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When a government pushes means-testing it has one simple remit: to fleece people's savings, especially pensioners. My mum has a few quid in her bank account that she has been saving for a rainy day, but now finds herself constantly dipping into it to meet the bills. With all these increasing utility bills and council tax demands these days its pouring down for pensioners right now as that rainy day has arrived sooner than they thought. Those savings are not eligible for tax and fairly earnt over the years, but when you introduce means testing for things like state pensions and grants then it's a mechanism for governments to get at it. The fact is that there's over 1 billion pounds off unpaid pensioner credit uncollected out there, purely because the pensioners have too much savings to be eligible for it or too proud or disabled to fill out the forms so to collect it. It's rightfully their money but they can only get at it by a trip to the local town hall to fill out complex forms or the humiliation of the dole office where they will also fill out complex forms. So why can't the government just automatically pay it? Well the answer, of course, is that they know all pensioners won't claim what they are entitled to through the reasons above and so they know their savings will subsidize that unclaimed billion quid. The new Home Information Packs (HIPS) that all house sellers must buy that came in last year are also a disguise for their real intention. The cost of £400 is bad enough to a seller, the idea being that it won't be painful as a house sale is so expensive anyway and you will just pay it, yet more tax for the treasury. But the ruse here with these is it surreptitiously allows government officials into the house being sold to effectively reassess the properties council-tax band. Suddenly heres all these house that have been surveyed and data logged and then, wouldn't you know it, higher council-tax brackets come in. The reason why the government are not happy with current bands and assessments is because the original way houses were banded in the early nineties was by estate- agents, who were paid a small sum for every house they claimed to have assessed. But instead of getting access to the houses and taking two hours to earn £50 they quickly figured there was more money to be raised if they did more houses, accuracy seemingly not relevant in this plan. So they just jumped in a cab and 'guessed' the band by looking out of the vehicles window. If you are old then you know just how crippling the council tax bill is and for many it's up to £150 pounds per month coming out of your pension, which is ludicrous. When you all cheered when income tax went down two pence in November then you know who has to find that lost revenue now. The biggest irony about trying to get your means-tested council tax reductions to cut that drag on your pension is 25% of all council tax revenue goes on council employees greedy pensions. Working Tax Credit is another example of how governments use means testing to get what they want. This payment to families and single working parents effectively subsidies the minimum wage, the tax payer meeting the money private business refuse to pay their workers in fair wages, driving wages down again, creating a large chunk of dependant workers on Gordon Brown give aways, who they will have to vote in next time to keep this perk. It may feel like free money to people who get it but it's so expensive to administer, meaning a flat tax rate for low paid workers would certainly be more practical, that extra cost passed on to us in stealth tax. But that wouldn't win votes and bring in the right tax levels and so Working Tax Credits are here to stay, how ever poor the system. Doing it this way means Brown has the working class voter in the palm of his hand. The levels of fraud and overpayment in WTC are one in every four pounds handed out. So porous is the system that the Poles are beginning to claim the tax credit, and things like child benefit on top, one triggering the right to the other for kids many don't actually have. They don't seem to be checked up on as much as the pensioners who have all of those intimidating forms to fill in. It's the same with out nation's prisons when it comes to this absurd system of means testing checks. Students, and parents of students, know just how tough it is financially to go through university, so they would have been seething when they read the article in last weeks press where prisoners on university educational courses were claiming general student expenses for 'food and lodgings'! Some clever inmates managed to claim £370,000 in the past year alone in student grants and loans, even though they are getting 'fed and bed' from HMPS. Apparently this scam has been going on since Blair came into power and in 2007 alone they have found 91 prisoners who have creamed off £250k in maintenance loans and £120k in maintenance grants. These grants are normally repayable once claimants graduate and earn more than 15k. I suspect these guys and girls won't be repaying them. One means tested benefit that has got peoples shackles up is the payment of benefits to Muslim men's multiple wives. Muslim guys can have up to four wives in their culture and a recent British ruling has allowed them to claim state benefits for each wife, even though bigamy is illegal here. In fact you can get up to seven years in prison for concealing a second marriage. There's believed to be around 1000 polygamous marriages here in the U.K Muslim community, which seems a low number, but now it's legal to claim for each wife you can watch it shoot up. A married couple gets £92.80p per week and if this ruling is embraced the husband can bag another £33.65p a week for each wife, these women often living far away in Pakistan. Because of high unemployment levels in the Pakistani community here and the arranged marriage problems, women are not encouraged to work and so the amount of claims we will see go in over the next few years will, for me, expose a lot of sham marriages. The government is so sensitive over this ruling that few knew about the change. A block has been put on these multiple wives claiming marriage visas but they have so many have tried and tested ways of getting in and so on benefits that it will be hard to resist now to really milk this. I think we can all understand there's one rule for one and not the other when it comes to race as we are scared of being racist, but this is clear law breach and whilst pensioners freeze of ALL ethnic minorities because they cant fill in forms to get their full pension they are entitled to this sort of thing is allowed to go on to give pen-pushers and politicians an easy life. We also have young Pakistan males going out to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against British soldiers and then they come back to the UK and sign back on. The security services know this is going on but don't seem to do much about it. I have always said that if any known Irish thug or terrorist was in the IRA or loyalist gang then if we had cut their benefits off from day one of the troubles it would have lasted about two weeks. Some of the terror suspects under the so called 'control orders' in the U.K are receiving up to £22,000 a year in benefits, the perks also including free utilities, phone calls, and even internet services! Off the 31 detained since the laws introduction, 13 have shared 300,000k expenses between them in these 'living costs'. Again, suspected terrorists get anything they need to pay the bills, but the pensioners are told to 'eff off' when they want a little extra to pay the gas bill, British Gas profits up 600% in just one year through profiteering. Indeed another pensioner was jailed for non-payment of council tax only this week with 34 days to serve. With the news that 2.2 million children-one in five-now live in households totally dependant on state benefits, one in six young people between the ages 16-24 not working or in training, and some 6 million people not working at anyone time, the means testing method is under yet more pressure. In areas of Manchester, London and Glasgow almost a half of all children are growing in entirely benefit-funded homes. Research is adamant that these households will just repeat the circle and create more of the same poverty. Britain now has Europe's highest proportion of children in workless homes. The Manchester Central Constituency had the highest proportion of benefit dependency at 49.2%; Liverpool-Riverside, Islington South and Glasgow North not far behind. In Buckinghamshire it was just one in 20 kids in benefit homes. It's believed this type of household costs the UK taxpayers around 12 billion a year, which is 25% of Northern Rocks loss, which means it's a lot. The point here is that everyday in the U.K we create more and people who are not going to contribute and we see more and more leave who were contributing. The benefit system is wide open to fraud and although Gordon Brown claims to have cut tax it's believed for every one pound spent to detect fraud only 30p is recovered. An example of how easy it is to claim means tested benefits when you don't deserve them is the crime of a 52 year old businessman from Manchester. This guy received £108,000 disability benefit over six years, claming he was too ill to work. He claimed the benefits legitimately at the start when his first business collapsed in 2000, but 'forget' to cancel the claim when his other businesses flourished over the years, soon raking in £1.75 million from property deals involving a Manchester hospital, all the money channeled through the Middle East to avoid business tax contributions. He was only caught when someone tipped off the benefit office. This guy was driving around the North in a performance sports car and was never asked to attend an interview to prove his illness. It was particularly annoying because he had appeared in court in the last three years for claiming a £5000 grant for renovation work that never happened. The means-testing system is wide open to be abused by those who just don't care and yet pensioners have to choose between 'heat or meat'.
One of the most ludicrous parts of the whole means testing system has to be the way that students are assessed for their financial status. I'll take this in stages.... 1. From the age of 18 it's a fact that the law no longer regards your parents to be responsible for you. They are under no obligation whatsoever to provide for you, and many students are unfortunate enough to have parents who stopped doing this even before their legal obligation ended. Yet parents' incomes are taken into account when it comes to grants and student loans and help with course fees, even though nothing can legally be done to force these parents to use this income on account of which your grants and loans are docked. 2. Unless you've been living independantly for a certain amount of years already, your parents' incomes will be used to dock your student income. This means that there are people who are living with partners in stable relationships, with children dependant on their wages, who have little to do with their parents and are perhaps on bad terms with them, who get told that they can't have a full loan because their parents earn too much money - as if this guy of 23 is going to go cap in hand begging his mum for money, and it goes without saying that she'll agree?? 3. Why should the parents' incomes be taken into account when it's the STUDENT who will have to repay the loans!? 4. It's hypocritical and pathetic for the government to say in one breath that from the age of 18 you are completely independant of your parents (also absolving the parents from any duty to support or aid you), and in the next breath say that it goes without saying that they'll help you through college. This sucks.
Okay, sorry folks - the headline is a little misleading! I for one certainly believe we should live in a society that protects the genuinely needy, while at the same time encouraging each individual to maximise the contribution they make to that society. Firstly, I'll let you know from what position I am writing. I live in a nice cosy middle class suburban semi with my wife and three children. I earn very slightly above national average wage and the only state benefits we collect as a family are the child tax credit and child benefit. I work in an inner city location and many of my dealings are with people who claim benefits as their main source of income. While I would like to claim to be a typical Mondeo man, we settle for an Escort! But hey, you can have ambition! Now, why am I writing? Well, frustration with our current system of tax / benefit. Frustration with a government that promised to reduce reliance on benefits and has presided over a 50% increase in our soical security budget since 1997. Means testing in particular is my biggest concern, and the culture of dependence that it generates. For example, most means tested benefits are scrapped if you have savings of £3,000 or above. Well, the customers of my business have a solution. If they come in to funds that take them over the £3,000 limit, they buy jewelery. Immediately, they again qualify for the benefit. Now, while no disrespect is intended, where is the incentive for these people to look after themselves if they know that by treating themselves, the DSS will help to support them? Housing Benefit is another example of means testing. If you have financed the purchase of your own home and you lose your job, you don't qualify for housing benefit. If you insure against unforseen circumstances, the government tax you on your insurance premiums. If you rent from the local council or a private landlord, the state pays your rent for you should you hit hard times. With respect, why the differentiation? Why penalise the homeowner? We have for a long time failed to get to grips with a system that is spiralling out of control. This is not a party political point. The last Conservative administration spent so much effort shuffling the unemployed from unemployment benefits to sickness benefits to massage the figures, they failed to control the spiralling costs of tax free benefits guaranteed for life. We live in a nation where an unemployed couple with four kids can often have tax free benefits totalling over £1,000 a month and still get their rent and council tax paid. How many homeowners with a mortgage have a spare £1,000 a month after they have paid their most significant bill? In other words, we have, since 1947, successfully built a culture of dependency where there is little or no incentive to break out of it. I see little point in a system where I pay my tax and get some of it back in benefits. Surely it would be cheaper to have a system where my tax bill is calculated in a way that removes the need for benefits of any sort. Thus removing a layer of administrative costs from the DSS freeing up funds for the genuinely needy. I could go on. And on. And on. I appreciate the need to protect and help the needy. I also appreciate the promises made since 1947 - some explicitly and others implicitly - about helping the people from the cradle to the grave. But we need somebody in government to be brave. To say "Stop". We need to phase out the current system with its huge number of complex benefits. We need to grasp the pensions timebomb of our ageing population - a timebomb which, if it goes unchecked, will bankrupt the nation. So, how do you do it? Well, I am a mere layman. A voter. A person. Somebody who's got it quite good at the moment, but has known it quite bad. So while my solution is simplistic, I would ask for our elected representatives to embrace it and fine tune it. With a focus on maximising the potential of the individual. Instead of supplimenting their jewelery collection. We need to ringfence the current system. No more new members thank you. If you are leaving education and entering the workplace DSS Mark 2 will be your safety net. If you are accepted legally in to the country after successfully applying for assylum, DSS Mark 2 is for you. What is DSS Mark 2? It is a slimmed down safety net that is just that. Fewer benefits. Shorter term benefits. Rewards for getting yourself back to health. Rewards for returning to the workplace. It can include a state pension scheme. But this would be a state pension scheme that would invest contributions made by the members of DSS Mark 2 until they retire. Not the ridiculous system we have at the moment where today's contributors pay for today's pensioners. That has got to be phased out over the next 40 years to avoid significant problems - ideally sooner - using some of the savings DSS Mark 2 should make. Radical - yes. Daring - yes. Likely to happen? Probably not. It is a change that would require a significant political concensus to avoid every change of government meaning fiddling and tampering with the system to suit failed political goals. Right? I certainly think so. Sustainable? Definitely. We must protect the needy. We must also ensure the line that defines needy is drawn in the right place.
There are so many different benfits in our society today aren't there? Tax benefits, income benefits, debt benefits, credit benefits, student benefits (or are there?), low income benefits, child benefits, health benefits - the list goes on and on. How does the government decide if you are eligable? By assesing your income. But is that the best way and do the right people benefit? I am an 18 year old student, and in September I'll be going to university. My parents, between them, earn around £40,000 a year, and, according to the LEA (local education authority), they must pay my annual student loan (£1050) and my hall of residence fees for the first year at least (£1800). That's about 7.5% of their income. "That's alright" say the LEA, "they won't even notice it". But they will, when they have a £80,000 morgtage to pay, electriciy, gas, water, telephone bills; house insurance, car insurance, food bills, income tax, council tax, car tax, pension - as well as another child to support. Shall I go on?? Just because they earn a reasonable amount of money, it doesn't mean they can affod to £3000 each year towards my education. Over the last two years of 6th form, the LEA have provided an "educational maintainance allowance" 6th form students. When I heard this prior to beginning my further education course I was rather pleased. "Up to £30 a week" it said. What it did not say was that to receive £30 a week, your parents must earn less than £10,000 a year between them. If you parents earn over £30,000 a year, you didn't get anything. So that was me screwed wasn't it. I didn't have time for a job whilst studying for the NEW A-level courses, so naturally I relied on my parents to fund my social life (with much complaining from them). Did my friends go and spend the money on new books and equipment? No, it went on clothes and driving lessons and goodness knows what else, whi lst I saved every penny and spent nearly all the children's bonds that I have recently received. Now, about to embark on a new phase of my life, we all have to be in debt. My parent's overdrafts will get bigger, my pocket will grow shallower and shallower, and we will all suffer. Were the LEA right? Of course they weren't. We WILL notice the expense. Meanwhile, the government increases National Insurance to pay for an improved NHS. Don't get me wrong, I am in total favour of that becuase I am perfectly aware of the shambles our National Health Service is in. Just a shame the government don't realise how similar the financial state of education is as well. My higher education won't get the full attention it deserves because I will be trying to pay off my £3000 a year student loan. Correction £2,250. The LEA don't think I deserve the full student loan. After all, my parents earn so much money, I can live off them - can't I?
Being unsure of quite where to start putting my feelings on ‘means testing’ down. I decided to dig out some old diaries. (Keep meaning to transfer the tatty things to disc, but you know how it is, never enough time, etc.) I keep them, because they contain a great deal of family history. Little anecdotes of what life was like for my parents, when I was only a twinkle in my Dads eye. As well as more current events. Britain circa 1937. Life before the ‘ Welfare State’. Life when it cost half a crown (25p) to see the doctor in his surgery, seven and six (75p) if he made a home visit. Might not sound much, but if you consider that if you were lucky enough to have a job ( any job) you would be earning around thirty-two shillings ( £1-60) a week, you can see why people thought twice, or three times, before calling a doctor even if they felt at deaths door. These were the days of ‘Assistance’. A scheme funded by insurance contributions taken by the State from those ‘in work’, but as at that time there were 1.2 million unemployed ( a large portion of the then population), and the country was virtually bankrupt. Getting ‘Assistance’ was a painful, demeaning process. A ‘Means Tested’ process where anything, and everything one might own was taken into consideration. And I do mean EVERYTHING. For instance. My grandparents ( who had both been ‘laid off’ from the mill) were told they couldn’t have assistance because they had a carpet in the front room, which could be sold. ( My Gran told me, the ‘carpet’ was in fact a small rug, that was so old and worn you could see the equally threadbare lino through it). Surprisingly my grandparents didn’t seem to mind these constrictions, because they had grown up in fear of being sent to the ‘Workhouse’. The final indignity for the unwanted, the w eak, or those too sick to hold down a job. Fast forward to Britain 1991. Sullen, best describes the expressions on the faces of those seated around me, as I wait for my number to be called in the local DHSS office. I have already queued for two hours, and guess it will be at least another hour before I get to see a benefits officer. Frankly I am not a happy bunny. I don’t want to be here. Never expected in my wildest dreams to EVER need to be here. To EVER need to go cap in hand to the State for financial assistance. Living off the state is for LOSERS. Ner-do-wells without the wit, or will, to work for a living. Or too plan for the future. It is not for people like me and mine, who have always worked hard. Paid our own way. Saved a little, and thought we were sufficiently insured for the future. I think I am unlikely to ever fully recover from the shock, and the blow to my self-esteem becoming a benefit claimant has delivered. But I have a very sick husband, and a ten-year-old daughter to consider. We have to eat, keep a roof over our heads, and pay the bills, and my husbands incapacity/sick benefit, plus the carers allowance I have just been granted does not meet the amount the government decree’s to be sufficient for a family like mine to live on. I settle back and wait my turn. Telling myself this cannot be worse than a trip to the dentists. Proving once again that I still have a lot to learn. Britain 2001 Thinking now of the personal details I was asked to supply. The manner in which the questions were put. The way my MEANS WERE TESTED! I can understand why so many benefits people are entitled to go UNCLAIMED! Yes UNCLAIMED. In fact on current figures more benefit that genuine claimants are entitled to claim, actually goes unclaimed, than is claimed fraudulently. However in the intervening years I have ‘adjuste d’ to living on State benefits. I no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed when I claim my entitlement. After all both husband and self, paid into the system for over 30 years through PAYE ( when income tax was 33%) and NI contributions. And we still pay into the system through indirect taxation. Which as we all know is higher now than at any other time. We paid willingly, to protect ourselves in old age, and to ensure that anyone in need would get financial assistance without having to go through the demeaning process our grandparents had to suffer. And frankly I would rather see a million undeserving scroungers getting state handouts, than have one deserving pensioner put off claiming benefits through fear of MEANS TESTING. And in spite of the present government increasing the amount of savings a person can have before being disqualified for income support. People, especially the elderly are frightened of having their personal details gone over with a fine tooth-comb. Nor in my opinion should such intrusive methods, be necessary in a country as wealthy as ours.
The Government have abolished the married persons tax allowance and say they have replaced it with a childrens tax credit. I understand what they have done but the system they have in place for assessing who receives it is grossly unfair. I have a decent job, and yes I earn a fair wage, just over £42000 per annum. My wife does not work and I have 3 children under five. I cannot claim this childrens tax credit because my wage is in excess of the limit of £42000 but my wife does not earn. One of my married friends is a teacher and earns around £33000 per annum. His wife is also in employment earning £37000 per annum. This couple also have three children under five. This couple together are bringing in a combined income in excess of £70 000 into their home yearly. I bring in just over £42 000 yearly. I am not entitled to claim this tax credit but yet this other couple are. Surely a much fairer way to bring in means testing would be for the total income instead on one of the incomes. I am not complaining because I dont receive this but because of the unfair way in which it is assessed. I am happy enough with what I get but how much more money can be put, say into the NHS, if the qualifying figure for this tax credit was based on joint income instead of one income. So many more people could benefit from less money being paid in tax credits.
For some reason, most people tend to think that to be in receipt of state benefits, you need only visit the Benefits Agency, hold out your hat, shed a few tears, and money will start rolling in every week. In my experience, it isn’t that way at all. My son has severe learning difficulties. He is incapable of taking employment, or even caring for himself. He has no concept of the value of money and cannot plan for his future in the way that you and I can. He is currently in receipt of Income Support, Severe Disablement Allowance and Invalid Care Allowance. He also has his share of the rent paid for him, along with his share of the council tax. Given that he cannot provide for himself, I don't think this is unfair. Yes, it is the taxpayer that is providing for him, but those who are able to pay tax are the lucky ones. They are fit and able to support themselves. To be able to receive these benefits, my son had to endure 5 months of interviews, medical examinations, and collect countless reports from doctors with whom he’d had contact for various reasons. The Benefits Agency even asked for a medical certificate that is no longer in use, and even though his doctor contacted them explaining this, they still insisted upon using that particular certificate. His doctor then had to order this from the Health Authority on special grounds. Off the record, his doctor told us that in his experience, the Benefits Agency made the whole process as long-winded and difficult as possible in the hope that those who aren’t genuine will give up, saving them a lot of paper work. Given that benefits fraud costs us more than £2 billion in stolen benefits annually, money that could be put to use elsewhere, I can understand the need for stringent control. The question is, given the stringency that my son experienced, how comes so many are still able to cheat the system? I think the answer lies in th e amount of companies which pay for ‘services rendered’ on a self-employed basis. This makes it very easy for the individual to claim that they have no income, when in fact, they may well have an income that is much higher than yours! Occasionally, tax inspectors check the files of these companies, and contact individuals who have not registered as self-employed and haven’t paid tax on their earnings, but even then, the benefits agency wouldn’t necessarily hear about it. As far as I know (and this is information I’ve gained from somebody who had a relatively high position at the Benefits Agency) the Inland Revenue doesn’t report these matters to the Benefits Agency as a matter of routine. It’s beneficial for companies to use the ‘self-employed’ or ‘contractor’ system as they can easily rid themselves of unwanted staff and the staff have no rights, i.e. sick pay, holidays, maternity leave etc. We know that most benefit fraud is due to those in receipt of means-tested benefits having ‘money in hand’ employment. In my opinion, this should be stopped. A company should need to prove that they are in a position where casual labour is necessary, and if they can’t, they should be legally bound to actually employ their staff on a permanent basis and collect tax from them in the proper manner. It should also be a matter of routine that staff at the Benefits Agency enter the database belonging to the Inland Revenue in order to check that those applying for benefits are not actually employed, or if they are, how much they are earning. This should be done on a regular basis as there are plenty who take up full-time employment once their application for Income Support has been accepted. I also believe that ALL benefits should be means-tested. I see no reason why those who are high-earners should be receiving child-benefit to help support their children. The rea son child benefit was introduced in the 70’s as a non means-tested benefit was to help all mothers regardless of the husband’s income. Very often, men would gamble or drink away their incomes and mothers would be left to struggle by on whatever amount the man decided she would have for the housekeeping. More often than not, this was too little. But times have changed and very few mothers struggle in this way today. Most have their own incomes and those who don’t can often be found in control of the family’s personal finances. Quite honestly, if a man expected me and the children to survive on a pittance while he squandered away his wage, I’d have left him long ago. Women can survive alone today. It’s time for child-benefit to be means tested. The same applies to benefits that are automatically paid to the elderly. When it comes to pensions and other benefits received by those beyond working age, I also think that earlier income should be taken into consideration. If they’ve been high-earners who’ve depleted their incomes without making any provisions for their future, they should be expected to survive on an absolute minimum. Those who have worked hard but have had no chance to save up for their future should be given more. After all, those people who are earning the National Minimum Wage are hardly likely to be able to provide for their own future. Those who have managed to save for their own futures and are would therefore not be eligible for a state pension could give themselves a pat on the back for using their relatively high income in a sensible manner. By saving they have ensured that a larger share of our collective wealth, which they’ve paid through tax, is available to improve education, health care, emergency services, waste disposal etc. I believe in the welfare state - that we should all share our wealth. We are an affluent nation, having more millionaires than any other Eu ropean country (The Guardian, 6th December 1999), and yet we have so much relative poverty. If we were to completely do away with the welfare state and rely on the humanity of the rich to share their wealth with us, what kind of poverty would strike our country then? When the National Minimum Wage was introduced, there was uproar amongst company executives who felt that this would have an adverse effect on the economy. How could we possibly trust them to willingly share part of their wealth to ensure that all children could receive a decent education and that we could all enjoy the benefits of medical services if they disapprove of being forced to pay their employees £3.60 an hour? Means testing should also be enforced upon companies. How much they pay their employees should be means tested. If the company’s executives are earning huge sums of money (the average for the top 100 executives in the UK is £663,400. Yes, more than half a million pounds!) then they should be forced to share a percentage of their profits more fairly amongst the company employees. I once worked for a company who’s chief executive earns £1.2 million per year, and yet my income was £8,000 a year, and I was never employed on a permanent basis so therefore had very few rights. Which company? British Telecom. I realise that he had far more responsibility that I, but does that really justify such a huge difference in income and standard of living? Means testing should go across the entire board. We should ensure that employers are paying a reasonable share of their profits back to their employees (after all, without those employees, the chief executive’s income would be zero), that they are employing people on a permanent basis rather than using ‘cash in hand’ unless entirely necessary for the survival of the company, and that those in receipt of state benefits are truly needy. Yes, this would all cost an awful lot of money, but if it could be reasonably expected to cost less than we’re losing through benefit fraud today, then surely that would be good for the economy? It would also create more jobs meaning that fewer people would be on Job Seeker’s Allowance, and therefore less to pay out in the form of benefits. ~~~+~~~+~~~
Let me just start by stating a few thnigs about what I don't believe in - I don't believe in the 'welfare state', I don't believe in socialism and I don't believe in redistributing wealth through taxation. I do believe in freedom, free enterprise, the right (or freedom) to own property and the obligation of individuals to take responsibility for their actions. So, where does this place me on the 'means testing' issue ? Well, on principle I am against it, for the reason that I oppose the handouts - so, logically if I oppose the state handouts, I oppose all methods associated with them. However, I am also a realist (allegedly) - today we live in a society where apparently the majority want a welfare state and 'so called' democracy dictates that therefore that is what we should have (why I should be forced into their schemes I don't know - they could have an 'opt-in' co-operative if they wanted, and leave me out). So, as a taxpayer, I have an interest in what I pay in taxation and how it is spent by this or any other government. So, as taxpayers, what do we want to happen with our taxes ? Well for me, laying aside my distaste for the whole scheme, I take the view of 'in for a penny, in for a pound' - if they are going to take my money and 'give' it to someone, I want to ensure that the person is deserving of my money. I don't want to work hard day in and day out 'content' in the knowledge that someone 'undeserving' is living off the proceeds of my effort. If I am going to pay tax to ultimately be redistributed to someone else then I want to ensure that appropriate questions have been asked and issues have been looked into - Does the person actually have undisclosed sources of income ? What level of income does the person currently have ? What are their immediate needs (not their wants) ? Why are thet nee d in of support ? Are they sick, incapacitated or the like ? Do they have any intention of working if given the opportunity ? Are they being realistic in their efforts to support themselves and their families ? So, I want to know that the money I am forced to pay is at least used in the most appropriate of cases and is not wasted or squandered on those who 'make a living' out of being on benefit or who have no intention or desire to remove themselves from this situation. However, I do believe that one issue stands out above many others - the issue of the thrifty and the spenders. An imaginary scenario could be drawn up - Mr X and Mr Y work alongside each other, each is married, but with no children. Their incomes are similar as are their ages. Mr X lives a conservative life, spending only what he can afford and saving for his future - he retires with a decent pension. Mr Y often lives beyond his means, saves little and as a consequence retires with little or no pension. The state now comes along, and tells me that Mr Y is in hardship - I need to pay my taxes, and so does Mr X, so that Mr Y can have money to live. Mr X is taken as a sucker on this one - not only has he looked out for himself and made provision for his future - he is now being asked to pay for the spending of Mr Y, and not only that, I am being asked to do the same !! I am in effect being asked to pay for the fact that Mr Y went abroad on an expensive holiday, drove an expensive car and drank, smoked and gambled his money when he had it - so now when he doesn't have it I am asked to cover the shortfall !! I know, I can see the comments - stereotypes, unreal, uncaring etc - but the issue is an important one. We shouldn't be forced to take responsibility for those who refuse to take responsibility for themselves. We need a free society and freedom involves taking responsibility for your actions - at the moment I go without things that many of my colleagues have - but I save a lot more for my pension than they do - I don't mind them having it now - just don't expect me to pay for it later !!
Means testing seems, at first sight, a logical way of providing money to the genuinely needy....but quite frankly, the aspects of it that I have experienced within this family show that the whole thing is the greatest money supplier in the country for all those who know how to fiddle the system. Several years ago a family member walked out on her husband; took all his money out of the bank, spent it, then later had the infernal nerve to claim disability allowances and housing benefits. She set her children up in a flat, all costs paid, and today has disappeared from the face of the earth (as far as the family is concerned; quite untraceable. The courts are still chasing her for money. A number of years prior, we rented out a property to a couple who, unknown to us, were regular benefits fraudsters. Our solicitor failed in his duty to spot this. The couple claimed their housing benefits and spent the lot every month on luxuries; we never got a penny of our rent. Means testing? Load of crap. It ought to be completely scrapped and redesigned, to prevent the scum of society from gobbling up money that ought to go to genuinely needy people.
I have a view on means testing and the benefits system in general which will probably incur the wrath of a great many readers but I will air it anyway. I spent the first five years of my working life in an apprenticeship at pay rates you would not believe. This was not too long after the apprentices' parents stopped paying the "masters" for training the apprentices. I did this so that I could jump start my career and earn a good living. I qualified as an accountant as a result and have always been earning at the ceiling end of the National Insurance scale and for much of my working life have been a higher rate taxpayer. This means that I have PUT IN to the system a fair bit above the average. I have also had the misfortune to be made redundant a number of times and will be again on 31 July. The prospect fills me with dread for a number of reasons. If somebody is earning good money their lifestyle scales up to match. Yes, I have a good salary, yes I live in a nice house; one tends to follow the other. We all cut our cloth according to our earnings. The problem is that our benefits system does not recognise this. When you are earning they are quite happy to take money off you according to the rate at which you are earning it, but if you get in trouble they are not prepared to help you at the rate at which you need it. The level of support which a higher earner, who has put in to the system at a higher rate, needs help is obviously far greater than that of somebody earning half their salary. What am I supposed to do, tell the Bank to reduce my mortgage in half, tell the local council to reduce my rates. All my spending levels are scaled up to meet my earnings, but the benefits system makes no allowances, it is simply not flexible enough. When I was jobhunting the last time I was unemployed I was told by a benefits clerk, when I told her the level of salary that I was looking for, that I would "have to lo wer my sights a bit", expecting me to go for jobs at a half or a third of the level I needed to pay my bills. Changing your whole lifestyle is not something you can do overnight. The whole benefits system in the UK is a total shambles, matched only by the tax system. Tax and NI should be unified, Jobcentre and Benefits Agency likewise. When I lived in Portsmouth I had to sign on at the Jobcentre in Cosham then drive five miles to Havant to discuss my income support with the Benefits Agency. We need a unified "money in money out" system where we all earn credits according to what we have contributed, a bit like a bank. If you put more in there should at least for a short while be more available for you to take out. I read all these reports in the papers of "x", be it asylum seekers, youngsters, illegal immigrants or whatever the flavour of the month happens to be, living off state benefits of £150 a week or whatever and I seethe because I know the humiliation I suffered the last time and how I had to try to justify my lifestyle and the fact that I had done reasonably well for myself to some benefits clerk. Means testing IS needed, but the way in which it is applied needs a radical overhaul.
I have read with interest some of the ops about means testing, and they have all been very well argued and presented. Means testing is something which I feel offers pros and cons, and to roughly quote a fellow dooyoo'er, benefits the irresponsible and penalises the responsible. Sadly, I feel there is an awful lot of truth in this statement. PROS * Should benefit those that really need it * Can potentially save the goverment money which can be rerouted to other services * Should be fairer to give everyone an equal standard of living CONS * Can make those who have always supported themselves feel victimised for doing so. * Two people with the same income and standard of living, who live their lives differently can receive different levels of benefit * Can make those who have been prudent throughout their lives and strived for something better, potentially worse off. * Single parents can do far better out of it, than co-habiting/married counterparts (perish the thought - I am not criticising the single parent, (I was one) but the system) * Offers no incentive for some people to better themselves. WHAT BASIS DO THEY USE TO MAKE THEIR CALCULATIONS? If someone has over £x,xxx amount in savings, they will receive reduced or even no benefit, yet when this money has gone, if they still haven't got a job, they may find themselves on a time-out basis (restricting their ability to claim certain benefits), despite having made all the necessary NI payments. ABOUT ME! This happened to me! 12 years ago, as some of you know, I was in a not so nice relationship. However, up until 2 weeks before giving birth, I had never claimed a state benefit, save for a very brief period in my teens. I worked every hour sent to me to save some money for the pending arrival. We paid our rent of £80 a week with no assistance from anyone other than our takehome pays. I was at that point employed on a temporary full-time basis by an agency. Incidentally, I had savings in the grand sum of about £700. Because of my employment status, I was not entitled to statutory employer maternity benefits and therefore received £31 a week from the state. My partner at that stage was taking home c£85 a week. I spoke to my landlord to confirm his acceptance of part DSS payments, and was awarded .....£10 a week towards our rent, why, because we were working. I applied for a maternity grant....I was refused.....why, because we were working. We received a total income of £127 a week with which to pay £80/week rent before travel expenses, eating, paying bills etc. Where is the means testing and justice in this? I was penalised for working, yet because of our outgoings in rent and relatively low wages, we were not in a situation to save large sums of money. UPON QUERYING OUR RIGHTS AND ENTITLEMENTS I was calmy told by the DSS to leave my partner, get a flat, stop working and I would get everything paid for me!!! Where is the incentive for anyone to work? Needless to say when my daughter was 4 weeks old, after leaving her partner because of the violence. I got myself a job, and even after claiming family credit, and paying out for nursery fees, I was left with £50 a week, luckily I lived with my parents so had few other outgoings. Maybe I just don't know how to work the system. I woman I worked with until recently, worked 2½ days a week, claimed family credit, and was buying her own house on a mortgage of £45,000. Please someone tell me how. Another woman I know, divored, has 4 children, has never worked, owns a £90,000 house, has her mortgage paid for her by the state, and has a minumim of 1 3 week holiday a year in Florida during the summer. AGAIN.... My parents both emanate from fairly poor backgrounds, my father from a local council estate, my mother from the welsh valleys. They have both strived for better things, and have bought and paid for their own house and have modest savings and pensions, although not sufficient to allow to a 'wild-life' in their old age. If either or both of them have to go into a nursing home in their old age, the state will force them to sell their home to pay for it. Had they have stayed living on a council estate and spent all their money, the state would pay it for them. UNEMPLOYED A good honest hardworking person, through no fault of their own loses their job, they have a mortgage, savings and have taken out mortgage protection - the DSS will penalise them for this. Another person, also good, honest and hardworking also loses their job, but has spent all their money and lived to their means will get everything they are entitled to from the DSS. I have sickness cover, because if I am genuinely ill, I will have no income, I pray I never have to use this, but then I will forego any money from the DSS, for which I have also paid for. STUDENT GRANTS The labour government, in their wisdom, have introduced means testing for students based on their parents income. I would dearly love my daughter to go to University, and will willingly scrub floors if I have to to get and keep her there, but because I myself went to University rather late in life, and now earn a good income, will have to pay through the nose for this privelege, whereas many of her friends parents will pay nothing. SUMMARY In principal I agree with means testing. In practice, whilst I genuinely believe there are people out there who need and benefit from the state system and means tested benefits, I think there is a whole lot more than manage to abuse the system, and thus make it more difficult for honest claimants to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. I pay my NI, my tax, but suspect that if I wanted to claim something I would certainly have a hard job. Having a good income and high standard of living is not a god given right, any more than someone's entitlement to state benefits. In the main, those who have high paid jobs have worked damned hard for them and yet when things go wrong through no fault of their own, they are denied their entitlement to state support if things go wrong. Also, remember the old saying, '.....when poverty comes in through the door, love flies out through the window....', old fashioned and superstitious maybe, but more than an element of truth, which in the long run could cost this and future governments a lot more money.
I am not a fan of means testing. Like many people, I find it degrading, often unfair and very unhelpful. Some of the forms are huge and hard to answer. Just filling them in can make perfectly worthy and entitled people feel like they are sponging. But, all these issues aside, how much does means testing cost? Firstly, someone designs the forms, then they all have to be printed, in their thousands. Most forms are very long. I cannot begin to guess what this costs, but I would imagine that just the thousands of lengthy student grant applications cost enough to buy a lot of school books. The forms are then sent out, delivered in vans, posted, or whatever, then posted back or sent by other means. This all costs as well. Someone has to sit down with the form and decide if the candidtate qualifies for aid. The form checker must be paid, and there have to be a lot of people reading forms and typing details into computers (again, there must be a lot of people working just to deal with student grant applications.) There are people employed to check up on benefits fraud. Taking fraudsters to court costs the state money as more often than not the defendant will need legal aid, on top of the costs of prosecution. Anyone ending up in prison for benefit fraud costs the state even more money. For the few pounds the government saves by telling pensioners that they have too much in the way of savings, the outlay is huge, and I really do not believe that this system actually saves any money at all. I have thought for some time that it might be as well to give everyone enough to survive on, and then tax it back - that way you guarentee that everyone has a reasonable standard of living. There is no disinsentive from working, as by working your will earn more money rather than losing benefits. Fraud is impossible if every one is entitled, you don't need all the paperwork - allowances would be set up at birth and continued unti l death. You wouldn't need to take anyone to court, you wouldn't need to employ all those civil servants to shuffle paper. Additional funds could then be made available to the disabled. This would allow mothers or fathers to stay at home while their children are young. It would allow carers to look after family memebers in the home rather than being forced to hand them over to the state. It would be fair, because those who did not need the money would be taxing back more than they were getting anyway. It could be argued that this would encourage people to stay home and not bother looking for work - but if you want luxery items, holidays, new clothes, self esteem and social standing, a job is going to be the thing you want. of course there will be the odd few who abuse the system, there always are, but at least this way they don't cost the taxpayer extra money - I would rather let them have their allowance rather than incur the costs of taking them to court when there are better uses for such money. With considerable surprise, I notice that the green party actually have a citizen's allowance in their manifesto, which is startling. Perhaps I am not alone in my thinking.....
I’ve always been sceptical of means testing as a method of delivering government services. The administrations costs and the delay in processing applications often outweigh the potential benefits. The present government have claimed that its reform of the welfare system is necessary to help those most in need. Cynical people might suggest that this is little more than an attempt by the government to reduce the welfare budget My objection to means testing is that the schemes cost more to administer than they actually save. Instead of money being given to those who need it, it is tied up in bureaucratic red tape. The British civil service has legendary inefficiency across Europe. Is there any point in giving more responsibilities to the country’s biggest old boys club. Equally, means testing only serves to encourage fraud. People aren’t always honest when declaring assets because they know that it will hinder their applications. Some would, argue means testing discriminates against those who have had the industry to build up savings, and benefits the lazy. This has to be taken in moderation, since a ship fitter on the Mersey works harder than most, but if he has 4 children, he probably can’t afford tuition fees to send his eldest to University. There is the growing impression that means testing, especially for the disabled, is a way for government to cut welfare payments without having the balls to say what it is doing. The purpose of means testing is to target government support to those who need it most. In this respect, I have to support means testing. There is no point paying out money to someone who blatantly doesn’t need it. It simply diverts funds away form those who do. The social security budget already costs the taxpayer £100bn a year. As the population structure of the country becomes increasingly top-heavy, the demand on the social security budget is going to increase rapidly in futu re years. Means testing is the only way to target government funds to those who really need it. Although means testing has hardly been a key socialist policy, it could prove the most effective means to achieve social justice in this country. As much as means testing may be undesirable, it is totally necessary. It was always said that the rich took more from the government than anyone else, since they were the only ones who understood how to claim it all. A perfect example is the new stakeholder pensions the government introduced to try and get working people to invest in private pensions. They have been taken up by the rich, who have invested in the pensions for their young children, who will receive payouts of millions of pounds when the pension matures, after 50 years of tax free saving. Unless you assess a persons wealth, you will avoid targeting those who desperately need help. Not all pensioners need the winter fuel allowance. Those with huge savings are merely taking money away from those who don’t have enough for the basic essentials. Unless we have willing to increase the tax burden to 60% of GDP then there is no way we can pay out social security indiscriminately.
I know that local authorities have guidelines that they must follow to work out entitlement to housing benefit. This is based on the persons income and savings. If your savings are above £8.000 you are not able to claim any sort of reduction in rent or rate rebate. Anything below that is used on a sliding scale to determine how much rebate a person is entitled to. Your gross income is also taken into consideration including other monies coming in from dependant/none dependant people living in the house. There is also a suppliment deducted for under occupency. My main argument is for the single person(like myself) that has worked all their lives,paid the tax and NI contributions ,can be worse off(in the terms of money left at the end of the week), than someone who has never worked. I started work in 1959 and worked until 1961 when i had my first child. My second child was born in 1962. I went back to work part time until 1972. I became a one parent family in 1974. I went into full time employment with the local authority and was forced to join their pension sceme, which meant also that I had to opt out of s.e.r.p.s. This opting out was never explained to me, its still a puzzle. I retired in 1999 and was given a pension form my employer. I recieved my state pension last year but was not entitled to the full ammount as, they say, i only had 29 reckonable working years. Anyway this means that I am just over the limit to qualify for housing benefit towards rent and rate payments. My friend who lives across the road from me (who I went to school with), has never worked in her life. She stayed at home and was what you would call a housewife. She parted company with her husband a few years ago and is on income support. She lives in a flat the same as mine and because she is on income support she pays no rent or rates. I dont degrudge her of this i am just making a comparison. After I have pai d rent and rates she is £24 a week better off than me. and she gets free glasses!!!!!! I feel that the system is wrong somewhere. Meybe I should't have gone to work full time, stayed at home, lived off the state ??? But I felt it was my duty to go out to work and bring up my kids, pay my way in life. If i hadn't had those values meybe i would be better of financialy now. But would my life be as rich, would I be able to walk around with my head held high.
There is a strange attitude in this country that everyone should get something for nothing. The wealthy squeal 'I've paid my taxes! This is my money I'm getting'. For those who are poor and supported by the state, benefits are a stop-gap and sometimes discourage people to better themselves for their own sake. Means testing is so important, as it enables the government to target its social welfare expenditure, which, in this country, consumes the vast majority of the budget. While the wealthy support this system, it should not necessarily entitle them to use it. Why should those who can afford to pay for it (all of it) get free university tuition or free health care. I knew plenty of people at university who could have paid for their education ten times over without feeling the pinch. Even some middle-class families could afford to pay for private health insurance as opposed to getting it all for free on the NHS. By refusing to provide a free ride to those who can afford it, the government could improve the quality of social services (which are in terminal decline) and reduce the excessive tax burden. Meanwhile, the wealth generated by the private sector, which now goes towards buying city bankers Rolex watches, would be plowed back into universities, schools and hospitals. Many universities are actively recruiting foreign students for this very reason: they bring in cold hard cash. So, I say that means testing is vitally important, but not in the way most people think. Not only does it identify those who are in most need of benefit, it also should be utilized to identify who could afford to pay their own way.