The World’s Real Oldest Profession

Plymouth Council's view of the Sandercocks

This week the Daily Mail wrote a piece about how an unemployed couple living in a house in Devon with two bedrooms and 6 children under 7 years old have been denied a 4 bedroom house. This topic has already been covered by Caron who highlights the need for more council housing and by Malc who questions the “irresponsibility” of having such a large family while living on welfare and who brought my attention to Caron and the original article.

What I want to discuss however is not the “irresponsibility” of the couple in question, but instead the state’s need for people like them, and its irresponsibility in instituting a system that both creates and demonises them.

As a couple, at least one of whom (I am assuming as no ages are provided) is over 25, and are out of work, they will be in receipt of two sets of Job Seeker’s Allowance, one set of housing & council tax benefit, six sets of child benefit, and child tax credits which tots up to somewhere in the region of £25-£30k a year.

Of these only the Child Benefit is guaranteed, and if Mr Sandercock sought out a job, even paying at Iain Gray’s proposed “living wage” would barely make up for the shortfall, the loss of housing & council tax benefit alone would result in. This is just one example of what is known as “the benefits trap”, a subject on which far too much has been written already for me to provide a single link providing more information.

As my father says “people aren’t stupid: only those who think people aren’t going to take advantage are stupid”, so why does our government allow this to happen? The Universal Child Benefit (UCB) was introduced after the Second World War, as part of the raft of measures in the Beveridge Report that form the core of what we know and love today as the Welfare State, and one of the principal aims of the measure, was to help replace the millions of citizens who gave their lives in the struggle, to discourage people from putting off starting a family until the country was rebuilt and rationing had come to an end, and to act “irresponsibly”. It was this measure in part that triggered the post-war Baby Boom.

I’m sure you are already aware that birthrates are falling and the population is ageing. At the age of 30, my grandmother had 6 children, my mother had 2 and my sister has none. Between my gran’s 55th birthday and my mother’s the number of pensioners had risen by 1.7 million, while the number of children under 16 had dropped by 3.4 million, and by the time my sister reaches her 55th it is forecast that almost a quarter of the population will be over 65, and only 18% will be under 16. Without a dramatic increase in the birth rate to compensate, over 40% of the population will be too young or old to contribute to the workforce, not to mention those like the Sandercock’s unable to do so due to the benefit trap.

I mentioned earlier how although it is unlikely that Mr Sandercock will ever find an entry-level job which better provides for his family, he still receives benefits and is treated as a “job-seeker”, but what is still more ridiculous is that so is Mrs Sandercock. The state insists that in order to receive £65 a week, between breakfast, taking the eldest three children to school, nappy changes, cleaning, washing, ironing, and then picking the kids up from school again, she should be keeping up the charade that she is sending away application forms to Argos for Christmas staff or checking the Plymouth Herald for vacancies and reporting to her local Job Centre Plus to speak to an “advisor” once a fortnight.

I defy anyone to say that raising six children is not a full-time job, and yet we have developed a system where this woman is forced to engage in the pretence that her plate is not full, she is “actively seeking” something to do and that until she finds it the press will call her and her husband “spongers”, “wasters” and “work-shy”. The likes of the Star and the Mail fill their column inches with examples like this, and politicians inform us they will be as tougher than the rest in their pursuit of those “inappropriately claiming benefits” and more forceful in their efforts to get these people back into work, all the while green-lighting white elephants like Trident and submitting dubious expenses claims far in excess of even the most ambitious estimations of what they’ll save by tackling benefit fraud.

The fact of the matter is that looking after children is work, it is an economic activity that adds value to the economy, improving the lot of the nation. If one of those six children, worked for 40 years in a minimum wage job, they would pay almost £120,000 in income tax and National Insurance, in addition to taxes such as VAT being paid on the products they buy and the added value their occupation provided to the economy at large in the first instance. What’s more, if something happened to Mr & Mrs Sandercock and the children entered the foster care system, the state would be paying somewhere in the region of £20-30k per child per year to their foster parent.

Our government should follow Venezuela's example...

In Venezuela, article 88 of the constitution recognises:

“The equality and equity between men & women in the exercise of their right to work. That work within the home is an economic activity that creates added values and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are therefore entitled to remuneration through Social Security.”

From February 2006, mothers are no longer pressured to look for work, and instead of receiving benefits and the stigma that comes with them, are now in receipt of a salary, equivalent to the minimum wage (as it is not taxed) and the dignity that comes with that. These payments are guaranteed whether their husband is out of work or not, providing no incentive for him not to look for work, as children grow older and attend school freeing up more of the day time for mothers, they are able to look for work during the day, or as many choose to do, volunteer at local community projects around their town. Those women who choose to re-enter the workforce no longer have a blank space on their CV to account for, with “mother” being an accepted occupation providing skills and experiences that employers regard highly, to quote Selma James of the Global Women’s Strike

“Caring for others is accomplished by a dazzling array of skills in an endless variety of circumstances. As well as cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundering, planting, tending, harvesting for others, women comfort and guide, nurse and teach, arrange and advise, discipline and encourage, fight for and pacify. Taxing and exhausting under any circumstances, this service work, this emotional housework, is done both outside and inside the home.”

One area however where Venezuela’s system is found lacking, is that it is only women, and widowers, who are able to take advantage of it. There is currently no provision, for stay at home fathers to be paid this salary, while the mother returns to her higher-paying job.

If an independent Scotland, or indeed the UK as it is, wants to crack the problems of the benefit trap, it could do a lot worse than to look to Venezuela.

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The Glasgow List

I apologise for not having kept us this blog over the last week, a combination of events left me with very little time to consider the political goings on, and when I did I was often pipped to the post by other bloggers.

On monday, I received my ballot paper for the Glasgow Regional List, and on saturday I thought I’d pop along to the hustings,there are a total of 11 candidates standing for the list, 8 of the 9 constituency candidates (with John Mason deciding not to stand) and 3 list-only candidates.

At one point I was planning on giving a critique of each of them and then stating how I was going to rank them all, but when considering all the candidates I didn’t feel as if it was as clear-cut as I was hoping. There were a few points worth considering however.

I was a bit uneasy with the way that James Dornan referenced allegations of sexual harassment being made against Labour councillors in his biography on the ballot list and that uneasiness was compounded when I saw the way he erupted at one member of the audience at the hustings who questioned certain aspects of his strategy as group leader.

There are two Asian candidates, both only contesting on the list and not standing for a constituency, and while both were young, clearly capable men there was a marked difference between the two. In Humza Yousaf, we have a candidate with plenty of experience of the political machinery, having spent most of his professional life in the offices of SNP parliamentarians. Mr Yousaf during his hustings speech, spoke about his Pakistani heritage; of how his father was amongst the first Asian members of the SNP, and that he didn’t believe his ethnicity should play a part in member’s decision-making process.

On the other hand Sid Khan is still new to the world of politics, having made his living in financial services and latterly in the construction industry, Mr Khan was clearly nervous when addressing the hustings talking quickly and at one point having to be asked to speak up. Interestingly, Mr Khan didn’t reference his Asian heritage during his speech, and because of that I think he made Mr Yousaf’s point more effectively than he had, in fact during his speech, Mr Khan spoke of the proud heavy engineering traditions “we have in Scotland and particularly here on the Clyde” while references to “we” in Mr Yousaf’s speech were never so inclusive, tending to refer to the young Scots-Asian community.

I think of the two, it would be Sid Khan’s experience in the private sector and outside of the parliamentary bubble which would be of most use to the SNP team, and the Scottish Parliament as a whole, but in all likelihood it will be Mr Yousaf who will finish with a higher ranking on the list.

The others all delivered strong cases for their respective returns to parliament, and while I said I wouldn’t be providing a full ranking from 1 to 11, I think there is one clear front-runner.

Since Bashir Ahmed’s tragic death in February 2009, Anne McLaughlin has become one of the most well-kent faces in Glasgow, not just for her tireless constituency work from Cranhill to Govanhill but also for her work on behalf of Florence & Precious Mhango and cases like theirs. The list system exists in part to ensure that people like Ms McLaughlin who have supporters all over the city rather than concentrated in a single constituency, have a chance to  be elected, and I would urge you to give her your #1 ranking to ensure they get that chance in May.

And so it begins…

So the other day I was watching Newsnight Scotland, and Gordon Matheson was going on about how he felt Glasgow City Council had to put up council tax. He said that doing so wouldn’t “cost the government a single penny” and that it would be fairer than the current council tax freeze, which applies to everyone and isn’t “means tested”

Aside from the fact that a rise in council tax would result in either increases to the number of applications for council tax benefit, increasing both the council’s costs, and the total welfare budget of the UK (or more defaulters, resulting in a rise in the council’s costs, and the justice budget rising as more people are taken to court), the second point that the council tax freeze is not means tested, that is particularly  cretinous.

As I’m sure you are aware, council tax is also not means tested, it is paid based on the value of your home, had it been sold in April 1991, with councils normally splitting these into valuation bands.  This means that a single mother of two, with a three bedroom flat will be liable for the same amount of council tax, as the three recently graduated students who share the flat across the landing from her.

What’s more council tax doesn’t really take into consideration the size of the property, so if her two children leave for university and she decides to get a one bedroom flat, she may find that it actually costs her more.

If Gordon Matheson, and any of his other Labour colleagues who agree with him,  truly want a means tested method of paying for our muncipal services then they should support the SNP’s calls for a Local Income Tax.