Sunday, 4 January 2015

A welfare affair


The UK is currently experiencing the biggest overhaul of the welfare provision by the state in living memory. The aim, we are told, is to save money so the state can balance it's books and stop overspending.

Here are two statements that pose a paradox:

1. I'm opposed to it.
2. I'm a libertarian, a proper one, I don't want a government at all.

How can I be opposed to reforms that effectively shrink the state?

The reason is that I don't buy into a lot of the nonsense that I hear other libertarians saying when they talking about getting rid of the state. What it often sounds like is that the state is like a light switch turned on and we need to just turn it off, or in the case of gradualists the switch is one of those dimmer ones that we have to slowly turn around until it's off.

There are are obvious problems with the analogy but analogies are rarely perfect so instead of just dismissing it let me tinker with it:

Let's say that the state is the switch turned off instead of on. Turning the switch on turns on peace, order and justice and thus eliminates the state. I'm sure that most libertarians are still with me at this point.

Here is the trouble; when the switch goes on suddenly everyone can see, in the darkness only a few people who had grown accustomed to the darkness could see lets call them the ruling X... no no, that's too obvious, let's call them the X class. Anyway, when the light comes on it will become obvious that the 'X class' have used the chaos, violence and injustice of the darkness to rob us. And I don't just mean taxation.

Dropping the analogy for a moment just look into the history of land ownership, banking and the origins of capitalism in the 19th century. It was brutal.

If the state were to instantly vanish as the light of liberty came on it would leave behind a shadow, a ghost of itself, in the fact that the mega rich would still be mega rich, the 1% of families in the UK who own 70% of the land would still own 70% of the land, the capitalist bosses would still own the means of production and we'd still have to rent ourselves out to them to survive.  The ruling classes appropriation of all this stuff has been so fundamentally bound up with the violence of the state that we would still have a problem on our hands! Like when slavery ended in the USA but the slaves were turned into landless workers instead, has the fundamental inequality gone? No, it's here to this day!


The welfare state, in my view, is the ruling class's method of socialising the costs of their system. The costs are real, under capitalism (real capitalism that came about through empire building, forcible privatisation of the commons and impoverishment of the peasantry as they were driven into the cities to labour in factories, the capitalism that was originally referred to as 'industrial feudalism', that capitalism.) welfare is absolutely needed.

The question of how we dismantle the state is crucial. If we assume that the state is fundamentally a collectivist project by which the poor gang up to rob the productive rich by taxation and rules and regulations we will jump for joy as the welfare budgets get slashed. If we can see that the state is a weapon by which the parasitic ruling class robs the productive working class we will worry; if their system is still in place what will people do?

The current situation:

Let's take housing, it's the area I know most about:

A number of aspects of the welfare reforms in the UK over the past few years have contributed towards the rise in the number of people becoming homeless. Nationally this has led to a record high in the number of evictions we are seeing. A number more reforms have also made it harder for people who are homeless to get back into housing:

“There were 11,100 landlord repossessions by county court bailiffs in England and Wales between July and September this year - the highest quarterly figure since records began in 2000. It marks a 17% increase on the same period last year.” – Inside Housing

Here is a breakdown:

Housing benefit to be based on the cheapest 30% of properties instead of the cheapest 50% (2011)

There is now smaller pool of properties available for people who are on housing benefit to rent because only the cheapest 30% of all properties are available to them. This means lots of people are in competition over a smaller number of properties. As there is already a housing shortage this exacerbates it amongst those on housing benefits.

Localism and changes to the policy for allocating social housing (localism act 2011)

The localism act allowed local authorities to modify the way they allocate social housing. This has included introducing strict criteria on local area connections (meaning you have to have lived in the area for a set period of time, up to 10 years) It can be particularly difficult for homeless people to prove that they have been in a local area for a full two years. Homeless people are also more likely to move around, this now means that many will have no local area connection anywhere. In this case they are supposed to be picked up by the first local authority they present themselves too, in practice they will have to prove that they have no local area connection anywhere else which is a very difficult task.

Shared accommodation rate (2012)

Housing benefit will now only paid for a room in a shared house for anyone under 35 (used to be 25), there are less and less of those because landlords can make significantly more money by converting them into studio flats. This risks making more young people homeless as unemployment is higher amongst young people, meaning they are more likely to be on housing benefit but have fewer housing options available to them.

New rules regarding benefits sanctions (2012)

Tougher measures are in place to sanction people who are on JSA for things like missed appointments. This has adversely affected homeless people with around 30% of homeless people having been sanctioned compared with 3% of general claimants. If your JSA is stopped this automatically means that your housing benefit will be stopped too. Claimants often don’t realise this and only find out later on once their landlord is in touch with them saying they are in arrears on the rent.

“Bedroom tax” (2013)

The removal of the spare room subsidy which has come to be known as the “bedroom tax” has some impact on the number of people facing evictions. This also risks making more people homeless. It was the most widely publicised but it doesn't feel like it's made the biggest difference on the ground.

Scrapping of crisis loans (2013)

One of the biggest hurdles people have to face in the journey from homelessness to housing is getting rent in advance. Crisis loans used to provide this. Since April 2013 these have been scrapped with no effective replacement (Local emergency support, LES, does not cover rent in advance in most areas). Without the ability to get credit people are literally trapped in homelessness until someone is willing to simply hand money out to them (which, of course, those of us who work with homeless people are trying to arrange).

Scrapping of LES (2015)

Local emergency support which came in as a replacement for crisis loans is expected to be scrapped in April next year. It being means that those people who have relied on it for food and other assistance will no longer be able to get it, it also means that there is now going to be no chance of getting it changed to cover rent in advance in the future.

So, now what? Thousands of people are becoming homeless, we're facing a massive crisis and there is a housing shortage.

The answer

The answer is simple, we need to establish an order in which we want to rid ourselves of the state.
Let's not try to scrap housing welfare until planning laws have been scrapped and land reform has begun and so on...

We have to target our energies somewhere. Let's make sure we tackle corporate welfare before we recognise that were in a position where ordinary people aren't in need of welfare anymore. Let's make progress towards overhauling wage labour (by striking the roots, not enacting lots of pointless legislation through the state) as the dominant means of survival before we scrap our state education programmes etc. etc.

The costs of their system are very real. People are dying. It isn't right to be callous about this and just say; there should be no state so there should be no welfare state either. Real life demands we look at what's really happening, not just sticking to theory!