It is hard to decide what to object to most, so opaque and randomly synthesised is the draft legislation in the welfare reform bill. Perhaps it should be the clause allowing for the abolition of the fundamental state safety net of income support, or the privatisation of back-to-work services that will benefit only shareholders. Maybe it's the requirement that single parents with children as young as three should be available for "work-related activity" or face sanctions, with the adequacy of childcare provision to be judged by a jobcentre adviser. Others might choose the piloting of "work for your benefits" schemes, which will undercut the minimum wage, offering as little as £1.73 an hour to claimants who have been unemployed for more than two years.So, let us deal with this point-by-point."The abolition of the fundamental state safety net of income support": fundamental? Income support? It's only been here for what, ten years?"The privatisation of back-to-work services that will benefit only shareholders": yeah, 'cos getting people into work is not a benefit to the workers at all. If a private recruitment firm works hard to get people into a job, isn't the worker worthy of his hire? Funnily enough, I don't think that's a principle Ms. Brooks recognises."Single parents with children as young as three should be available for 'work-related activity'": perhaps three is a bit low, but surely there comes a point (normally; I am fully aware that exceptions exist) where even single mothers should be encouraged to be doing something to support their family? Once children are expected to be in school, surely a single mother can use the time freed up to earn a bit of money to put food on the table and clothes on the back?"The piloting of 'work for your benefits' schemes, which will undercut the minimum wage": the minimum wage ensures that fewer jobs are available than would otherwise be (proof: a job which is not economic above £5.00/hr cannot legally be offered and therefore goes un-filled). Then which is better: to do nothing and receive £60 a week, or to work and earn more than £60?That last point is quite important: the minimum wage combines with unemployment benefit to make for some pretty sticky employment situations, where employers cannot make it economic to offer work above the minimum wage, and where recipients do not find it worth their while to move off benefits onto work which is not particularly well-paid.To combat both of these, I favour moving to a system known as the negative income tax, where everyone (for a given definition of everyone: all UK adult citizens at the very narrowest) receives a tax-free annual income, and then income tax is applied to all subsequent income. Clearly, the net effect is that below a certain figure, people receive help from the public purse, and above it, they pay. So it is a progressive scheme. But it is also very simple: one basic payment made to everyone, with qualification very easy and transparent, and all income to be taxed at easily-understood rates.The labour market-distorting minimum wage is then unnecessary and can safely be scrapped. As regards the basic income, the intention is that it would be used by individuals to fund their own social security, through insurance or savings. Thus, social security programmes can be abolished in favour of direct payment. Taxpayer-funded, privately-provided social security, and nary a bureaucrat in sight: no wonder governments of all hues would never consider it!
Friday, June 12, 2009
Two Guardian columns, and Why do columnists hate sensible ideas?
If you want to be encouraged, read Dame Pauline Neville-Jones in today's Guardian on her inherent distaste for control orders, a distaste she argues that the Conservative party, for whom she speaks very knowledgeably on matters terroristical, shares. I was overjoyed to hear of the Law Lords' decision, which opened the door to challenging these unjust uses of overweening executive power to punish without access to evidence, or in some cases even charges.If you need something a bit more depressing, then you could read Libby Brooks from yesterday's Guardian instead. She opens with a paragraph greatly deeserving of unpicking: