Going after welfare cheats misses the bigger picture

TaxesSo, like the New Labour government before it, the Government wants to go after benefit cheats who scam the state out of taxpayer funded social security payments. This is hardly a great surprise given chancellor George Osborne’s recent proclamation that he wants to swipe £12 billion from the current welfare budget. The question is though, is going after those who cheat the benefits system missing the point? I argue yes.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, welfare fraud costs the taxpayer some £1.2 billion per year, which sounds like a big number, and in many ways it is. Few would argue that its morally justifiable to claim benefits of whatever kind when you shouldn’t be, and that offenders should be accordingly dealt with by the authorities. Whilst there’s a worthwhile debate to be had regarding why people fraudulently claim and what should be done with them, it’s interesting to consider how this £1.2 billion figure stacks up in comparison to other tax and benefit related illegal behaviour.

Take tax evasion as one example (we’ll leave tax avoidance as this is technically legal, whatever you might think of the ethics of such behaviour). This wholly illegal measure cost the Treasury £5.1 billion in 2011/12 (the latest year for which data is available), more than 4 times the cost of benefit fraud. Now, although the Government have announced action on tackling tax evasion, it has hardly done so with the same fanfare as it has with its benefit fraud campaign. With this in mind, it’s worth remembering this great disparity in who actually costs the taxpayer more in terms of lost taxes whenever the Government, Media or anyone else talks about issues relating to tax, benefits and welfare.

Indeed, this is important because often in debates around this political hot potato, those who claim benefits are often portrayed negatively by politicians, media and some members of the general pubic which in turn influences attitudes toward benefit claimants from the general public. Consider for instance figures that suggest the public believe that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is lost through fraud. What’s the actual figure? 70 pence. Given this huge difference, its perhaps not surprising the general public hold the attitudes they do around welfare claimants. In addition, even in the very best scenario (when the entire £1.2 billion fraud estimate is completely plugged, which it almost certainly never will be) claiming back costs relating to benefit fraud would only make a slight dent in George Osborne’s £12 billion figure.

As it happens, the Chancellor has indicated that he wants the cuts to primarily come from wealthy council house tenants and under 25’s claiming housing benefit. I’d be interested to hear more on Osborne’s reasoning for particularly targeting these benefits and not looking at other benefits such as those relating to Pensions. It’s important we consider this segment of welfare expenditure when it comes to the debate on welfare because its state pensions by far that take up the largest proportion of the overall welfare budget at £74.22 billion per year. By comparison, housing benefit and disability allowance take up £16.94 billion and £12.57 billion per year respectively.

This is when things become difficult because despite spending on state pensions taking up a huge proportion of the welfare budget, I’m confident very few of us would call the state pension overly generous (it’s among the worst in the OECD). Indeed, I think the key reason why the spend is so high is because of the high numbers of pensioners themselves and the fact they are living longer than ever before. We’re therefore left with something of a ‘sticky wicket’, spending such as housing benefit and job seeker’s allowance takes up a relatively small part of the welfare budget, but cutting the state pension would arguably penalise some of the poorest pensioners, not to mention those who have worked all their lives paying National Insurance Contributions expecting to receive an adequate pension in their retirement. In any case, although the Government have tentatively considered cutting other universal state benefits for wealthy pensioners, such as free bus passes and winter fuel payments, these benefits are both relatively modest (costing the taxpayer £1 billion and £2.15 billion respectively) I’d wager that the Government would be reluctant to heavily reduce these benefits due to a.) Pensioners being more likely to vote than any other age group, and b.) Pensioners being more likely to vote Conservative.

At the end of the day, in order to ‘balance the books’ I’d consider doing three things. Firstly, I’d think about implementing a large affordable house building programme or radically reform planning laws so that supply would increase, meaning hopefully, pay outs to fund housing benefit would be less (due to rents decreasing, or at least not increasing as rapidly as they have been of late.) Secondly, I’d consider introducing rent controls, which again would stem the rise in housing benefit pay outs. Thirdly, I’d seriously look at the system of tax credits, which currently costs the taxpayer some £27.2 billion per year. The reason tax credit spending is so high is because of low (or what some call ‘poverty’ wages). That is, tax credits subsidise low wages by effectively ‘topping them up’ so (in theory), households have an adequate income. I think this spend could be curbed by enforcing a higher minimum wage (which to be fair Osborne has recently announced) or better still a living wage (which he hasn’t announced.) In addition, financial recognition of family responsibility could be moved into the tax system (for example, by reintroducing child tax allowances.)  Doing both these things would both reduce the tax credit spend by removing more people from tax credits and as a result remove them from the frankly pitiful work incentives that exist for many families under tax credits.[1]

However, the measures suggested here are rather more long term in nature than might be desired for this Government.  Yet, in order to seriously tackle problems relating to public spending, I believe long term solutions are needed. Thus, whilst focussing on benefit fraud, housing benefit for the under 25s and wealthy council house tenants might be popular with certain sections of the electorate, doing so ignores wider problems with our welfare system as it currently stands.

This article is also published on the Institute of Opinion website

[1] If you’re a one-earner couple family or single parent family with two children for instance on a income of between £12,000 and £33,000 you only end up with 27 pence from every extra £1 earned.

Are 59% of the UK population Christian?

crossThis question was prompted by some figures I recently came across from the UK based polling organisation Ipsos Mori, which argued that the British public ‘were wrong about everything’, especially it seems about the numbers of those who attribute themselves to certain religions. Commenting about the results, Bobby Duffy from Ipsos Mori argued that the British public significantly overestimated the number of Muslims in the UK, but significantly underestimated the number of Christians. In regard to the later, Ipsos Mori say that according to the 2011 British Census, 59% (or just over 33.2 million) of the UK population identified themselves as Christian, but that when asked as part of the survey, the public perceived the number at only 34%. Is this true? Are 59% of the UK population Christian? I’m not so sure, and here’s why.

Firstly, we need to define what it means to be a Christian, and in order to do so it surely makes good sense to go back to the original source text, the Bible. Observe what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 about what it is that results in one’s salvation (thus making them a Christian):

‘Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.’

Now, the 2011 Census data on which the Ipsos Mori survey relies asks respondents to simply identify which religion they feel they belong to, without offering a definition of what it means to believe and/or belong to such. Whilst I can understand why the Census producershave opted for this relatively straightforward methodological approach, it does have a number of significant flaws which means that not all respondents who identify as Christian might actually be saved in the way the Bible describes.

This issue is particularly pertinent in the UK, which arguably has a Christian heritage and which some might say is ‘culturally Christian’, adhering to ‘Christian values.’ Indeed, it appears on the basis of more Ipsos Mori survey evidence that a significant proportion of those who ticked the Christian box might describe themselves as ‘culturally’ or ‘traditionally’ Christian, but who don’t necessarily believe in the Gospel and Lordship of Jesus Christ, key Christian doctrines or participate in Christian activities such as Church attendance.

Indeed, data relating to primary Christian doctrines (that is those which the Bible holds as unequivocally true) such as the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:36-42), Jesus being the Son of God (Mark 1:9-11) and Jesus being someone’s personal Lord and Saviour (John 14:6 and Acts 4:12) suggests that far fewer than the 59% of those who described themselves as Christian in the above survey actually ascribe to these doctrines and beliefs. Indeed, 32% of those who took part in the above survey who stated in the 2011 Census they were Christian said that they believed Jesus came back to life physically after being dead, 44% said Jesus was the Son of God and 22% said that they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Therefore, based on these figures can we really say that 59% of the British public are Christian?

In regard to participation in Christian activities, such as attending a church service (going to church on a Sunday doesn’t in any sense ensure salvation, although its likely that many who believe the gospel will attend, see this excellent article) according to analysis conducted by Christian Research based on the 2005 Census, 6.3% of the population attended church on ‘Census Sunday’ (8th May 2005) which equates to just over 3.1 million people. This figure relates to churches upholding the Trinitarian tradition (Anglican, Protestant, Free Churches, Catholic, and Orthodox.)

In summing up, based on what we know about how the British Census asks from its respondents in terms of defining their religion, and what survey data says about those who say they are Christians, I think that if we take the Bible as the authority in defining what it is to be Christian and what the key tenets of Christianity are, then far fewer than 59% of the British public are probably truly Christian. Thus, maybe the public’s perception of the number of Christians in the UK is closer to the truth than previously thought, or on the basis of the evidence presented here, lower than the perceived number. More importantly though, it seems sad that there are those who think they’re Christian but who according to the Bible aren’t. Therefore, for those of us that are Christians, why not take the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ coming into the world, dying and rising again so that those who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

What I think the Government should be doing in 2014

Big BenSo here we are, another day, another year. As Government swings back into action after its brief Christmas hiatus I thought I’d put together a mini-manifesto of what I feel the Government should prioritise in the next 12 months. What do you think? Feel free to comment below!

FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The Government should continue to increase rights relating to freedom of speech. Following the success of the Reform Section 5 campaign, one hopes the related ‘feel free to annoy me’ Reform Clause 1 campaign, which aims to prevent ‘Ipnas’ coming into force, will also be a force for championing free speech. The present signs are encouraging, with the House of Lords defeating the Government regarding an amendment to remove the words ‘annoying’ and ‘nuisance’ from the legislation. In brief, Ipnas (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance) have the potential to subject an individual or group to court orders if they are deemed to be causing a ‘nuisance or annoyance.’ It is therefore crucial that the Government make the changes necessary to ensure that groups or individuals can be free to express themselves without fear of being castigated for getting up someone’s nose!

LIFE

The Government should do more to protect the unborn. In 2012, according to the Department for Health, over 185,000 abortions took place whilst the Director for Public prosecutions Kier Starmer said that as the law currently stands, Gender selective abortion (that is, abortion based solely on the gender of the child) is not prohibited. What is more, a 2004 study indicated that in the UK 95% of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome are aborted. One therefore calls on the Government to be bold in 2014 in protecting this most vulnerable group of society.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Given that rent is the biggest cost many families face on a month to month basis, it would be well worth the Coalition embarking on a significant affordable house-building project, or promising to do so in the near future. Doing so would increase supply of property and therefore drive down the cost of renting and home ownership in general.  Alternatively, if the Government doesn’t fancy a big social housing building programme, it might want to consider reforming planning laws to make it easier for property builders to develop and build on available land.

RENT CONTROLS

More radically, the Government should consider (i.e. investigate, commission a report etc.) introducing rent controls. This might make sense given the rate at which rent has increased in recent years.

RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN

Do more to recognise the cost (financial, emotional, relational, social etc.) of relationship breakdown, currently estimated as costing the taxpayer £50 billion per year. 2013 saw the creation of the Relationships Alliance, whilst this year there is a Government review due to come out on the issue, which should make for interesting reading.

UNPAID  CARE

The Government should better recognise the contribution of unpaid care, whether it be for adults, disabled loved ones, or children at home. Whilst the transferable allowance for married couples is a start, I feel there needs to be other support given to those who undertake unpaid care. This could be in the form of better practical support for those caring for those who are disabled, elderly or vulnerable (many social care visits which are supposed to assist unpaid carers only last 15 minutes for example!) and greater efforts to tackle loneliness amongst unpaid carers.

MARRIAGE TAX BREAKS

The Government should ensure that the marriage tax break finally announced by George Osborne in the Autumn Statement is in people’s pockets before May 2015 and is more generous than it currently stands. At present, couples stand to gain around £200 per year. This however doesn’t include considerations relating to the Universal Credit, which will reduce benefit from this policy for Universal Credit recipients. After all, in 2013 it did plenty for single parent and dual earner couple households ( see for example it’s plans to increase childcare provision for single and dual earner parents.)

WORK INCENTIVES

It would be worth the Coalition doing tackling the prohibitively high marginal effective tax rates facing UK one-earner and single parent families at the moment. At present under tax credits, many low to middle income families face rates of 73%, meaning for every extra £1 earned, they only see 23p come into the household.  What is more, under Universal Credit, many of these families will face rates of 76%! Two policy responses to this problem are reducing the rate of withdrawal of benefits as one increases their income, particularly from low to middle incomes ,or moving support for family responsibility from the benefits system to the tax system. For more information on the latter, see CARE’s recently published review of Independent Taxation.

PARENTS IN PRISON

On a slightly different tip, the Government should pledge to do more for families with a loved one in prison. Maintaining family links when someone is in prison can be key in reducing the likelihood of reoffending once that person is released. Thus, the Government should consider ways in which (when possible and appropriate) prisoners can be kept in prisons where they are relatively close to their family.

NEETs

Finally, given that there are over a million NEETs (which is actually below average for Europe) (Not in Education, Employment or Training) it would be well worth the Government creating a ‘youth guarantee’ scheme which gives NEETS (and perhaps Graduates and young people looking for employment) further education or vocational training. This would not only help young people themselves, but also potentially whom children are living with.

My top tracks of 2013

Unlike some previous years, 2013 didn’t see the emergence of a new ‘super genre.’ However, very much in character with underground music, this year seemed as diverse as many before it, with great tunes from across the electronica spectrum. Here are my top tracks of 2013 in no particular order! If you like the sound of any of them, why not support the artist and buy the track? All what is listed here should be available via Beatport.

1. Nicole Moudaber – Roar (Intec)

As the track title suggests, this is a booming, barnstormer of a track from Techno stalwart Moudaber. With hints of euphoria and high female tones this is a track is best enjoyed with Roast Beef, Venison Sausages, or alongside ex-Arsenal starlet and current FC Augsberg goalkeeper Alex Manninger.

2. Felipe Valenzuela & Dani Casarano – 1000 Tones (Melisma)

Oh yes, this REALLY is the track of 1000 tones. South American bright young things Valenzuela and Casarano dazzle their audience with minamalist lashings of elderflower and pomegranate, cheese and fruits of the Citrus Tree.  This tune is best served with Pan Fried Salmon, sweet potatoes, cardamon and Costa Rican footballing sensation, Paulo Wanchope.

3. Floorplan – Chord Principle (M-Plant)

American Techno pioneer Robert Hood  was, through his side-project Floorplan, responsible for producing this organ heavy gem. This production is best enjoyed with crisps and alongside everyone’s favourite Ukranian, Andriy ‘The Wind of Passion’ Shevchenko.

4. Rustie – Slasherr (Numbers)

Scotland’s Rustie burst onto the electronica scene this year with this bass music slammer. Best served at between 23 and 25 degrees celsius with the lights on, this is best served ‘as it comes’ with generous helpings of soiled mattresses. Ronald ‘Little Snowflake’ Koeman is said to be a fan.

5. Samuel L Session – Dystopian Life (Raw Mix) (Klap Klap)

You’ve had the meatballs, you’ve had the furniture and in 2013 you might have had this track from Sweden’s Samuel L Session. To really experience this piece of atmospheric Techno, serve with panfried scallops on a beach in Scarborough.

6. Foals – My Number (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs remix) (Warner Bros.)

This lovely melancholic number from Oxford born producer TEED (real name Orlando Higginbottam), is as much at home on the dancefloor as it is in the lounge whilst you’re doing the washing up.

7. Emptyset – Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station – Snowdonia, Wales (Subtext)

Without doubt the most experimental track on my list, this cheeky little ditty from British duo Emptyset was recorded at the above named decommissioned Nuclear Power station using the resonances of the building’s interior. Clever stuff, and a real treat to listen to. For best results, listen at 3am in pitch black darkness, or in a quintessential Georgian tea shop.

8. Royksopp – Running to the Sea feat.Susanne Sundfor (DJ HMC remix) (Dog Triumph)

An unlikely electronic coalition between Norway and Australia combine here to produce a track as tempestuous as the title suggests. Don’t be fooled however into thinking you’ll be unceremoniously tossed like a unloved Caesar Salad; this is an offering which whilst being sufficiently stormy, is also warm like a well functioning log fire.

9. Len Faki & Johannes Heil – Maniac (Figure)

Slightly terrifying yet enchanting, this main room dominator by Germans Faki and Heil really catches the attention. Uncompromising yet useful in a number of situations, such as jogging, this is what I call ‘al dente techno.’ For a laugh, try bursting into your 87 year old granny’s bedroom at 4am playing this at full blast.

10. Tessela – Hackney Parrot (Poly Kicks)

As well as being known for it’s prolific Cider production, the South West is also known for churning out its fair share of Electronica. This year was no exception, with West Country beat masher Tessela announcing his entrance with Hackney Parrot, a track which epitomises the emergence of UK bass music this year. The special request VIP is also worth a cheeky gander. To fully appreciate this shanty, play at full volume outside your car window in the balmy afternoon sunshine, or whilst playing Scrabble at your parents on Christmas Eve.

11. And.Id – Eternal Return (Mobilee Records)

Over to Greece now and we here we have a track out on Anja Scheider’s Mobilee Records which lingers on the palate whilst offering a floaty finish, whatever that means. This is an example of memorable, creative and original tech house which will is sure to please the listener.

12. Marc Romboy @ KINK – Over and Out (Systematic Recordings)

A track which brings back memories (perhaps) of Kennth Wolstenholme’s iconic ‘they think it’s all over’ 1966 World Cup line. This tune is one that is more ‘up high’ than ‘down below.’ This offering also further cements Bulgaria’s KINK as a main electronic music player. Enjoy with figs.

13. Monika Kruse feat. Robert Owens – One Love (Nick Curly remix) (Terminal M)

Once again, Tech House mainstay Curly demonstrates his consistency with his remix of this splendid house offering. Presenting veritable smacks of vanilla and mint, this should be best served with Kansas Fried Chicken, a bird of paradise and Rotterdam’s answer to Lionel Messi, Winston Bogarde. Thus, greatly enjoyable even despite the creepy lyrics!

14. Ben Sims – Smoke & Mirrors (Jerome Sydenham’s Carbon Dub 2013) (Drumcode)

Techno heavyweights Sims and Sydenham team up to offer an upfront piece of techno cheesecake. Fun fact; Sydenham is a place in ‘Sarf’ London and has three national rail stations, Sydenham (which also has an overground line), Sydenham Hill and Lower Sydenham.

15. Maceo Plex – Going Back (Ellum Audio)

Established underground producer Maceo Plex through his own label Ellum Audio has here succeeded in creating something that is both brooding and weighty whilst also being suitable to jive to. As versatile as a Swiss Army Knife.

16. Talbot Wood – Dream Sequence (Curle Recordings)

New entrant to the scene Talbot Wood impresses here with this dreamy (hence the name) tech house meander. This Belgian producer could be someone to watch come 2014.

17. Mike Parker – Lustration Six (Megalith) (Prologue)

2013 saw US Techno mainstay Mike Parker launch his album (his first full length in 12 years) ‘Lustrations’ on German label Prologue. Lustration Six is my highlight, hence its inclusion here. Repetitive, either annoyingly or brilliantly depending on your preference. Lustration Five is also a pleasure to listen to.

18. Technasia – I am somebody (Suara)

Moving onto more subtle climbs, Technasia (real name Charles Siegling) gave us this track, part of the ‘I am Somebody’ EP. This tune succeeds in being both subtle and compelling, drawing in the listener in the process, therefore producing on the listener an expression rather like the Cat on the EP front cover.

19. Bonobo & Grey Reverend – First Fires (Maya Jane Coles remix) (Ninja Tune)

Coles continues to demonstrate her distinctive and exciting production skills with this remix, out on London label Ninja Tune. Groovy, Catchy, Danceable are all adjectives that would suitably describe this unique little number.

20. Mark Reeve – Weird Faces (Stripped down remix) (ELEVATE)

Heavy in many senses of the word, this is an atmospheric and throbbing Techno number from Germany based Brit Reeve. As DJ Judge Jules might say, ‘so sweaty you’ll need to bring a de-humidifier.’

Honourable mentions

21. Francesco Tristano – Ground Bass (Kirk Degiorgio remix) (Detsche Grammophon)

http://www.beatport.com/track/ground-bass-kirk-degiorgio-remix/4052204

22. A.Mochi – Squeal 3 (Figure)

23. Sam Paganini – Chocolate (Drumcode)

24. Inner City – Good Life (Ian O’Donovan remix) (KMS Records)

25. Chase & Status – Count on Me (Virgin EMI)

26. KINK & Rachel Row – Follow the Step (KINK Bass and Beats Mix) (Defected)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2k7I24lQkw

27. Gary Beck – Video Siren (Bek Audio)

28. Foremost Poets – Reasons to be Dismal? (Steve Bug edit) (Pokerflat Recordings)

29. Milton Bradley – Far Beyond the Quiet (Do Not Resist The Beat!)

30. Gary Beck – Stranger (Cocoon Recordings)