Keep it accurate

Thu, 15/03/2012 - 20:35 -- nick

From The Observer, 19th February 2012:

'Grant Shapps, the housing minister, said there was an urgent need to tackle the rising cost of welfare. "Under Labour, housing benefit soared out of control and rents for those on housing benefit rose by far more than market rents," he said. "As a result, the Labour government ended up spending £192bn a year of taxpayers' money on welfare payments, which was more than the combined spending on defence, education and health. We need welfare reform to tackle Labour's budget deficit, and a series of measures to tackle that soaring benefits bill."'

This recent quote from the housing minister is a prime example of why changing the language used about benefit recipients (as well as unemployed and economically inactive people more widely) is such an important part of what Unemployed Net was set up to do.

Grant Shapps knows that the total cost of all benefits – including pensions, disability benefits, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and others – is £192b per year, and yet he says this figure is a result of housing benefit increases.

Quick fact check – housing benefit currently costs £22.3b per year. Or 11.6% of the total benefit bill. As housing minister Mr Shapps knows how much the housing benefit bill is, so why is he connecting it with the overall budget? We can’t be sure, but here are a couple of possible reasons:

- For emphasis - £22.3b sounds like a huge amount of money even in government spending terms, but £192b sounds like the kind of huge sum that can threaten a country and needs immediate action. The majority of the benefit bill is spent on pensions and disability benefits, and governments that attack old and disabled people are likely to suffer at election time

- To make housing benefit recipients sound like a reasonable target for cuts – they are hard to criticise as a group because they include working low waged people, and this government wants to encourage work in general. This government has made cutting spending a priority, and, in order to justify the cuts they have tried to make them sound like they are deserved as well as required for the country’s economic well-being

Unemployed Net campaigns for unemployed and economically inactive people to register to vote, and to vote for the party that offers the best deal to us at each election. This story shows how important the campaign is to all of us. Unemployment and economic inactivity can be hard enough without having our very basic income and conditions (worse in Britain than in many other Western European countries) eroded. Politicians misleading the general public about the size of, and reasons for, the problem to try to get a general agreement on solutions make our conditions worse, with those around us being encouraged to view us as a major reason for the country’s economic problems.

We want all those who talk about unemployment, economic activity and benefits in public – whether media outlets or politicians – to sign up to an agreement to represent unemployed and economically inactive people and our conditions honestly and dispassionately. The only way to get the deal we deserve – on benefits, representation, media, care, training and employment services, and housing – is to make sure that all voters, including unemployed and economically inactive ones, understand the issues and hold the right people and organisations accountable.

Find out more about our voting campaign and how to get involved here: