Tuesday, 16 December 2008

More help for 'professional takers' but workers feeling the pinch are left out.

We are constantly being told that what is different about this particular economic crisis is that it is effecting us all. It is an especially tough time for those with low and middle incomes who are struggling to pay larger bills whilst their employers in turn tighten their own belts by denying salary increases. The economic imposition which has increased most exponentially for all households (and the effect is felt keenly by those on low and middle incomes) is paying energy bills for heat and light. Yet the Northern Ireland Executive’s much vaunted fuel poverty payment will apply only to those receiving pensions and income support!

It would be easy to come over a bit ‘Daily Mail’ on this issue, but frankly this package is not taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of these straightened times. Those people who are already provided for by the state get more and those who are working hard but find themselves without enough money to pay the bills get nothing. Surely the executive could have devised a wider ranging, indeed a more just, system of assessing requirement for this payment?

Of course there will be people who have lost jobs, or who have been unable to find work, or who simply cannot work for whatever reason, and they require help. I would not for a minute suggest that they should be denied it. But income support is already a rather amorphous system and there will be a hardcore of professional ‘takers’ benefiting from the executive’s supposed largesse, whilst there will be those in real need who miss out.

Margaret Ritchie has raised further concerns about Nigel Dodds’ economic package, claiming that her budget has been raided in order to finance payments. Ritchie's reaction once again highlights the unaccountable nature of government here, where small parties’ ministers are locked into decisions which they disagree with, only to have the executive’s ‘unanimity’ thrown back in their faces if there is a murmur of dissent. They can either attract huge opprobrium by blocking executive business or else they must take shared responsibility for policy which the larger parties have imposed.

Whether Ritchie’s concerns are justified or not (and to be fair the income support qualification was her baby), this is a bad flawed scheme which does not deserve the laurels being heaped upon it. Devolution is actually working very badly.

4 comments:

fair_deal said...

"professional takers"

Nice way to talk about a group which includes pensioners, carers and the disabled.

Also those on income support are "low income" households that is how they qualify for income support in the first place.

"Surely the executive could have devised a wider ranging, indeed a more just, system of assessing requirement for this payment?"

Come on move beyond the criticism, propose how you would have spent the £70m?

The advantage of the executive decision is the groups are readily identifiable, a list could be printed out right now.

How would the state administer a new means-tested benefit to low and middle income households without spending a significant amount of the £70m on administering it?

"Margaret Ritchie has raised further concerns about Nigel Dodds’ economic package, claiming that her budget has been raided in order to finance payments."

On this one I have little sympathy. She was hoisted on her own petard. She pre-emepts the executive discussion by touting her plan in public before executive approval, hoping to box in her Exec colleagues. They return the favour by supporting key elements of her package but out of savings already identified in her department. Despite the presentation her budget wasn't "raided" its just not the changes she wanted.

Also surely as MR wanted to spend the money on social housing it would have still been for the benefit of 'professional takers'?

Chekov said...

“Nice way to talk about a group which includes pensioners, carers and the disabled.”

Do you ever actually read the full piece or do you just pick the bits that suit your agenda?

“Of course there will be people who have lost jobs, or who have been unable to find work, or who simply cannot work for whatever reason, and they require help. I would not for a minute suggest that they should be denied it. But income support is already a rather amorphous system and there will be a hardcore of professional ‘takers’ benefiting from the executive’s supposed largesse, whilst there will be those in real need who miss out.”

“Also those on income support are "low income" households that is how they qualify for income support in the first place.”

People who are working also come from low income households and they are precluded.

“How would the state administer a new means-tested benefit to low and middle income households without spending a significant amount of the £70m on administering it?”

One option would have been to look at employees receiving tax credits. Hardly perfect, but a means to identify low earners who actually work.

“On this one I have little sympathy. She was hoisted on her own petard. She pre-emepts the executive discussion by touting her plan in public before executive approval, hoping to box in her Exec colleagues. They return the favour by supporting key elements of her package but out of savings already identified in her department. Despite the presentation her budget wasn't "raided" its just not the changes she wanted.”

I specified that I wasn’t sure Ritchie was right on this one. Her objections are emblematic of a problem intrinsic in the system. Are ministers from small parties always right with their objections? No. Does the system preclude democratic accountability in terms of allocating responsibility? No.

“Also surely as MR wanted to spend the money on social housing it would have still been for the benefit of 'professional takers'?”

See above and see above.

Chekov said...

"Does the system preclude democratic accountability in terms of allocating responsibility? no"

Whoops. I mean yes.

fair_deal said...

"Do you ever actually read the full piece or do you just pick the bits that suit your agenda?"

Yes. I read it. You had another nice line "Those people who are already provided for by the state get more and those who are working hard but find themselves without enough money to pay the bills get nothing" No distinctions drawn just all in receipt of benefit.

The caveat you provided is a practical nonsense as the 'takers' cannot be easily identified and have managed to get round all existing safeguards and checks.

"People who are working also come from low income households and they are precluded."

Yes apart from some part-time workers who are covered by Income support. However you used the general phraseology of "those on low and middle incomes". Some low income households will benefit although sadly not all.

Some will also have jobs because of the construction work being made available and all businesses will see a much needed drop in costs making a small contribution to future viability. For some the drop in business rates is someone's wages.

"One option would have been to look at employees receiving tax credits. Hardly perfect, but a means to identify low earners who actually work."

Interesting suggestion but a possible practical problem, HMRC who are responsible for such isn't under the NI Exec's control so their participation could not be guaranteed unlike the SSA.

What would you have deprioritised in the package to cover the additional costs? Business rates? The Agri package?

" Are ministers from small parties always right with their objections?"

In this case I actually think it was the Exec showing some collective responsiility and about time too.