LibLink: Tim Leunig – David Cameron should know better than this Housing Benefit gimmick

I wrote the other day that I wanted to see our party in general and Nick Clegg in particular come out and roundly condemn David Cameron’s ridiculous plan to stop under 25s from claiming Housing Benefit. Centre Forum director Tim Leunig did just that in an article for the Guardian on Monday.

His calm and forensic evisceration of Cameron’s argument put me in mind of the way Nick Clegg took apart the Tory Marriage Tax Break plan ahead of the 2010 election. This, of course, has been kicked into the long grass because of the Liberal Democrats. I’m also reminded of the clear way Nick explained the unfairness in our tax system by using the example of a banker earning squillions paying a lower marginal rate of tax than his cleaner on the minimum wage.

Tim said:

Cameron needs to explain what will happen to people whose parents refuse to house them. If a parent refuses to house a 15-year-old child, the child is taken into care. They may be placed in a children’s home, fostered or put up for adoption. Is Cameron proposing that the state tries to arrange foster care for 23-year-olds? Place them in children’s homes? The mind boggles at the thought of social services interviewing people about their application to adopt a 24-year-old. The cost to the state would be immense.

Cameron also needs to tell us what happens to married people aged under 25. Is he proposing a legal obligation on parents to house their sons-in-law and daughters-in-law as well as their own children? Or is he proposing that any young married couple should be forced to split up if they can’t afford the rent, and return to their own parents? It is hard to imagine that the Tory party really wants to destroy marriages in this way. What happens if the young couple have children? Do parents now have an obligation to house not only their children and their children-in-law, but their grandchildren as well?

You can read the article in full here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • Agreed – I am pleased to see the consensus on this across the board

    It also, unfortunately, highlights a dilemma for Clegg. Cameron is starting the 2015 campaign now and making policy announcements under the guise of Government (Gove does the same). The LD then get tarred with the same brush, although we know that even the current leadership will think the idea daft.

    In situations like these I think Clegg has to come out in more strident terms than he has. Making absolutely clear his opposition and providing the same arguments against it as Tim L made in his article. If Cameron has the freedom to make announcements for post-2015 then Clegg should criticize those as an opponent not as a partner.

    It also makes it difficult for a potential LD/Con coalition after 2015 – will the LD be able to stop something that has been trailed so far in advance and for which the criticism has been so muted from official party spokesmen?

    I can guarantee Labour will use the Coalition to give people the impression these are Government, not just Tory policies, especially if they have been made well before they starting thinking about a GE.

  • Richard Dean 27th Jun '12 - 10:00am

    That’s all very well, but perhaps we should think back to what happened to 23-year olds before there was housing benefit. There were answers. People in the UK do sometimes seem to have it easy. It seems there are parts of Europe that presently limit unemployment benefit to the only first few months of unemployment, and many countries globally where the state provides no benefits at all.

  • Richard Dean

    There was also a time where there was no state pension and any support for the poor at all. Why do we not go back to those days?

    One of the reasons is that society has changed and people have to be more flexible etc. No more working in the local factory from 16 and staying at home until you get married, then moving to cheap or social housing.

    Other countries have different models but it is far too simplistic just to look at welfare payment structure in isolation.

    What is worse that you have an incoherent message. We have the IDS ‘get on your bike’ message and then we get this. It is all so incoherent.

    It is also very much a Tory policy, as a LD do you actually think it is a good idea and that the next manifesto should contain it?

  • Liberal Neil 27th Jun '12 - 11:14am

    Of course some Lib Dems have already started to float distinctly Lib Dem policies ahead of the next election too – such as Danny Alexander’s proposal that the basic allowance should rise to the equivalent of full time earnings on the minimum wage.

    I doubt whether such proposals make it any more or less likely that the Lib Dems will form a coalition with either of the other main parties. That will be down to a) numbers and b) what each of the others is willing to offer.

  • Richard Dean 27th Jun '12 - 11:15am

    @Bassacz. No, I don’t like the proposal – for one thing it confuses need with age.. However, I see it as consistent with IDS’s get tough message. It may also have appeal to voting taxpayers who pay for the benefit and who are regaled daily with stories of how it is abused. Even so, the benefits system is not that easy to get around or through (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/moneytaxandbenefits/benefitstaxcreditsandothersupport/on_a_low_income/dg_10018926)

    I disagree that multi-generational sharing of a single house is always an unhappy experience, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/beating-the-housing-shortage-one-home-three-generations-7626973.html.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Jun '12 - 1:12pm

    An extraordinary change that has already come in to effect, but does not seem to have attracted the attention it deserves:

    (In the words of Direct Gov) “As from January 2012: The shared accommodation rate currently applies to single people under the age of 25 living in accommodation that they rent from a private landlord. This will be extended to people aged under 35. This means that single people under 35 will no longer receive Housing Benefit based on one bedroom self-contained accommodation.”

    Does this not mean that a 34 year old male or female who loses their job, has no other source of income and savings below the qualifying limit for Housing and Council Tax benefit is being forced to seek ‘shared accommodation’?

  • Bill le Breton 27th Jun '12 - 5:07pm

    Thanks for the confirmation., Alex. I had thought it might serve to drive people into multi-occ, which you seem also to be confirming.

  • Bill – yes, Alex is right. I think I wrote about it for the Guardian at the time, although I may be mistaken…

  • I think we have to be careful about all this welfare reform stuff.

    Just because Cameron’s proposals seem illiberal we must not opt out of reforming the system of state benefits. We may not like the Tory plans, but we cannot go on pretending that there isn’t a problem.

    1. There are probably many 10s of thousands of families in the UK who do not work, have never worked and have no intention of working. It is not Liberal to expect the majority of the population to pay for them to be idle.

    2. Many far more liberal societies – like Scandinavia – insist people work in order to get welfare support. This requires a commitment to providing work – usually in the public sector, but not exclusively – and this would apply to young people as well as older workers. Yet Liberal Democrats shy away from this discussion and Labour attack it as hostile to the poor.

    3. Any parliamentary candidate standing in a city at the last election will tell you that the issue of abuse of the welfare state (Scroungers in Sun speak) was raised by a lot of people, especially working class people in work. In Leeds Central it was the most common issue raised.

    What we now need is a sensible discussion that leads to a policy where people work wherever possible and we as a society simply don’t tolerate generations of families living on the state. Generous unemployment benefits for people between jobs by all means, proper provision of jobs by both the public and private sectors, and above all proper support for those who genuinely can’t work, but with the expectation that the state will not support people who refuse to take work when they are physically and mentally able to. The Liberal Democrat difference must be to create a system where there are jobs (Green ones preferably)and where the welfare state becomes once again the safety net it was set up to be.

  • But, Mickft, we need a sensible economic policy to create what would amount to (near) full employment to achieve this. In order to do this we have to overcome News Corp approaches to economics. The Sun vs The Sun, you might say. At least there is news that NewsCorp might now be split in two!

  • “What we now need is a sensible discussion that leads to a policy where people work wherever possible and we as a society simply don’t tolerate generations of families living on the state. Generous unemployment benefits for people between jobs by all means, proper provision of jobs by both the public and private sectors, and above all proper support for those who genuinely can’t work, but with the expectation that the state will not support people who refuse to take work when they are physically and mentally able to.”

    Sounds good to me. Just one small detail, though.

    How?

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