Benefits: not really 'Something for Nothing'

 

I’m getting sick of this ‘something for nothing’ attitude that MPs seem to have regarding social security. They complain about giving Jobseeker’s Allowance to people who haven’t spent many years in employment, and forget that to have spent many years in employment one also has to have lived many years since leaving education. They forget that people who haven’t lived many years since education are generally also young and therefore likely to live and work for many years into the future. They forget that by helping people get out of the low-pay, no-pay cycle they are assisting these people into sustainable jobs that will result in tax revenues and national insurance contributions.

The government talks about pensioners having ‘contributed all their lives’ or as having ‘worked hard all their lives,’ forgetting that one doesn’t have to have worked hard all one’s life to get means-tested state pension or other means-tested benefits. They don’t seem to recognise that reaching pension age doesn’t transform an individual’s personal history into one of continuous hard work. Some will have worked hard all their lives and some won’t. The difference between benefits for pensioners and benefits for out-of-work working age people is that out-of-work working age people still have time to pay National Insurance contributions, whereas pensioners don’t; working-age people still have time to work for the rest of their working-age life, whereas pensioners can’t go back and pay more National Insurance contributions. If you give benefits to someone who is out-of-work but hasn’t yet paid many years of contributions, you can consider it as coming from their future NI contributions. But if you give benefits to a pensioner who hasn’t spent many years out-of-work then you are giving benefits to someone who, under the rhetoric of both government and opposition MPs, doesn’t ‘deserve’ and hasn’t ‘earned’ these benefits.

So if we’re basing the payment of benefits on the amount of National Insurance contributions paid, we wouldn’t be refusing to give benefits to those out-of-work who haven’t got ‘sufficient’ National Insurance contributions. We would be recognising that these people are more likely to pay NI contributions in the future if we provide a safety net for them now and don’t let them go crashing to the ground where they collapse in a broken heap. We would be recognising that by preventing a crash and assisting sustainable work we are using the NI contributions that will be paid by that person in the future. To only consider past NI contributions is a massive oversight and blindness to the way life works.

 

On a related topic, we might note that Beveridge never intended for higher earners to pay higher rates of NI. The intention was that everyone in work paid the same rate – bought insurance at the same price – and everyone out-of-work then got the same rate of benefit. Higher earners then didn’t end up feeling disgruntled when, despite paying more in NI contributions, they didn’t get back enough to sustain their higher expenditure when job loss occurred. Rather than considering basing the amount of JSA paid on the pre-job loss income, the government should be considering resetting NI contributions so that everyone pays the same amount.

 

And finally, the people who really get something for nothing are those born into middle or upper class families – and I’m well aware I am one of them – who can afford to overcome some of life’s difficulties. I haven’t earned the much improved education my parents gave me by taking me out of my local comprehensive secondary school and teaching me at home for three years. Nor have I earned the money my parents now spend on looking after me whilst I attempt to recover from ME. Without my parent’s support I would not have had the success that I have had – it is because they have paid my way that I can do what I am doing. If my parents had been unable to take me out of secondary school my education would have suffered; if I were reliant on ESA to live my health would have suffered and/or I would not have been able to carry out the social security research that I do.

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