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.