movement of such things, have moved in to work anyway, leaving just 4.7% who “rushed to the JobCentre” because of benefit Caps. This just reflects that about 15% of such people would have moved in to work anyway, and most of the rest had caring responsibilities which meant that they were never going to do so.
Abolishing Child Poverty!
There is one easy way to deal with Child Poverty, and that is to abolish it. The Welfare reform and Work Bill will do away with Child Poverty Targets! If it’s not measured, it can’t be highlighted. We will see the introduction of “Life Chance Measures” instead. Paul seriously questioned whether the only effect of benefits payments is to act as a disincentive for people to get back in to work, which is the Government view. So we went back to the idea of “Enough”. Is it not more important to make sure that people have “enough”, a safe secure income rather than the destructive and debilitating household conflict which will so often result from worrying how to make ends meet, about which bill to pay, about not eating so that the Children can.
And it is families with Children that are by far the worst affected. One of the measures in the round of benefits Caps is to remove tax credits from the 3rd and subsequent Children. This is because “it is not fair to the taxpayer”. But is it fair to the Children, is it punishing the parents who have too many children, or is it punishing – affecting the life chances of – the Children themselves.
The intention of benefits caps is around imposing hardship to change behaviour, but is it about imposing hardship on children to change parents‘ behaviour? If you care about this, there are templates on the JPIT website which you can use to write to your MP.
There is Hope.
Paul did finish the evening by telling us there is hope. The Churches have made a difference. The recent “rebellion” over tax credit cuts in the Lords was influenced by the Churches, who with other agencies talked to the Lords, and they listened. There has also been an event in parliament where victims of benefits sanctions were given the opportunity to speak to MP’s – the voiceless being given a voice, but also giving MP’s the opportunity to hear at first hand from the most disadvantaged.
The Questions bit at the end.
There were some difficult questions asked at the end of the evening as well. It was agreed that benefit levels have never been set at the level of how much money people need in order to live. If they were to be, how would you pay for it? Paul pointed out that overall family wealth has grown by a staggering £3trillion since 2008. Since overall levels of wealth have grown so enormously, should we not be able to provide a decent start for young people?
Pensioners are not necessarily always as well off as painted. Many people of pensionable age are still working, still having to work in order to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle. This will often apply to the self-employed – a group often encouraged by government as entrepreneurs, but who may not have been able to build up a decent pension provision during their lifetime. This led to the question of pleasing voters. The old and rich vote, the young and poor don’t vote. The young and rich tend not to vote either. So are measures introduced to win votes?
Love Thy neighbour!
The meeting ended on the note that a great deal of what is missing in our society at the moment is trust – evidenced by the demonising of benefits spongers and so on. Part of what Churches can do is what should come to us naturally, which is about loving our neighbour. Such love would include and develop trust.
Contact David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: email@example.com