Friday, 11 January 2013

The benefits cap - a damned lie or a statistic?

The forthcoming benefits cap (1% p.a.) doesn't really affect me; I'm probably not getting any benefits at all for the next year, and after that I'm on a decimated pension.

But stopping benefits, capping them, what have you, it's all part and parcel of what's going on... so I do have an interest.

The ministers' position is that the benefits that are to be capped have risen faster than inflation over the past five years. It's transparently a fix, but the blue rinse brigade, the Daily Mail and 14 millions readers (+ whoever else) have leapt on that statistic, and they applaud.

It's on a par with saying that because the daytime temperature reached 38C one day in 1976, lower temperatures in 2012 prove that there's no global warming. You can always take an extreme position in the past and thereby fudge the present: that's why a statistic is so much more toxic that a simple damned lie.

When I came onto the job market over 40 years ago, I was lucky in that I never needed the dole (unemployment benefit). But some of my friends did. £4.50 a week it was. In today's terms, even by the government's rather conservative calculation, about £140 per week.

*Prices I happen to remember from that time:

Beer, 7p per pint (I was a student) - say £2.25 now;   potatoes, 5p for 7lbs - say 20p per lb now;
rent (on the low side) for a three bedroom flat in West Kensington, £4 pw - say £1.20 now.
Cigerettes, 15p (£4.70) for 20;                                  petrol, 15p per gallon - £1 per litre now.
Good 3-course lunch in the cafe in Gloucester road by Karnak's, where I worked for a while: 17.5p.
Paperback novels, around 12.5p

The MPs are asking for another £30,000 a year on top of what they're getting at the moment. They may well deserve every penny (no sarcasm implied or intended). But to ask for it in the same week as they lie about and cut the little that the poorest get - who often work just as hard - is mind boggling.

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