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The toxic trope of ‘benefit scroungers’ Labour's war on welfare is cruel and cynical

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Matt Cardy/Getty Images


April 5, 2024   7 mins

The quickest way for a weak government to score cheap points with a sceptical electorate is to announce a load of stuff it’s going to “crack down” on. And so, in the past year we’ve had crackdowns on single-use vapes, laughing gas and even certain breeds of dogs. Only the other week, plans were brought forward to ban smoking outright for anyone born after 2009.

Such headline-catching measures are attractive to an embattled administration because they are relatively easy to legislate for, cost very little, and create a fleeting sense of forward momentum which temporarily cloaks a distinct absence of big ideas. Over the years, the topics of discussion have tended to change according to fashion, but one has remained constant in every election year: the crackdown on benefit scroungers.

The UK spends 12.9% of GDP on social benefits, according to the latest data, which puts us in fifth place in the G7. Between 2023 and 2024, the Government is forecast to spend £276.8 billion on the social security system, with 55% of that figure going to pensioners. And yet, while the number of people on out-of-work benefits has risen, particularly after the pandemic, the scale of public irritation doesn’t seem to correlate with the actual significance of the problem: the net loss to the DWP for benefit fraud or error was £7.3 billion in 2023. By contrast, the Government’s own figures show that money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year, while wider financial fraud has been estimated to sit at around £219 billion a year.

Strangely, though, few politicians are banging on about the hundreds of billions lost every year to tax avoidance, evasion and highly organised financial crime. Instead, both Jeremy Hunt and Rachel Reeves are desperate to reassure us all that they are getting tough on the work-shy and the idle. They are going after low-level scammers and old people who can’t fill out forms properly. This highly successful political tactic never seems to get old, regardless of how untethered from reality it is. This is as true of the “shirkers and skivers” rhetoric as it is of the welfare reforms we’ve seen over the past three decades, whereby ill-placed public resentments about social security have been deliberately stoked.

In 1996, with a general election looming, then-Tory prime minister John Major pioneered the benefit-scrounger dog whistle when he announced new “stiffer penalties” for the work-shy and vowed that “those who don’t want to work are exposed”. Labour pushed back against the language, but, as they did with almost everything Major’s Conservative Party stood for at the time, went on to adopt similar reforms after their landslide victory in 1997. Not only that, but they ratcheted up the scrounger rhetoric to levels Margaret Thatcher could only dream of.

Benefit cuts to single mothers and refugees, “name and shame” orders designed to deter anti-social behaviour, and bizarre plans to kick council tenants out of their homes for being unemployed are not often associated with New Labour. Nor are claims that certain ethnic groups “lacked discipline”, clampdowns targeting “foreigners who come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits”, or fantastical claims that translating basic public service information for those arriving in the country from abroad meant they would “not have the incentive to learn English”. These things are not associated with Blair in the popular memory — but that doesn’t change the fact they happened during his tenure.

In order to advance the rather thorny issue of welfare reform, the general public had to be conditioned to believe that the enemy in their midst was not exploitative employers, careerist politicians, or an economic model that guaranteed all prosperity was absorbed by those at the top. No, the great fear was the lazy stoner through the wall, and the single mother across the street, getting pregnant for an easy life on the dole.

This narrative may suit the politician, but the root of today’s problem lies in the UK’s sluggish growth pattern, which resulted in a low-wage labour market and threadbare public services. In these conditions of precarity, following a pandemic and during a cost-of-living crisis, more people become ill and, in the absence of a functioning health service, stay ill for longer. And the longer they are out of work, the harder it is to get back in the game. Meanwhile, for those who are able to find a job, the sort of work people now tend to move into is part-time, poorly paid and with no career progression — requiring in-work benefits to supplement. That’s why brags from the Government about record levels of employment ring hollow; full employment means nothing when you have to stop by a food bank on the way home from work.

“Full employment means nothing when you have to stop by a food bank on the way home from work.”

A responsible and honest political class might set out to correct such misplaced assumptions, perhaps by pointing out that there are billions saved in unclaimed benefits every year. Yet instead, they become the basis upon which subsequent rafts of ill-judged, short-sighted and meanspirited reforms are progressed. This is all the more galling when you consider that this war is waged by largely middle-class, university-educated careerists. Indeed, the class disparity at the heart of British democracy, where working-class voices are largely absent, means there are fewer people to present a counterpoint to the nasty consensus. Today, just 8% of Labour MPs hail from working-class backgrounds.

One might naturally assume this trend is a by-product of 10 years of Tory government — but in truth, it began with a party that exists, supposedly, to protect the working class. “Before Tony Blair came to power there was only a modest difference in working-class and careerists positions on welfare reform”, wrote Tom O’Grady in Comparative Political Studies in 2018. “But our research finds that during his premiership, the influence of working-class MPs dropped while there was a rise in the influence of careerist politicians.” O’Grady found that MPs from working-class backgrounds had “a stronger ideological attachment to welfare provision because it benefits working-class voters”, whereas among their middle-class counterparts, “greater concerns for electoral success and career advancement meant they were more likely to support welfare reforms”. The findings suggest that the large shift from working-class MPs to career politicians in the British Labour Party led to an erosion of representation of working-class voters’ interests. “Put bluntly,” he said, “careerist MPs are much more likely to blow with the political winds.”

Chancellor-in-waiting Rachel Reeves — the latest proponent of blood-curdling rhetoric on shirkers and skivers — was born the year Thatcher came to power. She’s one of a generation of rising stars with no political memory of a time when working-class people had more than a tokenistic role to play in the democratic process. And she parrots the tired Blairite rhetoric about scroungers, while cosplaying as the Iron Lady 2.0 for middle-England voters. It’s worth noting that Reeves has, since 10 December 2019, declared donations, earnings, gifts and other benefits worth more than £650,000. Indeed, the value of Reeves’s registered interests puts her in the top 2% of all MPs. Since the start of the current parliament, only 11 MPs have taken in more than money her. Fancy that.

So, after all these years of reform, where are the results? Well, here’s the thing: they have had almost no positive impact. Indeed, all the evidence shows that poverty has only worsened, and that excess deaths have increased.

The rise in food poverty, in particular, is significant. Figures from the Trussell Trust show that between March 2017 and March 2018, 1,332,952 emergency food supplies were distributed to people across the UK. Nationally, low income was the main reason for referral and accounted for nearly 30% of food bank use. The role of welfare reform was crucial here, with benefit delays accounting for 24% of referrals while benefit changes were cited by 18% — 42% in total. The correlation between Universal Credit and food bank use becomes more pronounced when you map its roll-out, between 2013 and 2018, directly onto the areas which experienced the sharpest rises in food poverty. This reveals an average increase of 52% in food bank usage in the 12 months following the roll-out in each area, compared to 13% outside of those zones.

Food poverty is just one facet of the social crisis driven by welfare reform. A spate of related suicides has been reported in recent years, including some people even leaving suicide notes referring to the DWP. In 2020, the National Audit Office noted that the DWP had investigated 69 suicides related to benefits claims in the previous six years, while disability campaigners claim the true figure is far higher. Meanwhile, despite the fact that cuts in benefits have hit women disproportionately, the DWP’s brutal compliance regime compounds the suffering of the most vulnerable women in a manner which could charitably be described as sinister. The techniques often deployed — coercion, aggression, overbearing surveillance, gaslighting and financial intimidation — either deliberately or through sheer incompetence often mirror those of present or former abusers.

And in return? The sad truth is that welfare reform in the UK is driven by ideology and has never had any evidential basis. There’s even less evidence for the effectiveness of welfare reforms at getting people back to work. The Welfare Conditionality project, running from 2013–2018, conducted analysis on both the impact of welfare reforms as well as the practices that underpin them. Concerning the lifestyle-choice homeless, the report found that benefit sanctions caused “considerable distress and push some extremely vulnerable people out of the social security safety net altogether”. For those disabled people living the high life, the report found that the Work Capability Assessment — in which people with disabilities must prove they are unfit for certain types of employment — is “intrusive, insensitively administered and regularly leads to inappropriate outcomes in respect of disabled people’s capabilities to undertake, or prepare for, paid employment”.

Where job seekers are concerned, welfare conditionality “did not prompt behaviour change” and claimants felt there was “a lack of clarity or warning that their behaviour was sanctionable, that work coaches were too quick to resort to the use of a sanction, and that sanctions were disproportionate to the alleged transgression”. For the lone parents, it found that “insufficient account is taken of caring responsibilities when claimant commitments are devised”, and that many were sanctioned as a result of “unreasonable expectations, DWP administrative errors, or failures of comprehension rather than deliberate non-compliance”. Across the board, the persistent threat of sanctions caused “extreme anxiety, even when not enacted”.

Here we can see how the UK’s favoured economic model of neoliberalism demands that those who cannot succeed in an economy rigged against them must be held personally responsible for their failure — or commanded to blame someone less fortunate than them to account for their predicament. In the UK, this cultural mechanism is expressed in electoral rhetoric which evokes images of “shirkers”, “skivers” and “scroungers” who luxuriate in mould-ridden council homes filled with extravagant items such as televisions, phones and refrigerators, all day long, on the good honest taxpayer’s dime.

While it is certainly true that any system open to enough people will be abused to some extent, and that benefit fraud does occur, the fact remains that the “benefit scrounger” narrative so readily spouted by politicians is a rhetorical device designed, in the case of the Tories, to cynically stoke irrational resentment about welfare dependency — or in the case of Labour, to cravenly placate it for an electoral advantage.


Darren McGarvey is a Scottish hip hop artist and social commentator. In 2018, his book Poverty Safari won the Orwell Prize and his new book The Social Distance Between Us (Ebury Press) is out on 16th June.

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Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
3 months ago

Oh god. Here we go…

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago

We need another CAESAR, preferably followed by an equally competent AUGUSTUS.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

The Randians are strong here, remind me what Ayn had to do?

claim benefits!

Skink
Skink
3 months ago

The giveaway game is ending. Already the Greeks knew that’s how democracy dies. Then come despots who crack down.

Ian_S
Ian_S
3 months ago

What should this be called? Retro Leftism? A quaint concern with economic conditions of the underclass, along with a Pickettian note that societal wealth only accumulates in the higher classes, often by tax evasion. But for the progressive aristocracy that likes to think of themselves as the Social Justice Left, it’s of passing concern. The real issues are finding who had connections to slavery 250 years ago, pronoun manners, censorship of disagreeable opinions, and the Quixotic pursuit of gaseous carbon. Unfortunately the lower classes are rather contemptible in their poor attitude on these issues.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

And this is why voting for Corbyn in 2019 (and the woke Islington elite who don’t care about ordinary people – see some of Corbyn’s policies below) would have been worse for working people?
1) Increase health budget by 4.3% (good one for the over 55s, who are almost 40% of Unherd’s readership)
2) Raise minimum wage from £8.21 to £10
3) Stop state pension age rises
4) Create a national care service for the elderly
5) Nationalise key industries (if you disagree with this tell me how the (wholesale) privatisation of water, energy, mail, rail or (piecemeal) privatisation of health has been successful)
6) Build 100,000 council homes a year

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

A lot of Corbyns manifesto actually enjoyed support amongst quite a large cohort. However it was overshadowed by him being a poor candidate and Labour campaigning on essentially overturning the EU referendum vote, a truly suicidal idea when 2/3 of constituencies voted to leave

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I know. How many doors got slammed in your face while campaigning for those policies? So many doorstep conversations I had ended (or usually started and ended) with people telling me Corbyn was the devil himself or – how painful the irony when he was running against Johnson – a liar.
I think it was Frankie Boyle who said that trying to discuss sensible policy at that election was like trying to read out poetry at an orgy.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Agree, most left policies are very popular till the voter finds out which party is proposing them, which suggest the media is more powerful espcially S/Media with its lies, etc.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

I supported Team Corbyn, primarily John McDonell, but they took a fair time to develop a decent welfare policy(which was great when came) and the Waspi(they do deserve more) 60 Billlion offer announced off the cuff was crazy(sorry John)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

As that noted old Etonian George Orwell put it so succinctly, as long as the “lower classes”* have enough:-“fish and chips, art-silk stockings, tinned salmon, cheap chocolate, the movies, the radio, strong tea, and the football pools— as sources of immediate satisfaction”, they will remain silent.

Thus the literati of Quislington** have a clear run and can smugly deplore the ‘deplorables’.

(* Your words.)
(** A salubrious area of North London for US readers.)

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Sadly this is true, i have largely give up on the left: now very middle class, obsessed with identity/global politics/issues, with few exceptions they have no interest in basic issues like housing social security, economic inequality, etc.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yes at high level politics I think that’s the case. I heard an interview with Norman Finkelstein where he said that although identity politics (caring about the women’s movement, the civil rights movement etc) is a part of being on the left, today these movements (like BLM) are quickly coopted by the right so they can virtue signal as a cover for class warfare. In all examples its the replacement of class with identity as a central concern which allows the economic elite to attack progressives whilst looking progressive.
He gave the example of how Bernie Sanders’ campaign (hugely resonant with the population for its traditional class-based critique of the USA’s problems) was criticised (by woke and ostensibly leftist outlets like the New Yorker) for neglecting the issue of reparations for black communities, when it should be clear that his policies, like higher wages and cheaper health care would have done so much more for black people than one-off reparation payments. That was when Finkelstein said he realised woke was right-wing. Another nauseating example would be Jeff Bezos giving $10m to Black Lives Matter (when obviously just paying his workers properly would do so much more) as well as the $100m he gave to the Obama Foundation. Why? As life insurance. When the country-wide strikes happen across Amazon warehouses, who’s side can Obama realistically take when he has $100m of Bezos’ cash?
So, like you I guess, while I think identity politics is something to get behind at grassroots level, class has to stay front and centre of the agenda.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
3 months ago

Welfarism is used as a political tool by the political parties.
‘Welfarism’ has resulted in high taxes destroying the wages of working people and our economy.
We need a small state, low tax economy that protects working people’s wages & allows the economy to grow.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago

Low tax is useless for people on low wages, it will only deliver a puny few £s extra in their pay packet. Low tax works best for the rich and those paid in excess of 40k per year.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

‘the net loss to the DWP for benefit fraud or error was £7.3 billion in 2023. By contrast, the Government’s own figures show that money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year, while wider financial fraud has been estimated to sit at around £219 billion a year.’
And don’t forget the £15bn on housing benefit we have to spend to line the pockets of landlords and landowners because of an underegulated housing market whereby local authorities do not have sufficient powers to buy land cheaply to build the council houses we desperately need.
And now we have 4.2 million children in poverty (many in working families because so many jobs don’t cover living costs etc). Anyone interested in doing something about that – e.g. Corbyn’s Labour – is slandered by the press (that also includes the BBC and Guardian which was very critical of him, the former being far more so than of Johnson (about who’s record of flagrant lying no key media outlets were interested) and yet it’s still called ‘left wing,’) despite the fact that many of Labour’s 2019 policies would be seen as completely reasonable in much of western Europe).

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

And so the rehabilitation of the far left continues.

“Aaaaakshually Labour in 2019 were practically Thatcherite libertarians; being an apologist for the Soviet Union, disbanding the army and giving soirees for the IRA are all reasonable positions to hold on the continent don’t ya know?”

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’m talking about the domestic policies so tell me why they would have been so ruinous.
I agree McDonnell did some stupid things for which I’d be tempted to hit him, like quoting Mao in parliament. But the policies themselves were not communist as the detractors said. Find one that was.
The disbanding of the army plan was made up by Johnson. See Peter Oborne’s explanation from his much overlooked record of Johnson’s lying here: https://boris-johnson-lies.com/corbyn-and-his-lot-actually-think-that-the-armed-services-should-be/

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The number of children in poverty is much harder to quantify.
What does it mean? Mostly it refers to people living on incomes below two thirds of the median household income. It’s relative poverty. This isn’t nothing but I think the term misleading.
As a teenager, my family income would have undoubtedly have met the criteria of poverty mentioned but we really did have enough to live on.

Jack Martin Leith
Jack Martin Leith
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

the £15bn on housing benefit we have to spend to line the pockets of landlords

Many of these landlords are local authorities, arms-length management organisations and housing associations. Does anyone know how the £15bn is split between public and private sector landlords?

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago

it will be private landlords that get most of the 15 billion because there’s hardly any social housing left as a result of the right to buy policy.

D N
D N
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

“hardly any social housing left as a result of RTB policy” Hardly any? According to UK Govt. in 2021-22 :
17% or c. 4.0 million households in social rented sector.
19% or c. 4.6 million households in private rented sector.
64% or c. 15.6 million households in owner-occupied sector.
(1) Make it easier for councils to acquire land to build more social housing (with or without later right to buy?)
(2) Prohibit private landlords renting to those needing housing benefit?

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  D N

(1) Yes
(2) Yes again (though that might have to be phased in as those requiring housing benefit are gradually transferred to the social sector as it expands)

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

It’s a good question and annoyingly the website I shared with the £15bn stat (last time I used it was a few months ago) now has a paywall. What’s clear however from this report I just found is that 4 in 10 renters (42%) now rely on housing benefit. That’s 1.9m private renters. Given that there are 4.6m private renters in total in the UK, that means almost all of these renters are in the private sector, which makes sense since you’d think a state provider can affordably lower rent to keep it affordable for the occupant rather than provide housing benefit whereby the state would just be paying itself for the rent. Though i have no experience of this so not sure how it works.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

” the Government’s own figures show that money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year, while wider financial fraud has been estimated to sit at around £219 billion a year.”
I am afraid that is just BS. What was said was that the Government estimates that money laundering costs the UK economy £100 billion a year and that was just a made up grossly exaggerated figure because the government wanted to make a point.
On the other hand the figure for benefit fraud was hugely low balled because no one in government dares to tell the public the true extent of the problem

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

I wouldn’t believe any government figures regarding fraud where CBDCs are the solution to the problem.

DenialARiverIn Islington
DenialARiverIn Islington
3 months ago

I have no idea what the author seeks to achieve with this drivel. It’ll make zero difference. The bitter truth is that Labour will either choose or be compelled to cut spending by £100-150 billion per annum by 2028 at the latest and no amount of special pleading is going to make a jot of difference to that mathematical reality. Everyone will suffer.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

Most welfare that is paid out goes to those who work but aren’t paid enough to live on. It’s basically corporate welfare these days, whereby an employer doesn’t pay their workers enough to live on, expecting the taxpayer to pick up the tab. Likewise with the selling off of council houses we now have large numbers of young families needing government assistance just to pay the rent, so the taxpayer again is propping up the profit margins for the landlords.
It’s a sad reflection on a society when even the safety nets designed to help those who fall on hard times end up being twisted and commandeered by the wealthy instead

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly. I just made the same point (£15bn goes on housing benefit for landlords) but my comment seems to be in Unherd custody for the time being..

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago

“cynically stoke irrational resentment about welfare dependency”
Many of us have quite rational resentment about welfare dependency. There’s nothing irrational about it.
We know it produces bad outcomes for people who don’t actually need it. As well as costing the country a fortune.
We know from looking at how things are done in other countries – Singapore, South Korea amongst others – that there are better, more efficient ways to support people in need.
And yet we choose to blunder on with a bad system because it upsets the feelings of some mainly middle class people administering these inefficient systems.
Anyway, we’re running out of “other peoples’ money” to subsidise all this (the millions of “disabled” and voluntarily “economically inactive”). Eventually reality will assert itself.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

So for you is cracking down on fraudulent benefits claims and scraping back that £7.3bn we lose from it (government income is £800+bn) going to really turn things around? Will that save you from dying in the arms of a collapsing NHS which you voted to continue privatising and underfunding?

Al Hicks
Al Hicks
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The NHS needs handing over to social insurance to manage. It should not be run by the government. Look at Germany, France, Denmark, Norway all successful health services with better outcomes for all major illness and are 3/4 run by private providers, with social insurance to fund it.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
3 months ago
Reply to  Al Hicks

Totally agree: the NHS, like the BEEB, is a product of the 50s; vast, unmanageable and bureaucratic.

It’s impossible to reform unless it’s broken up into smaller, self-governing chunks or completely replaced. Otherwise, like the welfare ‘system ‘ it will simply bankrupt the country.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Underfunding? NHS funding has increased in real terms (after inflation) every year for over a decade. Spending is now rapidly heading towards 10% of gdp, compared to 3% in the 50s.

The NHS is a black hole and needs to be completely redesigned. By all metrics, it performs very badly against all the other options, whether that is full privatisation, socialised insurance or whatever.

We are costing ourselves in monetary terms, in outcomes, and in quality of life, but because so many people worship at the altar of “OUR NHS”, we are probably stuck with it forever.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

To all of you:
Thanks for the honest responses and I would indeed also like to know how much of the health budget goes on NHS staff who make no contribution to positive health outcomes etc Could it be as much as the £29bn this government hemorrhaged to the shareholders of G4S and Serco for the dysfunctional test and trace system (privatisation in action) in 2020? Germany spent 46m euros on theirs…
Now the point about a bloated bureaucracy is still fair but this assumption that the NHS is a black hole seems demonstrably false: we have (apart from the examples of our higher spending European counterparts, the ironic admiration of our anti-spending fellow commenters on here) the example of our own history to look to; under Blair, NHS spending went up, and, low and behold, so did healthcare outcomes.
To accomodate your points, the IFS report, reviewing spending under the Blair years, does say that ‘this increase in measured public service outputs [was] less than the increase in inputs over the same period.’ In other words, ‘productivity [had] fallen.’ (spending was increased by 56% over a period which saw a ‘one-third increase in the quantity and quality of public services’). So not perfect, BUT outcomes did improve considerably. Yet this outlet is loud with complaint about the ‘poor’ (imperfect) record of New Labour and dead quiet on the demonstrable failure of the Conservatives over their last 14 years. Again, what have they done for the NHS? I would like to hear the case, but it’s never made. Can it be made?
And what government can with any legitimacy begin a transition to say, social health insurance (admittedly a succes in many other countries from the Netherlands to Poland, but still requiring more of our money to work as well as it does in the cases given), when 82% of people want an NHS primarily funded by taxation?
And interesting this argument that because funding is increasing, it cannot be that the NHS is underfunded. Try telling that to our aging population for whose sake this funding has to be increased.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

New Labour poured far more money into the NHS, but output per pound spent went down, and future governments were saddled with vastly increased capital costs, and pension liabilities.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

So I have acknowledged, but that was partly because, as the study says, the costs of healthcare went up and the government got ‘less bang for its buck.’ Neither does this detract from the fact that outcomes improved by a third under New Labour. And from the fact you have not defended the Tories’ record I think I can infer you don’t think the Conservatives can be trusted to do anything better. And looking at the £29bn test and trace scandal as an example of what privatisation looks like I think we can say that when Labour spends money on the NHS more of it ends up going to the patients. When the Conservatives spend money ‘on the NHS’ more of it goes to their cronies in private outsourcing companies

Kevin Ludbrook
Kevin Ludbrook
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Taking one example, three hospitals I have been in to recently are baking hot, have the heating on and the windows open. The operational mentality and acquiescence that allows this to happen is probably an indicator of other issues, Try and find the price of getting a door lock changed. Significantly more expensive and time consuming than a private operator or well managed in house team. On your point that 82% of people want a health service funded by taxation, I would surmise that they want the government to pay for it, not them !!

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Kevin Ludbrook

You’re doubtless right that there are unnecessary costs (which is as much the case in the private sector as in the public) that could be saved, but do you have any numbers? Again the biggest number I know of in terms of health budget wastage was the £29bn the Conservatives spent on a failed test and trace service run by private companies. Altough I would be genuinely heartened if you could give some positive examples of the private sector’s involvement in the NHS.

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Desmond, I can give you an example of positive private sector involvement.

I work for a Trust with two hospitals, one had a wholly NHS scanner, the other an independently run scanner (imposed on us by the Blair government). While I was in management the NHS scanner put through half as many patients as the independent. When I pointed this out at a management meeting, and was told I was being “disloyal to the NHS”.

The independent company wanted to increase the utilisation of the (very expensive) scanner and started marketing scans to the local GPs at very economic rates; previously these patients had been travelling up to 50 miles and the provider’s charges had been 50% higher.

The independent company achieved scanning more patients more economically by employing staff more intelligently and aiming to increase the number of scans per machine.

These events occurred 15 years ago, and we have gradually learned to be more efficient in some respects but it’s been an unnecessarily slow and painful process.

I can think of other examples where private sector involvement has been unhelpful and I’m not an advocate for “privatisation” as an ideological pursuit, rather I believe each case needs to be considered on its merits.

Using “privatisation” as a threat is a red herring to make everyone fearful of changing our health system. Sooner or later we need to face up to the fact that the NHS is a failed institution. Other countries do better and we should have the insight to recognise that fact and the humility to copy their better systems.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank Leahy

Thanks for sharing this, really helps picture a situation which moves away from the privatisation stereotype of the state being overcharged for outsourced staff as in the test and trace debacle and I agree there must be cases where it’s helpful.
The only issue I have with those on here claiming our health service can be improved without spending more money is that there is no successful health service I can find which does not spend more than we do (we spend a 5th less per capita than the systems they admire in France and Germany). That and the fact that these social insurance systems do mean the poor end up having worse health care are trade-offs that aren’t acknowledged by those who believe in the infallibility of the market = better outcomes formula. But what do you think? A mixture of increased spending and more well-judged privatisation or something?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

My example is that of the high street optical chains. Let’s call them SpecVision. When I had a sudden eye emergency last year, I called NHS 111 who deliberated for two hours before advising me to go to my optician (one of the SpecVisions) in the morning. It appeared there would be nobody at A&E who could help me anyway.
I was at their doors in opening time, they squeezed me into their busy schedule, did all the tests and triage they could with their equipment and emailed the results to the NHS hospital who fitted me in that afternoon, springboarding off SpecVisions triage to conduct further tests. Treatment after that was all NHS and took three months of mostly waiting for appointments to complete.
During this period they revealed that I’d been listed for laser surgery a year earlier but because I was out of the country when the letter arrived (they refused, and still refuse, to email me even though some other departments do) the appointment was cancelled as a no-show and nobody followed up.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

Thanks for sharing. That sounds very distressing and I’m glad the problem finally got resolved. As stupid and unnecessary as that communication system sounds, for all the reasons above that I have mentioned however I am not convinced that the answer is to fund the NHS less or that calling in more private agencies will always help.
I could give the examples of people I know here in the Netherlands who have had their surgery delayed to the next year by private companies because they know they can charge more once the patient’s ‘eigen risico’ (the amount they have to pay themselves for treatment within a year) is reset.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

More funding doesn’t cure stupidity. In forty+ years of working life, I’ve seen many successful examples of better performance rewarded by better pay. Never seen a poor performer suddenly improve in the same job just by paying them more.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

But you know it’s not just about paying people more (btw the junior doctors are asking for no more than a measly £1-2bn. The Tories managed £29bn for their cronies, while Hunt recently gave away £13bn in fruitless tax cuts so they can spare this amount, less than an 800th of government revenue).
It’s about proper equipment, incentivising people to stay and not go abroad, better working hours, building more hospitals etc

Neiltoo .
Neiltoo .
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The thing that I find fascinating about these discussions is how the current govt. gets the blame for everything. Don’t get get me wrong, I think the Conservative Party deserve to be destroyed for the way they have run the country, but those who think things will change for the better under Labour are in for a huge reality check.
The country is run by a combination of the civil service and the MSM. Were things so much better under the last Labour govt.? Part of the reason the country is in such a mess is the ludicrous amounts of money spent during covid.
Everything the Labour Party said at the time suggests they would have spent even more!
Labour will blame their inability to fix any of the problems on the mess the Tories left them and little will change. Of course, I could be wrong, things could get a lot worse.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Neiltoo .

So two things to clear up: I don’t think this govt should get all the blame (as a supporter of Corbyn’s policies I have the usual critique of New Labour that comes with that affiliation), but I do think its record is far worse than New Labour’s. I also don’t place much hope in Starmer (I think we have to look beyond parliamentary politics to restore control over our lives – cooperatives, trade unions etc).
Part of the reason the country is in such a mess is the ludicrous amounts of money spent during covid. I can see this must be part of the problem. The lock down was badly designed. But I don’t think Labour would have awarded those inflated VIP lane contracts (amounting to between 1.4 and 2.7 times the average prices for the same equipment), just because, though I agree Starmer does not seem especially honest, his record of lying does not start as early on in his life as that of Boris Johnson’s, which seemed to begin with his first career and brought a culture of corruption with it.

Neiltoo .
Neiltoo .
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

I’m sure Labour wouldn’t have wasted money in exactly the same way as the Cons did but I am sure they would have exceeded the Cons waste.
More government is not the answer to any of our problems in fact it has caused many of them.
As for Corbyn’s policies, that was the getting worse bit I was talking about. There are very few examples anywhere of socialism making people’s lives better.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Neiltoo .

More government is not the answer to any of our problems in fact it has caused many of them.
Name me your favourite incidence of privatisation of an industry previously wholly or partly managed by the government and explain how much good it has done us. Here are some ideas: energy, water, rail, mail, housing.
If you can find a single positive story in any of those examples I will genuinely feel encouraged about the direction of this country (generally disastrous since Thatcher).
As for Corbyn’s policies, that was the getting worse bit I was talking about. There are very few examples anywhere of socialism making people’s lives better.
Next assignment: find me one of Corbyn’s ‘socialist’ (assuming this is meant in the sense that Venezuela or the Soviet Union are considered socialist) policies that has had a bad impact in other parts of the world (many after all were aimed at bridging the gap between our spending levels on public services and those of our (preseumably socialist?) western European neighbours). Here are some you might find especially bad:
1) Increase health budget by 4.3% (good one for the over 55s, who are almost 40% of Unherd’s readership)
2) Raise minimum wage from £8.21 to £10
3) Stop state pension age rises
4) Create a national care service for the elderly
5) Nationalise key industries (if you disagree with this tell me how the (wholesale) privatisation of water, energy, mail, rail or (piecemeal) privatisation of health has been successful)
6) Build 100,000 council homes a year 
Though this might sound confrontational, that isn’t my intention: I just want a policy discussion to work out how much real disagreement we have.

Realist 77
Realist 77
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

According to the NAO, as of June 2022 approximately £25.7 billion had actually been spent on the entire Test and Trace programme, with an estimated lifetime cost of £29.3 billion.

The NAO said that of the approximately £13.5 billion spent on the NHS Test and Trace programme in 2020/21, £35 million was spent on the app.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The testing was the successful part. The tracing was a disaster.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

Money well spent then I guess

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The NHS isn’t underfunded. It’s badly managed. The more money we throw at it, the worse it gets. That’s bad management.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

The more money we throw at it, the worse it gets. 
Evidence this claim, taking into account aging population pls.

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Some actual numbers:

From: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/funding/health-funding-data-analysis#:~:text=For this financial year (2023,on directly to the NHS.

‘Health expenditure – the money spent on health across all government departments – has increased significantly over the decades since the NHS was established in 1948. In recent years, it has increased significantly due to additional COVID-19 funding, and it reached £217bn in 2021/22 (the most recent year for which this data is available).

The UK is not alone in this. Health spending has increased over the decades in nearly all comparable countries. This is due to increasing population, ageing populations with increasingly complex healthcare needs, and increases in the relative costs of treatments including drug prices. After adjusting for population growth and demographic changes, health spending has remained more or less constant over the past 15 years. ‘

But it does also say:

‘ However, in the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, UK health funding grew at a slower pace than before, with a growth rate falling below the long-term average. The pandemic triggered additional funding injections, which were much needed but did not make up for historic underspend. Between 2009/10 and 2021/22, the cumulative underspend – the difference between what funding would have been if historical growth rates had been maintained, and what was actually provided – reached £322 billion in real terms.’

However if you scroll down to the graph titled ‘Healthcare spend per person flatlined in England and Northern Ireland in 2021/22
£’ – you will find that although spending per person has flatlined it is still considerably higher than before the pandemic. Make of that what you will, but that looks to me like actually we are spending a fair amount more per person than we were pre 2019.

There is also a graph called ‘The UK spends less on healthcare than many comparable nations’ – but it only compares us to other g7 nations so it is rather selective, only Italy spends less than us consistently.

The report says we spend around 10% of GDP on healthcare which increased to 12% during the pandemic, apparently still less than Germany and France.
It says the main problem is lack of investment in infrastructure.
It also has a chart called ‘NHS staff costs account for the largest portion of the DHSC day-to-day (Resource DEL) spending’ – interestingly the NHS spends over £2 billion on clinical negligence – so that sounds like very bad management.

Trigger warning: This comment has immediately been subjected to moderation – explicit content detected.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Thanks very much for this – appreciate the time and effort. I may well go back to this again next time there’s a discussion on this.
So what’s your conclusion? I think we’re all in agreement that there are many instances where management should be improved, but the idea that increased spending does nothing, or even makes things worse (as Peter B seems to think) is not established. Spending is rising yes, but that’s appropriate as our population gets sicker (through old age, rising poverty, growing sense of alienation/powerlessness that our economic system (and maybe culture) creates)
So could you also be in agreement that more money does need to be spent? You say that the g7 countries we are compared to in the study, which spend more and have better outcomes, are only a select few and so we shouldn’t see their example as instructive. But shouldn’t we be aiming to be like other G7 countries? I know thanks to Brexit, deindustrialisation and Thatcher’s (and Blair and Cameron’s etc) disastrous privatisation policies we are now on track to become poorer than Poland by 2030, (and so maybe it isn’t appropriate anymore to compare ourselves to the wealthiest countries) but I like to believe Britain should try and do someting about that rather than accept it.

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

So I’m not really sure to be honest about my conclusion, it looks like from that report that actually we could spend more when compared to other g7 nations. How we do compared to people not in the g7 though I have no idea, so if I was being pedantic I would say a wider comparison would be more helpful.
It says we have a deficit in spending because funding has grown slower over the last ten years, however when you look at the spend per person this seems to have increased a fair amount – so the report contradicts itself in some ways perhaps? It looks like covid spending has distorted the figures on spend per person after 2020, before covid it looks like funding per person has actually been pretty flat, overall spending only increasing slightly to allow for the population increase etc. – but not enough to invest in better healthcare or more infrastructure.
I think I agree with the reports conclusion that we haven’t spent nearly enough on investing in infrastructure, which has caused a shortage of beds, so we probably should spend more in this area in particular. Build more hospitals.
It does look like a fair bit gets wasted too though, so perhaps management could be improved (decreasing the spend on clinical negligence for example) – £322 billion is a fair bit of underspend to make up for though, improved management would not be adequate to make up for this deficit or the poor investment in infrastructure.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Interesting. Think we’ve got an agreement here! Had no idea about the loss of money on clinical negligence (I wonder why this happens…).
As to the seeming contradiction, ie how can it be that we are underspending even as we are spending more on each person per year? This again could be down to a number of things, some I already mentioned: an aging population (though you might think the high immigration numbers would counter that), a poorer, lonelier population (loneliness is a killer after all), or rising prices in importing equipment, delivering less ‘bang for buck’ (which is what the IFS report I read said was the problem under New Labour).
I wonder if any of your suggestions will be heeded. This is why I gave up an ambition I used to have to be a policy researcher – too depressing seeing how many sensible ideas are ignored.

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

‘Interesting. Think we’ve got an agreement here! Had no idea about the loss of money on clinical negligence (I wonder why this happens…)’
I think so 🙂 I also thought it was interesting that on that same chart there is a large grey box called ‘Other’ which apparently costs us £18 billion a year, this seems rather ambiguous – I wonder what ‘other’ things are costing us £18 billion?

‘As to the seeming contradiction, ie how can it be that we are underspending even as we are spending more on each person per year?’ – I’m not sure I worded my last reply that well – not so much that as that we have, since the pandemic, increased spend per person and overall spending considerably – so it looks like more money is spent on health care per person but actually the extra money went towards fighting covid not on general health care. So covid spending is distorting the most recent figures, making it look like we are spending more on the NHS but actually the additional spend was for covid. Overall it looks like funding has actually remained pretty flat, it has increased steadily over the last ten years but only enough to account for the things you mentioned like population increase etc. But not enough to invest in more infrastructure or better health care.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The BBC is constantly telling me that the NHS is “in crisis”. So is the Labour party. And the Lib Dems. The Tories are hardly denying it. The NHS constantly claim it is (and do their bit to ensure it is through strikes). I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t (or rather when I wasn’t being told it wasn’t) …
All the statistics are showing that NHS performance has got worse over the past few years. Yet real terms funding increased.
There are plenty of other factors that should counteract any effects from an aging population.
We are supposed to be living healthier, better lives than in the past. We’ve never had better access to good food, exercise and leisure. And information about how to live healthy lives. There should be a slow but steady year-on-year reduction in medical need as we take more responsibility for our own health and historic diseases become less prevalent.
As it is, the health industry in the West doesn’t have a clue about how to operate efficiently and achieve year-on-year cost reductions they way almost every other industry does as a matter of course. It’s almost as if it operates on the old “cost plus” model the MoD used to use for defence contracts.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Unconvinced and my point about New Labour’s high spending success and the fact that more money is spent by the health systems you admire has not been addressed.
We’ve never had better access to good food.
I think the picture of overall improvement in people’s management of their own health which you paint might have been true between WWII and Thatcher, but given the subject matter of the article above, where are you taking into account the huge rise in poverty this country has seen? Stagnant wages, more precarious jobs, rising housing costs, reliance on food banks? Is that good for your health? People are also lonelier, more uprooted from their communities etc
And why might poorer people eat less healthily? Orwell is good on this:
”And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you.”
The health industry in the West doesn’t have a clue about how to operate efficiently
Didn’t you say you like the models in places like Germany and France or did I get that wrong? If not, which models should we aspire to?

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

“New Labour’s high spending success”.
I’m not sure that reads quite as you intended it. For I certainly cannot dispute that New labour were masters at high spending – Gordon Brown being the biggest achiever in that respect.
But some of us prefer to measure useful outputs and not simply the inputs …
And what did this “high spending” achieve ? Renting lots of new schools and hospitals, where we once built and owned them ourselves. Myriad problems with these buildings. No gain in public sector productivity (so indeed it was merely “spending” rather than investment – investment is intended to produce a return). And the growth of public-private partnerships and “private equity” (remember how they used to have stands at the Labour Party conference). If you wonder why Macquarie Bank screwed over Thames Water, you really need look no further than New Labour’s “enablers”.
I suggested that other countries did things better. Not that they themselves were perfect. I’m absolutely certain that there are huge opportunities for more efficient, lower cost healthcare that haven’t been realised yet – mainly because health services are usually run for the benefit of the providers (whether that’s the pharma companies, the providers/administrators or the staff) and not the end users.
There has not been a “huge increase in poverty”. You are relying on the entirely fictional relative poverty measures which are constructed in such a way that poverty never drops. The smartest man I ever worked for used to say “you can’t optimise what you can’t measure”. If you can’t measure poverty correctly, for sure you won’t deal with it.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

I like to think you don’t still consider me so stupid as to think that spending is a virtue in its own right. I only didn’t mention the outputs as I’ve mentioned them at least three other times on this comment section, but if you (understandably) haven’t had time to read all my comments or the productive discussion I had on this with B Emery above (where we both agreed, based on reports about our own and the spending of other more successful countries, that there is a spending deficit) here it is:
The point about a bloated bureaucracy is still fair but this assumption that the NHS is a black hole seems demonstrably false: we have (apart from the examples of our higher spending European counterparts, the ironic admiration of our anti-spending fellow commenters on here) the example of our own history to look to; under Blair, NHS spending went up, and, low and behold, so did healthcare outcomes.
To accomodate your points, the IFS report, reviewing spending under the Blair years, does say that ‘this increase in measured public service outputs [was] less than the increase in inputs over the same period.’ In other words, ‘productivity [had] fallen.’ (spending was increased by 56% over a period which saw a ‘one-third increase in the quantity and quality of public services’). So not perfect, BUT outcomes did improve considerably. Yet this outlet is loud with complaint about the ‘poor’ (imperfect) record of New Labour and dead quiet on the demonstrable failure of the Conservatives over their last 14 years. Again, what have they done for the NHS? I would like to hear the case, but it’s never made. Can it be made?
‘health services are usually run for the benefit of the providers (whether that’s the pharma companies, the providers/administrators or the staff) and not the end users.’
Well the Tory scandal of £29bn on a dysfunctional test and trace system which was scooped up by shareholders at Serco and G4S with minimal benefits for the public (it cost Germany 48m to do the same thing) is a classic case of that.
‘Renting lots of new schools and hospitals, where we once built and owned them ourselves. Myriad problems with these buildings. No gain in public sector productivity (so indeed it was merely “spending” rather than investment – investment is intended to produce a return). And the growth of public-private partnerships and “private equity”’
Yes there is a lot to criticise New Labour for. I’m not saying they’re perfect. I largely supported Corbyn’s policies so I have the usual critique of Blairism that comes with the affiliation. But nonetheless, the difference between Labour’s management of the NHS and the Conservative’s is that you can actually point to some positive outcomes. Now maybe I’m missing something here and the Tories have done a great job. Please if you know of any positive things they have done I’d genuinely like to know, to feel less depressed about the country.
I’m absolutely certain that there are huge opportunities for more efficient, lower cost healthcare that haven’t been realised yet 
But I agree reform is needed! I just don’t know of a better healthcare system than ours which doesn’t also spend more money (whether through taxation or individual contributions). Given this, your orginal point that the more money we spend the worse it gets seems remarkable (I know more money is spent each year but this population is getting older and sicker).
To quote B Emery (referring to a BMA report): ‘before covid it looks like funding per person has actually been pretty flat, overall spending only increasing slightly to allow for the population increase etc. – but not enough to invest in better healthcare or more infrastructure’
‘Poverty is not increasing in the UK’ (or so you effectively say). Remarkable. Again you place the burden of evidence on me to make my point, with only an anecdote to back up your own, but I will duly make the case:
1) Wages have been stagnant for at least 15 years. How do you counter this (from the Mail no less)? House prices have also been rising (I assume I don’t need to evidence this). The right-wing think tank, the IEA, also agrees that the housing crisis is ‘the single largest cause of poverty in the UK.’ That crisis is getting worse, therefore…
2) Consequently and most obviously there is a rise in rough sleeping. In 2023 there were 27% more rough sleepers than the year before. Again I assume we don’t need a discussion about what counts as rough sleeping.
3) UK households to be £1,900 poorer by 2025
4) You make a good point about the difficulty of measuring poverty. There are different theories and metrics and of course people experience poverty differently. It seems to me however, that the metrics currently being used (and their narrow reliance on income rather than other dimensions such as access to services, green areas, free time etc) seem a belittling rather than an exagerration of the problem. But please, tell me why you think we’re all getting richer. Again I’d genuinely like some positive news.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

HRMC is much more lax than the DWP in going after any fraudsters, but thats ok, to the hard right, who have come out in droves on this OP.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I am afraid you wrong. HMRC are absolutely ruthless.
I have a former colleague who works in the investigations department. The process is designed to ensure that very few of even the most outrageous cases of fraud get pursued let alone prosecuted.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The unwitting warriors of the wealthy? As no doubt they probably see me. Hard right I try to reserve for people who want to punish the poor/minorities through anti-democratic means (although I think there is indeed a drift towards fascism in many countries).

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

It would be interesting to hear what you regard as Fascism. To me, relentless expansion of government interference in private lives would be one of the most prominent feature of previous regimes, and I seem to remember the Corbynistas being pretty keen on that.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

relentless expansion of government interference in private lives would be one of the most prominent feature of previous [Fascist] regimes, and I seem to remember the Corbynistas being pretty keen on that.
I’m listening,and with rapt interest. Let’s hear how Corbyn was a Fascist with his social democratic polices of wealth redistribution and of trying to match our levels of spending on public services with those of his (presumably also fascist?) European neighbours?
For me the central features of fascism are racial discriminiation (not one I see explicitly enough among governments in the west to call them fascist), crackdowns on freedom of the press (present in Hungary) and the erosion of the separation of powers (present at least in Hungary and Poland). I’ll concede that the last two are also features of authoritarianism more broadly, which includes most manifestations of communism we have seen across the world.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

The National Health Service is not under funded. It costs £182b pa at the last count and it has risen by an average of 5.5% a year in real terms since 2019/20. For its advocate no amount of money will ever be enough.
The problem is the people who run and work in it. I actually feel grateful when I occasionally come across someone in the NHS who is hard working and has a sense of duty

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

Some things for you to think about: aging population, New Labour’s record on the NHS, the fact other western European countries which we are supposed to be aspiring to spend much more on their health services

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
3 months ago

“while wider financial fraud has been estimated to sit at around £219 billion a year.”

Can that be right? – that’s about 7% of GDP! Would certainly explain why there’s a lot of very wealthy people out there.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

Yes the very wealthy are wealthier than they’ve ever been. But don’t look there, that’s just the ‘old elite;’ we’re supposed to be angry with the real one – the Islington wokerati, the university lecturers, the civil servants who are all ‘groaning with wealth’ according to some commenters on here.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Will you stop banging on about the wealthy. It is just a diversion. There are very few of them and their wealth in the scheme of things would not make a jot of difference, and the truly wealthy are not beholden any one country.
The real issue here is between ordinary working people who pay and those that take out.
At last count an individual had to earn £48k pa before there became a net contributor to the system. That surely tells us that we are living way beyond our means

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

‘Banging on about them’ suggests they’re irrelevant to this discussion, but they’re not since they feature in the article above (and in any case I was responding to DR whose comment addressed them).
Instead I’d say there is a fixation on this site with the wrong elite, where people misidentify the greatest sources of power in society and of rent-seeking in the economy. So often are ‘NHS Consultants, top civil servants, GPs, council leaders etc’ to quote one, singled out, entirely incorrectly, as ‘our super rich,’ the 1%, when the highest salaries of these people barely scrape the lowest threshhold required to be a member of that group.
At the same time, groups whose salaries do comfortably qualify them for the 1% (bankers, media moguls, hedge fund managers (like the £630m Paul Marshall who owns this outlet as well as GB News) company CEOs and (the least deserving of them all if you take work as a measurement of desert) old landowners like the Grosvenor family (value: £9.5bn, land owned: 50% of Mayfair)) get a free pass. After all, they’re only people who make money by owning things, or by liberating capital from labour (read: raising rents, firing people). Nothing to see here.
The truly wealthy are not beholden any one country – I do have some sympathy with this point, it may be harder to tax those who (like the PM) can move their wealth between their different homes across the Atlantic. But many of the assets of the ultra rich cannot be moved, such as their houses – these could be easily taxed.
At last count an individual had to earn £48k pa before there became a net contributor to the system. That surely tells us that we are living way beyond our means
This is a very interesting claim – how is it calculated? A comparison of salary against the cost of the public services these people use every day? The suggestion here being the average person requires 48k a year in public services to function? Could this not be more a reflection of how people are not paid enough? And can use of these public services really just be described as ‘taking out’ when their using them probably saves money further down the line in better health outcomes, less crime etc? Also can those who ‘make’ more money, such as Jeff Bezos’ ‘earnings’ of $200m a day really be described as a net contribution? I know he’s a very (the most) extreme example, but it is a pattern that those with assets to live off tend to invest more of their income in further assets for further revenue rather than in the wider economy, which in the case of investing in property to let it out at extortionate prices that require government subsidies to help tenants pay, means they are taking out rather than paying in.

Paul T
Paul T
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

To all your comments: TLDR.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Thanks. I thought yours was so short it meant nothing (SSMN).

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
3 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

“Can that be right? – that’s about 7% of GDP! ”
You answered your own question there.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

It is probably an under-estimate

Tom K
Tom K
3 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

It’s unfounded lefty nonsense. Just like the rest of it.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom K

Well I’d like to see his source. It is an extraordinary amount.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
3 months ago

Decent essay how lighting the work of 3 political monsters in particular: the Blair gang, Cameron/Osborne and now the awful Ms Reeves.
However, the younger generation are now beating the British welfare system at its own game. Presented with a paltry £350-a-month Universal Credit as an alternative to low-paid hospitality/retail work, since the pandemic they’ve been pleading anxiety, depression and general ‘poor mental health’ to access state ‘sickness benefit’ at a raised level of welfare of several hundred pounds a week.
Housing benefit is still paid on top. In addition, 50somethings and those close to leaving the workforce have got in on the act with some informal estimates of 8-9 million Britons missing work due to poor mental health with as many as half accessing the elevated benefits.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
3 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Welfarism is destroying our economy and our values.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

What’s destroying the economy is that an increasing number of jobs don’t pay enough to live on. As the article says, having full employment is pointless if those jobs don’t pay people enough to pay the bills

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago

Intervention in the free market – mostly sanctions regimes along with high immigration, net zero, covid lockdowns and now the war in Europe and the middle east are destroying the economy. Our values are being destroyed by the import of American culture and their ridiculous politics and policies.

James Vallery
James Vallery
3 months ago

How just exactly is it destorying our enconomy? Do the benefits that are paid magically disappear from the enconomy ? Or does most of it re-enter the local economy it and get spent. And goes around the system to be paid again. Its the super rich and tax fraud that collects the money and removes it from the economy. Thats how is destroyed. Most people on benefits I assume are not super rich and also the least likely to have any savings or attempt to gain massive savings. More likey they will spend the money and put it back into the economy. Cracking down on them is another way of saying by those who are well off we need that money out of the economic system and in our bank account in savings etc etc. Cracking down on it will remove the money going into the local economy. Like a flow of water down a river bed. Build a dam and reduce the flow. The local wild fauna and flora dependant on that flow will suffer. Now if you can connect the dots. Benefits=a flow of money. tax evasion/fraud and savings = dams. Get a job you say. But by cutting the stream into the local economy trying get more money to pay for that wage just became that little bit harder. Because the flow of benefit money has stopped. Its no longer been spent in the local economy. It will syphoned off much higher up the flow.
Also I dont have the answers but by cracking down on it. It affects every one not just the recipient of the benefit. Who most like does not hang on to it but spends it locally. Just a thought.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  James Vallery

Benefits=a flow of money. tax evasion/fraud and savings = dams.
Nice metaphor.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

I wonder how much real experience the author has at the front line? I work in a charity that serves the people he writes about. If not obese, substance misuse (with scripts supplementing other sources), excluded from school when young, have never worked, children will have been taken in care, petty repeat offenders, keen adopters of mental elf reasons for their circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, I like them very much – they are all great characters with wry self awareness and often wicked humour. They have a firm sense of community and support each other. The common factor they all share is that they have, often inadvertently, ceded responsibility to the state. In their inarticulate rage and overwhelming awareness of lack of agency they milk the system taking vicarious pleasure in doing so. The more the state provides for you the more the state owns you. This is the fundamental rottenness at the centre of the welfare state. The answer is not to provide more.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

What is the answer? I suspect benefits can’t do much to resolve the fundamental causes of these issues (though I do agree with the author that there is much misplaced anger against this group which is then deflected from the financial elite who do well out of it despite being part of the problem).
I would imagine proper paid and skilled jobs, good council houses (something the government can help with and which it has been responsible for removing) is part of the answer.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Why do you assume the anger/frustration/whatever it is is against the benefit recipients ? If you read many of the comments, you’ll see it’s really aimed at those administering these systems which don’t actually help the people who need help.
There is nothing heartless about wanting bad systems reformed so that those in genuine need get what they need. Of course, that means that those not in need shouldn’t dip into those resources. We only have finite resources.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

I don’t assume people are angry with the recipients (although I do remember knowing people who were growing up, especially in the wake of that channel 4 program Benefits Street). What I do believe as this study finds (admitedly 2016, but I could not find a more recent one) is that people massively overestimate the scale of the problem, as it makes clear:
‘People wildly overestimate unemployment benefits compared to pensions, and also overestimate how much unemployment claimants without children receive. Half of people believe that out-of-work benefit claims have risen in the past fifteen years, whereas they have fallen noticeably. And while it is difficult to know the true level of benefit fraud exactly, the public overestimate fraud compared to any reasonable figure.’
I also think double standards are applied here. As the article we’re commenting on suggests, where is the uproar about the £15bn that goes to landlords, or indeed to tax evasion? Beyond this, what constructive paths out of poverty will be put in place once these benefits are cut (if that is the proposal)? Why aren’t more people on here arguing for higher wages, proper skilled jobs, affordable housing (and this won’t come through the private sector, see last 40 years).

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

If you don’t believe that “higher wages” will come through the private sector, where on earth do you think they’ll come from?
Where have they ever come from?
It’s this type of economic illiteracy that confounds your argument, even though you otherwise make some fair points.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Sorry you misunderstand me – I was referring to the private housing market (as I thought was clear from the fact it was the last thing to which I referred before making the point). Private housing providers build for demand rather than need (it’s only rational, they’re running a business). A government however can be democratically incentivised to build for need (ie council housing).
But as it happens, I think higher wages could come through the private and public sector. I don’t see why we have to choose one or the other although I suspect from your point that you see the private sector as the main engine of economic growth. This doesn’t have to be so – see Mariana Mazzucato’s book The Entrepreneurial State for examples of how governments across the world have helped create and fund private businesses, Tesla being a notable example.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

It’s not either/or though.
Most of us would agree about the industrial scale tax evasion (that’s you Apple, Google and co) and the ridiculous state subsidies to landlords through housing benefit.
I think most people on here do want higher wages and cheaper housing. That’s a key reason we want lower unskilled immigration. I personally regard the ridiculous cost of housing as the single largest problem in this country right now.
I don’t think our goals are really so different from yours. We just see a different path to getting there.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

I agree! And I think the extent of polarisation online is absurd when most people want other people to have the same things they enjoy – dignity in their labour, reward for work, space and time to be with their children or friends etc And that’s why it seems so much more constructive to focus on goals rather than blame games for our current problems (though I get we need an idea of what went wrong to get things right).
Unskilled immigration I can also see could be part of the housing crisis (though, as you imply, skilled migration may well be part of the solution). But, surprise surprise, I also think excessive demand from the super rich, the power of the landowning lobby (acknowledged by Roger Scruton while a government advisor) are also huge barriers. I think immigration should be reduced, but I also think once brought down to whatever is the optimal level, it will need to keep rising as we continue to have children below the replacement level.
I also like the economist Paul Collier’s suggestion (which has worked well in the case of Germany and Turkey) of making more of an effort to bring jobs to countries migrants are trying to leave to avoid community breakdown over there and social alienation over here.

Timothy Baker
Timothy Baker
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

I think that housing benefit basically is a subsidy to landlords. They charge what the market will pay, knowing that is inflated because so many renters will be relying on benefits to pay their rent. I do not blame the tenants, rather a system that profits landlords twice over, once from rents and then in massive profits from house price inflation when they eventually sell the property. I knew one professional landlord who boasted they would get a no fault eviction if a tenant couldn’t cope with a rent increase, and would ALWAYS make a profit by withholding some of the deposit. I am glad that I do not have to live in a rented property.

Wayne Kitcat
Wayne Kitcat
3 months ago
Reply to  Timothy Baker

I would also say that rental agencies are frequently implicated in unreasonable rent increases , withholding part of deposits on highly questionable grounds, the threat of eviction or the agent/landord making life difficult are all issues that need to be addressed.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

re: “ridiculous cost of housing’ – in the USA, the upward pressure on the cost of housing is enormous. You’d think that the Biden Administration and its ‘open-border’ policy would realize that that is where a lot of the pressure is coming from? It’s as if Biden and his buddies are blind to the effect of ‘open border’ – not to mention curbed services (shortened library hours, closed gyms and community centers, less housing for the homeless and war vets, etc) in all the towns and cities having to provide for over 7 million people who have entered since Biden has become President. There’s no way that enough housing can be built fast enough for all the illegals. And then they wonder why the young are not getting married and not having children. They can’t afford to – they can’t even find affordable housing as singletons. Pew Research came out with a report in January of this year: they found that about a third of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 are still living with a parent. More than half (57%) of those in the 18-to-24 age group said they were doing so; as did 21% of those ages 25 to 29 and 11% of those between the ages of 30 and 34.
In the USA our government has literally gone off the rails.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

The amount of unskilled, non-English-speaking male immigration in the 20 to 30 age range here in the US is truly frightening. What will they do?

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

People do massively overestimate the scale of the problem. The DWP’s own statistics relating to benefit overpayments reflect the true picture In the financial year 22-23, this figure was 3.6% of total benefit expenditure and this figure includes DWP errors as well as fraud.
As regards claimants seeking work, the majority find another job within 3 months of making a claim. Those who are unemployed longer than 6 months usually include ex-offenders, the homeless, people with disabilities and people aged 50+.

D N
D N
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

£15 bn: Private landlords always bad? Social landlords like councils and housing associations always good? It’s not that public landlords don’t ever neglect their tenants needs… perish the thought. Should there be no private rented sector at all?

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  D N

Not all, but as a rule, if your purpose is to make money rather than meet a public need, you probably will be more expensive. As you’ve suggested below, we could have a policy where those requiring housing benefit (and therefore the tax payer’s money) are guaranteed social housing where they will pay less and ultimately provide an income rather than create costs for the state. And those with extra income who want housing which provides more than just a clean, functional and mould-free space can use the private sector.
And I also welcome your suggestion of increasing the powers of LAs to buy land to build (at its original rather than at its ‘hope’ value I’d suggest). You could even have a right to buy, but make sure (as Michael Heseltine wanted but was denied by Thatcher when Right to Buy was being designed) that for every property bought another one is built.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

If your argument about private costing more were valid, we should be nationalising Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Businesses make money by efficiently meeting the needs of people and other businesses. Competition and regulation keep standards high.
If private landlords are providing poor quality or unsafe housing, isn’t the real problem poor regulation ? And not some inherent fault in private landlords which doesn’t exist in public landlords ?
The government (including it’s poor resourcing and management of regulation) is at the heart of our housing problems. They make the rules.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

And some of the poorest housing has been that directly under government control.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

‘The English Housing Survey (EHS) estimated that in 2021, 23% of PRS homes did not meet the Decent Home Standard – around 1 million homes. This compares with 13% of owner-occupied and 10% of social-rented homes.’

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

The problem being is that we only have a finite supply of housing. The free market only really works when you can refuse to buy the product entirely, but as everybody needs somewhere to live even the shoddiest of housing will be rented out for big money simply due to peoples desperation for shelter

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly. Basic needs like housing, water and energy (and to some extent transportation) can’t be left to the market because you can’t have real competition. I would love to choose someone other than Thames Water for example. Or have a range of housing options, but neither is available.
I remember when I was young my parents had a lot of housing options but these days only the very rich have any. .

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

You’re right that regulation is part of the answer. As in other countries where the private sector is cheaper and of better quality, we need stronger renters’ rights here and systems of redress that hold negligent landlords to account. The effect of this will of course be to drive some private landlords out of the market and so we’ll need a bigger stock of public housing to accomodate those made homeless as a result. Council housing also has the added advantage that it pays for itself once it becomes a sources of income for the government,

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Yeah exactly. Benefit bills are high because we’re paying people’s rents to landlords instead of to councils.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

There has always been some fraud, even in the booming 60’s, but you can’t run a social security on the basis of the relatively small amount who do so. Oh, and what a surprise, the two big Parties are doing the’ benefit scrounger’ kiteflying to see how it goes down with voters, pre elction. We have one of the most cruel and severe benefits system in the Western World, and many hundreds(likely nmuch more as coroners are reluctant to declare suicide) of disabled and sick and some on U/C have taken their own lives as a direct consequence of sanctions, benefits cuts, and DWP harrassment.
https://deathsbywelfare.org/

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

There are still people living in those sold council houses. If you want to know why there is a housing shortage and why, consequently, housing costs are so high, you need look no further than the millions of immigrants who have been allowed to flood into this country

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago

Or you need look no further than the excessive demand of the super rich for luxury homes or the stranglehold of the landowning lobby on the Conservative party (acknowledged by Roger Scruton when he worked as an advisor on housing for them) fighting hard against efforts for LAs to buy land cheaply so we can build the council homes in the first place. Or is this me just banging on about the super-rich? (who are apparently not relevant, despite being regularly mentioned in the article – while immigrants, not mentioned at all in the article, are).
PS i agree some reduction in immigration would be helpful though, though once the optimal level is achieved (if we know what that is) it would probably have to keep rising to support the aging population.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

I want to see immigration severely reduced, but blaming that in isolation is slightly misleading. Englands dwellings per capita is basically the same as it was 30 years ago, but prices have jumped from 3x average salary to 9x today. A much bigger issue is the explosion of properties bought by landlords, leaving young families battling for an ever decreasing number of houses to use as a family home

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

A well functioning and appropriately resourced NHS would also help to reduce the numbers claiming sickness and disability benefits.
No, benefits can’t do anything to resolve the fundamental causes but they are needed to keep people alive until such time as they find work or recover from illness.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

Absolutely! And that’s why the motives of those who want to raise benefits (or create universal basic income (which could be understood as a form of it), as in the case of Elon Musk) need to be checked as it can be a cover for relinquishing responsibility for services (as Musk would indeed like UBI to be).

Neiltoo .
Neiltoo .
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

What percentage of GDP going to the NHS would you consider appropriate?

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Neiltoo .

Well given we spend about a fifth less than our more successful European counterparts, I think whichever amount bridges that gap would be the first thing I’d consider.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

You are joking. The doctor signing people off with mental health problems know they are not really ill and just don’t fancy work, neither do most of the GPs (honourable exception) I have seen over the last 15 years. I guess £100k+ a year just isn’t enough.
I remember a Geordie GP on about the queue people every day at his surgery wanting sick notes when there was nothing really wrong with them

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Yes

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Why are on earth are you working for such a charity with your attitudes like that you have expressed? Yes, i see it is nuanced, but ultimately you believe in sink or swim, Rand, etc.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

He’s a realist with a strong sense of public service, that’s why. Unlike the author of this diatribe he attributes some agency and character to the people he helps. Strangely, you never hear of ‘alcohol poverty’ (highest binge drinkers in the lowest socio-economic groups), tobacco poverty (ditto), gambling poverty (ditto again), or drugs poverty (guess what?).

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
3 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Well if your life was sh*t and hopeless you might drink too

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Because I believe in empowering people. We work to raise their self esteem, to take responsibility for themselves, to regain agency and with that a sense purpose and validity that makes them feel good about themselves. All extremely hard when a person is likely been born and raised with dependence on the state. The welfare state was never designed to be a permanent solution. Be under no illusion, the welfare state is highly conditional and when a persons life becomes dependent on it they generally, to use your terms, sink. Of course if it’s only short term, they float, but we don’t get those people coming to us. I am not for one moment suggesting the welfare state should be abolished. But more of the same is not the answer.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

That sounds very commendable what you do, and obviously part of the solution here, but what do you suggest the government does do? Because unlike the government, the charity sector is impotent before the scale of the problem.
PS It would be terrifically helpful if you had a name on here, rather than the same anonymous one as your adversary

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

Sorry I am new here – I will change my settings and put name but in answer to your question, i think facilitating personal responsibility and agency within a setting of safety and trust is key to bringing marginalised people – and let’s be honest – that’s what we are talking about here – people, who for whatever reason are disenfranchised from society – back in by giving them a stake in it. Safety and trust occurs when people felt listened to, the setting is local and among peers. Covid was a disaster for these people in particular. The increasing digital isolation and cashless society locks them out on the margins ever more firmly. They crave being heard. They crave being seen. One recent success story is a person 4th gen benefits, children in care, substance misuse who we have moved into part time employment which 3 months in, they are holding down. The transformation is incredible. A different person. The change is palpable. And they are brimming with a confidence and silent pride which we share – that journey was harder and longer than a phd at Harvard.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

What a triumph. Thanks for sharing. And yes what you say about needing to feel heard resonates with my (very limited) experience of teaching neglected children (the school is an area with few social problems). I was once told that ‘your attention is worth more than your advice’ and I think there’s truth in that when you are trying to give people a sense of belonging.
Let’s hope the government funds more of the sort of work your organisation is doing then! And sorry for berating you about the name (think that was heat of the moment) – don’t get a name if you don’t want it.

Dr E C
Dr E C
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Pay no attention to the armchair social warriors that, unlike you, are full of righteous anger but do precisely nothing to help

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

This is also about the changes happening in representation within a party that is supposed to represent working class people. The fact that Rachel Reeves is doing very well thank you, while promising to tighten the purse strings for people who don’t have her & most other Labour politicians social capital is sinister & creepy.

George Venning
George Venning
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

In truth, the article is not suggesting that the state provide more benefits – at least not directly. It is saying that it is politically disingenuous of both Labour and Tories, to score cheap points about “benefit scroungers” – not least because the value of unclaimed benefits probably exceeds the total scale of fraud and the scale of tax dodging exceeds it by an order of magnitude.
The fact that politicians know this means that the primary political outcome of all these crackdowns is to get encourage the public to direct their anger to the wrong place – towards the the poor rather than the rich.
The effect of this is to divert attention away from vastly better fields of inquiry. Why is it that the UK economy is characterised by such low wages and such insecure work, that a great many households need to have their incomes topped up even to achieve the bare minimum of income necessary to survive? What on earth has gone wrong when so many households who are in work need to resort to food banks?
And, perhaps more specifically, is the current benefit system actually ameliorating that system or execerbating it?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

 The more the state provides for you the more the state owns you.
A truism that is verified by anyone who tried to get out from under the state’s thumb. Working more hours and earning slightly higher pay? Well, we’re gonna have to reduce your benefits a bit. I’ve seen this personally and heard the same from others. The welfare system is its own type of mafia – every time someone tries to get out, they get pulled back in. Because it’s not a system; it’s a racket that is far more incentivized to perpetuate dependence than resolve it.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

We left the UK last year and live on a small island with 87k people. We have 14 police on the island and whilst we have a prison, the community largely polices itself. Having experienced peace, quiet, and an environment where people don’t lock their cars, I’d say the answer is community. This is still a place sized to know who’s who, who’s doing what and where bad behaviour is out in the open via the newspaper and single radio station. It doesn’t completely stop violence, of course, but social norms are highly self regulating. Just a view.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Isn’t the basic truth that we are all scroungers and skivers? Governments incentivise rent seeking by lavishly rewarding it.

In the relatively prosperous London borough where I live pretty well everyone I know is a millionaire or multi-millionaire but I don’t know anyone who got that way by working or by creating value.

When Gordon Brown broke the link between housing costs and interest rate policy he effectively removed any incentive for the working poor to try and improve their lives – home ownership is too far out of their reach now – at the same time as he encouraged the middle class to hoard all the wealth in their houses. The result is the largest upward transfer of wealth in our history. Now that is being entrenched thanks to equity release loans.

Major reform is required to put this right – but it won’t happen without upheaval on an almost revolutionary scale. People don’t give up their perks without a fight and we don’t have any politicians with the leadership or stomach for such a battle.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

You don’t sound very charitable, rather judgemental in fact. You lump all kinds off afflictions (obesity, mental health) together with things like criminal behaviour. Have you stopped to ask how each of them got this way?
The problem surely is that benefits provide enough to sort of survive, but not enough to change their lives. To really create change we need to spend more. Not necessarily in the form of handouts but in the way we facilitate opportunities.

There are a lot of myths about benefits- like the idea you get a free house if you have children. Wrong. That you can live the high life. Wrong – you need to supplement the benefit by working or drug dealing in order to even pay for internet. Yes people spend their benefit on booze and fags, some of them. Orwell explained this. When you have nothing to lose nor gain you behave accordingly.
These people the “great characters” you describe, have nothing and are nothing and know it. They know you despise them and they hate you. Why wouldn’t they?

Basically we give benefits because we’re afraid of creating feral populations like they have in the USA. But these people aren’t living the high life. They’re sad, ill, desperate, ill-fed, with no future for them or their children.

We’re not going to change that because we don’t want to. Especially not you, because that would put you out of a job.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago

“Strangely, though, few politicians are banging on about the hundreds of billions lost every year to tax avoidance, evasion and highly organised financial crime.” Really?
I’m not really equipped to evaluate the argument on the extent to which HM Government should be tackling those defrauding the benefits system. Indeed, I cannot evaluate the extent to which it is a problem. However, statements like the above suggest Mr McGarvey is even more blinkered than me.
Every year, as part of the Economics course I teach, we consider poverty and inequality and I, after many years, have a real problem pinning down the definitions, the data and the reality. Undoubtedly, some people are struggling and, hopefully, they overcome these difficulties to lead fulfilling lives but given that we are a wealthier country now than during my childhood and that many more have been giving up work to live on disability income, I find it hard to accept that the picture painted above is a realistic one.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

Is that because work doesn’t pay anymore? When you were young even a basic job was enough to buy a home, build up some capital and improve your quality of life over time.
These days many youngsters have little hope of buying a home, building capital or improving their lot, even those in above average employment. Why slave away all week simply to hand it over to a landlord and have no chance of economic advancement?

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Agreed. I don’t understand why it’s happening this way

Tom K
Tom K
3 months ago

What rot. As a country, 20% poorer in dollar GDP per head than we were in 2008, can we really afford 5.5 million people of working age off work on benefits? This is by far the biggest problem facing this country, along with its flip side, that sucking sound of immigration pulling in workers to do what our own people are too lazy/demotivated/mendacious/sick to do. Can we keep on doing this indefinitely? We already pay record taxes and borrow record amounts. The discourse ABSOLUTELY has to change and if Labour can provide the tough love the Tories have been incapable of, then bring it on. The fact is that long-term it’s just as bad for the benefit-recipients as it is for the country.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom K

Welfarism is destroying our economy and our values … not a cat in hell’s chance Labour will provide the tough love required, they will continue as the Tories have been doing this last 14 year.
Until we really do run out of £ !

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

Oh, and what a surprise! the two big Parties are doing the’ benefit scrounger’ kiteflying to see how it goes down with voters, pre election.
There has always been some fraud, even in the booming 60’s, but you can’t run a social security on the basis of the relatively small amount who do so. We have one of the most cruel and severe benefits system in the Western World, and many hundreds(likely nmuch more as coroners are reluctant to declare suicide) of disabled and sick and some on U/C have taken their own lives as a direct consequence of sanctions, benefits cuts, and DWP harrassment.

This report has just come out showing just how ruthless the welfare system is, and no means an easy ride.
“The Department for Work and Pensions: Deaths, cover-up, and a toxic 30-year legacyBy John Pring on 27th March 2022 Category: Benefits and Poverty
https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/the-department-for-work-and-pensions-deaths-cover-up-and-a-toxic- 30-year-legacy/
link broken so can post, just take space back
Evidence stretching back more than a decade shows how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly ignored recommendations to improve the safety of its disability benefits assessment system, leading to countless avoidable deaths of disabled claimants.
Other evidence shows how DWP ensured that key evidence linking its actions with those deaths was not considered by independent reviews, and how the department failed to keep track of what actions were taken in response to recommendations made by its own civil servants to improve the system.
https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/the-department-for-work-and-pensions-deaths-cover-up-and-a-toxic-30-year-legacy/
https:// deathsbywelfare.org/

Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
3 months ago

Darren McGarvey is excellent – and so was his recent BBC TV series on the State of the Nation.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 months ago

So much of this article can be pulled apart. For instance: “The net loss to the DWP for benefit fraud or error was £7.3 billion in 2023.” No, it was not. The best anyone can do is make an estimate. Also: “the Government’s own figures show that money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year,” Again an estimate and one that I doubt includes the benefits of running the money launderomat. Then there is the implication that it is false that “… foreigners who come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits”. Yes, they do in the tens of thousands each year.
The working class may also be the class most in favour of the welfare state but they are also the class most opposed to abuses of the welfare state. Both benefit fraud and genuine benefit injustices increase with the complexity of the system. The need is to address the reasons why so many more people claim benefits than 40 years ago. The writer avoids discussing the two main issues other than demographics behind the rise in welfare payments: housing costs and the rise in single parent families. Rent rebates have risen in the last 20 years and rent rises are the main reason why working people require rent rebates. The issue of single families is polemical because those people supporting their own children often on low incomes object to having to also support other people’s children.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago

I used to be an advice worker for a mental health charity before retirement so I was at the sharp end of DWP systems and its impact on clients. I could sit here all day typing examples of the sheer stupidity and casual cruelty of DWP officials in their administration of the benefit system, but I haven’t got time. Suffice it to say that the application forms – especially for sickness and disability benefits – were deliberately designed to exclude as many people as possible from even mounting a claim. They required a relatively high level of literacy to complete, and expected people who were actively hallucinating or virtually comatose on medication to concentrate on filling in a 50+ page form. During the course of my work, I routinely saw clients with addiction issues. Invariably the addiction issues had been incurred by undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. Nobody sets out in life with the ambition to become an alcoholic or a junkie – and once you are hooked it requires massively high and sustained levels of motivation to kick the habit.
Some clients were obese due to the effects of antipsychotic medication. Others become so due to eating excessively to avoid uncomfortable emotions. People who have been sexually abused as children can sometimes overeat in a deliberate attempt to make themselves unattractive to a potential abuser, and the habit is established by the time they reach adulthood.
Even anxiety and depression which are regarded as the milder forms of mental illness can have a severe impact on people’s ability to cope with normal daily activities.
Sometimes I accompanied clients to their face-to-face assessments with the agencies contracted by the DWP to deliver this dubious ‘service’. Whilst some staff tried their best to make the assessment as painless as possible for my clients, others were abrupt and dismissive. Many asked closed questions when anyone trained in basic interview techniques knows that open questions elicit the most information. Evidence from healthcare professionals was routinely ignored, and evidence from a client’s carer often disallowed altogether, yet carers have the most contact of anyone with their clients and are well-placed to provide an honest account of their difficulties.
All claimants have the right to appeal to a Tribunal if the DWP rejects their initial claim and mandatory reconsideration. Levels of success at Tribunal are as high as 70+ % which in itself indicates how many incorrect decisions are made by the DWP. A benefit system that is working fairly and effectively should only have a small percentage of rejections overturned by a Tribunal panel.
Benefit claimants now have less rights than the worst criminals. Even child abusers and murderers have the right to be deemed innocent and the onus is on the prosecution to provide evidence of guilt. The DWP assumes guilt at the outset and acts as prosecutor, judge and jury.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

This comment should be way higher up the page.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago
Reply to  Desmond Wolf

I’m not sure how the system works. Isn’t it the comments that gain the most thumbs ups that go at the top?

0 0
0 0
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

agree on your points here Eleanor, i have had some experience with relatives who were and are severely disabled, and who received letters asking them to attend interviews to get ready for work or planning to downgrade their entitlements. When your relatives cant communicate, you step in to find some answers , and it was illuminating to see how quickly a challenge to these letters resulted in no further action being taken. Politicians have been making decisions in the name of welfare reform, which cause misery and worry for people who do not deserve such intimidation.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

Politicians serve those to whom they are beholden. Who contributes more to a campaign, a benefit scrounger or a wealthy fraudster?

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 months ago

Really great article, with an interesting timeline. Corporate responsibility to pay fair wages rather than state supplements and doing everything possible for people of many skill levels the opportunity to work for their living.

Timothy Baker
Timothy Baker
3 months ago

I once worked for a man who was basically unprincipled. Most of the business contracts he won were through bribing company buyers with envelopes of cash. I was instructed to treat suppliers in ways that, while legal, I considered totally unethical. He would pay a percentage of staff wages ‘ off the books ‘ to reduce his liability for employers’ NIC. He would regularly rant about people on benefits as screwing the taxpayer, ironic in view of how he would take evert opportunity to defraud the taxman himself.
He fired me because I refused to lie for him over an affair he was having behind his wife’s back. I ways not in the least surprised to see a few years ago that he had been appointed a CBE. I find it extremely hard to respect the great and the good, many of whom I suspect also suffer from sharp elbow syndrome.

Michael McGregor
Michael McGregor
3 months ago

“money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year”
But that isn’t money spent from tax revenue; it is potential revenue. The way to access that money would be to legalise drugs, prostitution, robbery and extortion and then tax them. Obviously that’s not going to happen. I am not sure why the author thinks this comparison belongs in this article.

Paul T
Paul T
3 months ago

Promiscuous use of the worst numbers to flatter your ideological positions.

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago

‘By contrast, the Government’s own figures show that money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year, while wider financial fraud has been estimated to sit at around £219 billion a year.’

Close. The. Tax. Havens.
Make corporations pay their taxes.

‘Labour pushed back against the language, but, as they did with almost everything Major’s Conservative Party stood for at the time, went on to adopt similar reforms after their landslide victory in 1997. Not only that, but they ratcheted up the scrounger rhetoric to levels Margaret Thatcher could only dream of.’

‘ These things are not associated with Blair in the popular memory — but that doesn’t change the fact they happened during his tenure’

Labour, the destroyer of the British working class. Let’s have loads of immigration, create a massive financial crisis then blame the working classes when their jobs are gone. Let’s give a load of money to the big banks, that’s OK, they are too big to fail, then when the economic system implodes with inflation from all that qe and debt, let’s blame the working classes and people on benefits for failing.

‘Today, just 8% of Labour MPs hail from working-class backgrounds.’

“But our research finds that during his premiership, the influence of working-class MPs dropped while there was a rise in the influence of careerist politicians.”

This is because Blair got all cosy with the Americans and decided to turn London into Washington on Thames. Needless to say this has been a disaster. The import of woke culture, off on American adventure wars all the time which cost a fortune, culture of qe and debt, net zero, no respect for anything, all that has been imported from America by Labour. The American government is also full of wealthy, career politicians so far removed from reality they might as well be on the moon. Labour has followed suit playing sycophant to the Americans and removed anybody that won’t go along with that game.

‘Here we can see how the UK’s favoured economic model of neoliberalism demands that those who cannot succeed in an economy rigged against them must be held personally responsible for their failure’

If the politicians think these people should be held personally responsible for their failure, it would only be fair to also:

Hold the big banks responsible next time they f*ck up.
Let’s hold Blair responsible for the illegal invasion of Iraq.
Let’s hold the politicians and bankers – that thought qe was a good idea – responsible for inflation.
Lets hold the net zero lobby responsible for an inflationary policy that has never been thought through and will cost businesses thousands of pounds, stifle innovation and prevent job creation.
Let’s hold the un responsible for failing to negotiate peace between Ukraine and Russia, a war that is causing serious inflation and general carnage everywhere.
Let’s hold America responsible for undermining the global reserve currency with its enormous borrowing.
Lets hold the corporations that don’t pay their tax responsible.
Let’s hold Blairs Labour government responsibile for destroying the British working class – with high immigration, driving down wages and creating a housing shortage; blowing up the economy and costing us a fortune fighting an American war.
Let’s hold the people that imposed covid lockdowns responsible for crass stupidity.

Might find that makes more of a difference than chasing benefit fraud.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Labour is not the only UK political party to try and turn the UK into the 51st state of the USA. The Tories have done exactly the same when it comes to hobnobbing with the Republican party and copying their ideology, and has had longer in power to screw the working classes and mishandle immigration than Labour. We’ve had a Tory government since 2010 and immigration has never been higher.

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

Yes them too, they have dragged us into ukraine, continued to allow high immigration, qe for covid, imposed lockdowns, imposed sanctions that have super charged inflation, the list goes on I’m sure. The article was talking about labour though.

Trigger warning: this comment has been sent straight to moderation, it may contain explicit content.

B Emery
B Emery
3 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

I agree. I have listed their failings in a reply but it has been sent straight to moderation, so I can’t discuss the issue further, I think you make some valuable points.

James Vallery
James Vallery
3 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Look we know there are a certain amount of positions to filled to run a goverment. Would it not be better to fill those positions with the best suited for the job based on experience regardless of what party. Also make them have resume’s like a proper job after been elected at the local level. And give a time limit to how long they have to do what they said they would do. Politicians lie through their teeth and never give a straigh answer and alway it seem get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Instead of voting for a party .. Vote on whom you think is best suit to fill a position. Every year vote on if you think the are doign a good job or not. If they drop below a certian point on some sort of scale they are out. And they can not fill another positon. You had your shot and you did not according to those who voted you in do a good job that benefited the country. So they are now voting you out. All this old school way of doing things does not fit with modern times.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
3 months ago

I’m in the US, and I wonder if it is the same in the UK as here. The issue here is once you make even a meager living, you lose all benefits, including in the US – health insurance. The welfare system disincentivizes work because you are poorer when you work. I live in NYS and we have a few better programs than other states, including one where you can keep your health insurance as your income increases. I know you have universal health insurance there.
I think a way to ease people into work whilst keeping some benefits would be best. As a teacher, I see this becomes a way of life, passing down from one generation to another – living on welfare, disability, etc. It’s a depressing life, bereft of hope, agency, and purpose. I am sure given a better option, most would choose it.

Michael McGregor
Michael McGregor
3 months ago

We do have some kind of system in the UK were benefits can continue while in employment. It isn’t perfect. There is little incentive for employers to increase wages if they know the government will top them up. Still, I suppose it’s better than being financially disadvantaged when finding a job. I just wish government schemes like this would occasionally get reviewed as to their effectiveness, and as to whether a cleverer solution couldn’t be found.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
3 months ago

I have no idea how we square the circle. All I know is that a country which has 3.1m people paying 60% of direct taxation and 9.3m working age people not working is structurally extremely vulnerable. The lack of strategic intent is screaming loud and clear in tax, as elsewhere in government.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
3 months ago

Regardless of how one organizes a society, whatever economic system employed, whatever culture, whatever religion, there will invariably be those who do not fit well into said society and indeed there are some who might not fit well into any society. They simply aren’t productive. Some of them have obvious disabilities like being blind, deaf, lame, or sickly. Some have less obvious problems like mental health or simply having the wrong set of skills for whatever the economy of the area happens to need. It’s unavoidable. Every society will have outcasts, non-conformists, dissidents, and parasites. It’s as much a process of nature as the rising of the sun.

The question each society must face is what to do about such unproductive people. Modern notions of morality and charity have long since overtaken any discussion of costs, at least as it concerns those who are disabled or unfit for reasons they can’t control, the children born sickly or blind, the soldier who loses a leg or an arm in war, the victims of disease, and those who survive long enough to be disabled by simple age.

The thornier problem, the devil in the details, is what to do about the rest of the unfit, those who are marked perhaps by antisocial tendencies, deviant personalities, or even just a distaste for whatever type of society they happened to be born into. What do we do with those who are physically and mentally able to work, but don’t, perhaps because it makes them more miserable than abject poverty or because they create conflicts with those around them, or simply because they simply aren’t very effective or efficient at anything? There is a reflexive instinct to judge these people harshly. As social creatures, human beings tend towards anger and resentment towards those who don’t fit in, don’t participate, and don’t contribute to the collective good. People tend to expect others to expend some or a great deal of effort into conforming to whatever society demands, and chafe when they refuse. This is class conflict. The affluent, successful, and hardworking resent those who don’t work as much or as hard as they do. The poor, unsuccessful, and lackadaisical resent the expectations of their superiors and the amount, nature, or level of compensation for the existing jobs.

This is class conflict at its essence. Marx thought he could solve it by making everyone an owner, but it didn’t work, because people don’t have equal motivations to work for any amount of profit. Some people are simply more driven to work and succeed than others. Communism turned the resentment on its head, because instead of the most driven members of society making the demands and the less driven members only grudgingly and angrily meeting them, they forced everyone to be on equal terms, and the driven simply weren’t motivated because they couldn’t keep the fruits of their greater effort. It simply flipped the table and resulted in an unproductive society that was no more harmonious or peaceful than the ones it was intended to replace. It failed to fix the problem and added more instead. Unfortunately, this is not a solvable problem. Neither socialism nor complete unrestricted capitalism nor any point of compromise between the two will produce anything like an ideal society.

Doing nothing and letting the chips fall where they may requires no upfront cost and no collective or individual effort, so that tends to be the default approach, but it does have indirect costs. Those who are unfit or unwilling to operate within the rules of the society will often do so outside of it, becoming criminals. It takes people, money, time, and effort both to catch criminals and punish them. A truly staggering amount of money is spent on policing in the US. The city of NY spends over $500 per capita. Then there’s the prison system, which has even more ridiculous levels of costs. Some estimates I’ve read put the number at tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per prisoner. I don’t know about you, but I think if I were a criminal, I could be persuaded to give up crime for $20,000 a year. That’s literally where we are in the USA. Europe is better, but then they have a much more robust welfare state, shorter work weeks, tougher labor laws, etc. If, say, half of all criminals would give up crime for that amount, how much could be saved on policing.

This is where the logic behind universal basic income comes from. We’ve reached absurd levels where it would literally cost less to give criminals a better than minimum wage salary just to not commit crimes and end up in prison, and that isn’t even considering indirect costs, because the money spent in prison systems instead goes into local economies and generates work, maybe even raising demand so wages rise so even with the universal dole, there is more work in greater variety so maybe we get some productivity part time work or at least spending, from these people even if they’ll never amount to much.

So why don’t we do this? There are good arguments, and emotional ones, and which ones. The greatest reason to reject concepts like UBI is that it will create a disincentive to work that will reduce motivation for labor, fewer people would want to get jobs and there would be less incentive for low wage industries which would then translate into higher costs for everyone. Another good argument is that it won’t reduce crime as much as is claimed and simply be an unsustainable expense for the government I can’t say what would happen, because the historical examples of this are hard to come by. The closest we have to a genuine example is the ancient Roman Empire, a society that benefited so much from trade and became so dominated by oligarchs that most of the population of the city became discontent and angry. The government gave them ‘bread and games’ just so they wouldn’t riot constantly and make them halfway controllable. Admittedly, that was a long time ago and we don’t have perfect knowledge of the exact details, but the empire did manage to get along for another couple of centuries and there were external causes that contributed to its fall.

The biggest reason though, we continue to run continuously around the same worn out hamster wheel of crime, poverty, unemployment, and anger is the emotional reason, that instinctive reaction the productive have towards the unproductive. The attitude that labels them scroungers, moochers, or parasites is unhelpful because it isn’t based in reason, facts, or real historical experience, but on some sense of morality or social responsibility. Philosophers can debate the moral or social obligations members of society have to each other and the society in general endlessly and never will come up with an answer. I won’t claim idlers or the working poor are morally better or worse than any other group. There are probably a number of criminals who would still commit crimes no matter how comfortable they were. Then again, there are plenty of wicked, nasty, greedy people who are extremely wealthy because they are extremely productive. I will claim that unproductive people will always exist, and the productive will end up paying a cost for their existence one way or another. The question really is how that cost will be paid. Is the moral imperative to punish laziness valuable enough to justify incurring greater costs? How much greater? More than that, how much of the situation of the idler is really under his control. Most of the poor were born poor. They were raised in poverty, by parents who were a lot like them. Who can say what they would have accomplished had they been born into a different family or situation? Can any of us honestly say we aren’t affected by our environment and the people around us?

These are questions that don’t have right and wrong answers. My perspective is, I believe, the Christian one. We should first examine our own faults, our own shortcomings, our own prejudices, our own bad behavior before we sit in judgement of others. We all have our faults and problems that come from our backgrounds, our personalities, our basic nature. For some, those faults and problems are worse than others. In the game of life, some people are dealt a crap hand and don’t have the skill or will to make anything like a winner out it. For many, it’s all they can do just to not drag everyone else down. We ought to give them a little more slack to do it in a society where we enjoy such abundance. We ought not to take anything for granted. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
3 months ago

I’m sure Britain is perfect and has nobody who takes advantage of the welfare or disability system because they are lazy/narcissistic/entitled/sociopathic.
Sadly for us here in Canada we don’t live in such a utopia and are plagued by generational welfare recipients, a system that is so generous that it makes doing low-paid work unattractive, and many people who try to game the system to squeeze as much out of it as possible.
As a doc, I’m plagued by people looking to use imagined illness to get more money from the government. It’s the part of my job I dislike the most.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
3 months ago

No doubt one fine day someone will solve the benefit scrounger problem.
But what about the Barnacles and the Stiltstockings pretending to work at the Circumlocution Office? This is a social problem that goes back to Dickens’ time, and Nothing Has Been Done about it!

Giles Toman
Giles Toman
3 months ago

Just scrap all these handouts and the country would find its own level.

James Kirk
James Kirk
3 months ago

Which employer wants to take on unskilled workers who have very little work ethic? Forcing people out into the cold to pick litter, fill in potholes etc, isn’t going to help GDP. They’d need direction, supervision. By whom? The Civil Service hides in its holes only coming out to screw with the government. The Army? Right.
The only thing that will change anything will be a crisis, a war, famine, a serious pandemic, revolution, communism. Think I’ll stick with the status quo thanks. Leave them at home to keep Just Eat and China afloat.

Stewart Cazier
Stewart Cazier
3 months ago

Money laundering does not cost the UK £100B pa, it is actually a revenue generator which is why successive governments had ensured that any reforms designed to crack down on London’s position as a global laundry are late and ineffectual.
Welfare abuse is very real, although its causes may be more subtle and deep rooted than commonly supposed. For instance the massive uplift in claims caused by medical conditions is unlikely to be because the population is actually that much ill. We have however medicalised issues which a precious generation would have ignored, and the most popular are the ones least likely to be challenged by GP.
Equally, the debate about low taxes paid by some multi-nationals focussed on their transfer pricing techniques to move profit recognition to lower tax countries. What is ignored is the extent to which some of these rely on labour which is so ill paid that it needs benefit top ups. If we took into account these subsidies, it isn’t obvious that we aren’t in net deficit with them. A truly bizarre position to accept.

Andrew Armitage
Andrew Armitage
3 months ago

Labour needs people to stay poor, it’s their business model. Generally all the media talk I hear is liberal outrage that we don’t expand government social engineering and the welfare state. Very little about how to pay for it.

Ken Bowman
Ken Bowman
3 months ago

The reason that there is little mention of how we pay for the extending welfare state is easy to answer. Why change a system which has been working well for many decades, we will just continue to borrow it.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
3 months ago

I gave up reading this article after the first few paragraphs. What planet does this commentator reside on?

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
3 months ago

…few politicians are banging on about the hundreds of billions lost every year to tax avoidance, evasion and highly organised financial crime.

Is the author unaware that tax avoidance, also known as playing by the rules as written, is not just legal but a clear sign someone is not a complete idiot? Anyone lumping tax avoidance in with criminal acts is not someone to be taken seriously.

Matthew Freedman
Matthew Freedman
3 months ago

£7.3 billion in benefit fraud is pretty awful. I’d rather the money go to people who needed it and provide the public services to care for the needy. Many people do need benefits as they’d be on the street without it. Don’t mix that up with those defrauding the system.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
3 months ago

I helped found a food bank in my prosperous market town in 2014. I was the manager for two years. Our clients were not long-term clients, unlike what happened in most other food banks. In the beginning our average client came twice, because their precarious budgets had been hit by something out of the ordinary: the car, essential for work, needed repair, or the oven was broken. Over time this changed and new factors, such as benefits ‘ delays began to appear.
As UC came in my wife and I helped a friend with chronic il-health. To reach the Benefit Office was a 40 miles round trip. To have used public transport would have taken all day, if it was running. We drove him. The amount of supporting paperwork that he had to take filled two ring binders.
It was not a system designed to help claimants.

Point of Information
Point of Information
3 months ago

“the net loss to the DWP for benefit fraud or error was £7.3 billion in 2023. By contrast, the Government’s own figures show that money laundering costs the UK £100 billion a year, while wider financial fraud has been estimated to sit at around £219 billion a year”.

Are these apples and oranges – ie. are the latter two figures estimated losses to GDP whereas the former is identified as directly lost revenue?

Also tax avoidance is listed as lost revenue alongside tax evasion but the former means taking legal measures to minimise tax payments (something any self-employed person such as taxi drivers or small business owners do) whereas the latter is fraud.

On an anecdotal level, it is not just the middle class who feel frustration at benefit dependents but the working class as well: the other day a working class millenial acquaintance of mine was visiting and received a notification from her cousin, who is a single mum in receipt of benefits, with pictures of her newly done nails. My acquaintance turned to her partner and said “we paid for that”. Knowing vaguely of the cousin in question from previous mentions, I asked “Oh, did you lend her money?” She replied, “No, as taxpayers!” Another working class friend of mine has a brother who frequently borrowed from their disabled mum, much to the working brothers frustration and disapproval. I also have middle class friends who sigh about relatives who they perceive as slackers, whether they are living off the state or rich older relatives.

In short, calling people “scroungers” is certainly unfair to benefits dependents as a group, but nearly every family has someone who is regarded as not pulling their weight, and this is not class or political party based but is as old as the hills – refer to “The Prodigal Son” for a biblical example.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
3 months ago

Excellent timely article.
I’m sick of successive governments buying into the “benefit scrounger” line aided by a clickbaity media.

Even when governments try to enact benefit reform, as Duncan Smith tried, they fall into the same old trap of wanting to be seen to punish those in need. It is ugly.

Meanwhile the very same governments turn a blind eye to the trough-swilling that their own people engage in. Mandelson, Baroness Bra, you name it.

Tim Gee
Tim Gee
3 months ago

Fraud ? Never happens , apparently https://apple.news/AfHQMh15sQgCLbrTKvkg6og

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
2 months ago

British taxpayers are effectively subsidising ‘anxious’ young people (with or without long Covid) to stay at home and working on their streaming and Instagram businesses. And significantly so, as sickness benefit is worth a few hundred a week but if you genuinely lose your job then you access about 30% of that level of welfare.