Monday, October 30, 2006

Isn’t it time to rethink means tested benefits?
Recently it was reported how a 60-year-old woman from Brockley was jailed for six months for housing benefit fraud to the tune of £7,200. This blog earlier reported how Lewisham Council is possibly overpaying this benefit to people. A key feature of this benefit, unlike say, child benefit, is that it requires means testing, a sure-fire way of encouraging social breakdown.

In his excellent book `The Welfare State We’re In’, James Bartholomew captures the essence of what is wrong with means testing with the three simple messages it sends out: 1) Don’t save, 2) Don’t earn, and 3) Don’t tell the truth. It is not the first time this contentious social tool has been criticised: Gordon Brown, our Prime Minister-in-waiting said at his party’s conference in 1993 `I want to achieve what in fifty years of the welfare state has never been achieved. The end of the means test for our elderly people’. But today, the elderly face more means testing than ever before.

It seems to me that a robust rethink of our benefits system is in order. Britain has never been wealthier yet it is more benefit dependent. And the benefits bill will spiral even more when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU next year. Thought should be given to phasing out means testing over a five-year period to allow people to adjust their needs versus their means. Otherwise we will continue seeing morally bankrupt 60 year olds trying it on…

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