The Welfare State in Crisis

There are 2.7 million people claiming Incapacity Benefit in this nation. I often wonder if after the World War Two, did we have more than 2.7m incapacitated civilians on this Island once the soldiers had all returned? I do not know for certain, but I suspect not. Suffice it to say, although 208 British Soldiers have paid the maximum price in the conflict in Afghanistan, we are essentially a country at peace and have been thankfully for a long period of time. Not since the Second World War has the totality of the nation been involved in conflict. So why do we have so much incapacity? With the relentless avalanche of Heath and Safety laws being applied to business, they can for sure not be putting more people out of work by injury. Have the standards of our health service fallen so low over the last 60 years that more people then ever are incapacitated? To all of these, I think not. The majority of these persons who are incapacitated are just plain and simply put, work shy.

In the Sunday Times of the 30th of August, Michael Portillo in this article, said that the intentions behind the formation of the Welfare State were to prevent this abuse of our system by the work shy.

The state “should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility”, wrote Sir William Beveridge in the 1942 report that inspired the post-war welfare state. “In establishing a national minimum it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.

How many of the 2.7m are genuine in their illness? Would it be 100,000, or 200,000, but certainly not 2.7m. Even if it was a cool 1 million people, we would still have 1.7m people who are work shy and scamming the system.

When I sit as a Magistrate, I often see abuse. I was in a domestic violence court recently where we were reviewing a Pre Sentence Report on a young man who had beaten up his 29 week pregnant teenage girlfriend in the High Street under several CCTV cameras. The Probation Service informed us that he was on incapacity benefit but that he was looking forward to the start of the football season so he could resume playing for his local team as this would take up some time. I do not know if it occurred to the probation service that incapacity benefit and a young man playing football to most would not go together.

Let’s be clear, we the taxpayer pay 2.7m people to sit at home and do nothing. This is a good 10% of our workforce that sit on the payroll of the taxpayer and do nothing. People like the above are forcing the tax burden up on the hard working families of this nation of ours. As Portillo says “As a result, taxpayers have spent £346 billion on payments to those out of work since Tony Blair entered No 10.” This is 2 and a quarter of a years worth of income tax for the whole nation out of the last 12 years just on this!

He then goes on to say “It might have been possible for the state to fine-tune benefits in that way in the days when parishes organised relief and every claimant was known to the local poor law guardians. It is much more difficult today in systems that are nationalised and standardised.

But perhaps, at least, we ought to assume that fit young people are not entitled to anything. If a few young men from sink estates are now heroes in Afghanistan, why should we presume that all the others are capable of nothing useful at all?”

A centrally planned benefits system, like anything centrally planned is bound to fail. It fails because it is impossible for a centrally planning body such as a Whitehall department, to know all the facts and all the circumstances of all the people to be able to access who is actually in an incapacitated state. We should do the following;

  1. Immediately send the Incapacity to the local councils as the custodians of the state,
  2. Let the local citizens in each ward choose a voluntary council of wise and impartial people from all walks of life, the “community guardians” in that small local ward area – maybe have a pool of 50 – 100 people who could participate. Perhaps the selection criteria of the Magistrates could be used.
  3. Each week, let the citizens of the ward apply to the voluntary local ward council or community guardians for “their” benefit.
  4. The voluntary local ward council , with all their local ward, street by street knowledge, would more than likely have some intimate knowledge and information about the life style of the applicant, or could easily take soundings and find out if their application is genuine or not.
  5. All the ward based GP’s should as part of their contracts be required to work on behalf of the local community to assess the fitness of someone for work.
  6. The law must lay down strict boundaries within which  communities may be compelled to support individuals and families for  reason of incapacity.
  7. Having knowledge also about what jobs are available in the community and the insights of an on hand GP , they may be less likely to grant benefits to the simply work shy. Indeed they will focus on only those who can not work. They may even elect to spend more on these unfortunate , but in many cases deserving people.
  8. The final reform would be to abolish the central taxation that relates to this provision of benefits and devolve it entirely down to the local ward to levy a tax on its citizens to pay for the incapacity of its people. With the voluntary policing of its distribution, I am very sure this tremendous burden on the hard working people of the UK will fall substantially freeing up masses of new resources to wealth creation.

Enough is enough: social progress requires everyone who can to do something of value for others. This aspect of the Welfare State needs to be reformed immediately

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10 replies on “The Welfare State in Crisis”
  1. says: Steven Baker

    See also ECONOMIC DEPENDENCY AND WORKLESSNESS, The Centre for Social Justice:

    Over the past decade the Government has talked about getting people back to work and strengthening society.It has set highly aspirational targets including the eradication ofchild poverty and the attainment of an 80 per cent employment rate to help include those at the margins of society. It has made the sweeping claim to have “virtually abolished” youth unemployment (Welfare Reform Minister,Jim Murphy), while heralding the overall decline in unemployment as the result of its welfare policies.

    Indeed, society has, overall, got richer, and unemployment is now lower than in 1997. However this masks a much bleaker picture: for the poorest in Britain, economic dependency is not being eradicated, it is becoming entrenched.

    The rewards and opportunities of14 years ofuninterrupted economic growth are not accessible to all:

    * More people are living in severe poverty today than in 1997.
    * There are nearly 3.5 million people on inactive out-of-work benefits that place little or no work expectations on them, many of whom could do some work:benefit dependency is a way oflife for many.
    * In the past year the unemployment rate has increased and the employment rate has decreased.
    * Nearly 58 per cent ofJobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants are repeatclaimants.
    * Youth unemployment is higher today than in 1997,up by 18,000,despite the Government spending almost £2billion on the New Deal for Young People.

    Back-to-work support is failing, and the benefits system is trapping people in poverty and part-time, low pay, low prospect jobs – particularly people with significant and multiple labour market disadvantages. The benefits system also acts as a disincentive to family formation that leads to the best outcomes for children: (married) couple families. For the most vulnerable people in society their lives, and the life chances oftheir children, have got worse.

    The CSJ goes on to explain that “weak and ineffective work expectations” are a key cause of the failure of government policies, together with poor support for those moving from welfare to work and a complex benefits system full of perverse incentives.

    And see also Hannan and Carswell’s The Plan, which advocates neighbourhood welfare.

  2. Please see also the remarks about this post here: to which Toby responds:

    I have made a suggestion for debate. I am glad that the blogger John Page thinks that it “might work in nice middle class districts.” That is a good start. This would probably be most of the countryside and large sections of the major conurbations. So why not look at dealing with the majority in a local way then look at something specific for those areas with a very high portion of welfare dependency. I would certainly not stop a proposal that dealt with the majority in a better way than now. I would isolate those areas of deep seated deprivation and keep the same provision to start with that they have now. Then think of better solutions for them. No correct policy proposal is a one size fits all to be truly just in my experience.

  3. says: ukbix

    “The majority of these persons who are incapacitated are just plain and simply put, work shy.”

    Please correct me If I am wrong, as you will have more experience of the magistrates system than I do, but should you not step down as a magistrate, or at least always declare your beliefs on any case that involves a claimaint of those benefits.

    You are clearly biased in my opinion, and it is your duty to report any bias is it not?

    You cannot expect people to believe that those people in receipt of incapacity benefit will get a fair trial if you hold the view that the majority of people on incapacity benefit are fraudulent.

    Even your statement

    “I do not know if it occurred to the probation service that incapacity benefit and a young man playing football to most would not go together.”

    displays a clear lack of knowledge, and bias, as many people on incapcity benefit do not have physical problems, they can claim for mental health problems – and exercise is recommended by medical experts for those with certain mental health problems.

    The official DWP statistics for the fraud levels on incapacity benefit is only 0.5 percent (yes that really is ZERO POINT FIVE PERCENT).

    Hardly the vast majority is it?

    Underpayments by the DWP, and mistakes by DWP officials cost more than the total fraud cost in the last statistics I saw.

    Unless you can prove your statements as facts, which I respectfully ask you to do, then you should realise that in effect you are stigmatising a huge group of people, and is it not libelious to state they are indeed work shy without being able to offer one ounce of proof, that actually has an evidence base?

    I look forward to your response, and evidence.

    1. By email, Toby replies:

      As Magistrates we are impartial when assessing facts that are presented to us. No factual evidence was presented to me in the case mentioned in relation to comments made by probation in a pre sentence report as to if the benefit was correct or not. The only judgement we were doing that day in relation to that case was what level of severity should be the sentence based on the crime he had been convicted on i.e. on circumstances that are now deemed to be factual.

      If it was a benefit theft / fraud case (not a domestic violence assault case), we would see the facts presented from the defence and the prosecution in the normal course. If the facts supported his case (doctors proof, other medical corroboration of his condition, expert witness etc), then judgement would go for him, if not, against him.

      If you did not have any beliefs as a Magistrate, you would not be a human. So your rather odd suggestion that I resign or declare my beliefs is just that, odd and I will pass it over. The key point is always look at the facts objectively.

      I am delighted you respond with data that says there is on 0.5% of a chance of fraud. I do not have the facts as I say in the article , I give you my supposition based on my historic understanding that we have just not suddenly had 2.7m incapacitated people in this Great Nation of ours. I suspect the real number is significantly lower indeed.

  4. says: ukbix

    fair enough, if you look at facts and keep thoughts of someone likely to be guilty as they are ‘likely’ to be guilty of something else as they may likely be guilty of benefit fraud out of your mind, then all is well.

    I suppose its impossible to not have opinions at the end of the day though, as you say.

    Anyway, back on track..

    Some more stats for you

    “3.1 One unfortunate aspect of the debate on IB is the public perception promulgated by the media that fraud is common amongst IB claimants. All available evidence is to the contrary.
    • A successful IB claim is reliant on being signed off by a medical practitioner, being assessed by a Job Centre Plus doctor and being liable to further assessment at the instigation of Job Centre Plus.
    • As stated in the official Benefit Review of IB undertaken by the Office for National Statistics (2002) , fraud is negligible.
    ‘Due to the small number of confirmed fraud cases found during the review, it is not possible to produce a robust central estimate of the total annual value of benefit overpaid due to fraud for short-term Incapacity Benefit and long-term Incapacity Benefit. However, an indicative upper limit has been produced. It is estimated that the amount of overpayment is less than £19m, i.e. less than 0.3% of all expenditure on cases in receipt of these rates of IB. Similarly, it is estimated that the percentage of all IBST(H) and IBLT cases that are fraudulent is less than 0.5%.'”


    some more detailed stats (all stats vary slightly depending on dates etc)

    ” *

    For 2008/09, it is estimated that 2.0 per cent, or £2.7bn, of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error

    The estimate for the percentage overpaid in 2008/09 is the same level as the estimate for 2007/08 published in October 2008. The estimated value of overpayments has increased from £2.6bn in 2007/08 to £2.7bn in 2008/09 due to the increase in total benefit expenditure between the two years.

    For 2008/09, it is estimated that 0.9 per cent or £1.2bn of total benefit expenditure was underpaid due to fraud and error.

    The estimate for the percentage underpaid in 2008/09 is the same level as the estimate for 2007/08 published in October 2008. The estimated value of underpayments has increased from £1.1bn in 2007/08 to £1.2bn in 2008/09 due to the increase in total benefit expenditure between the two years.


    and some common myths about incap dispelled at

    as you can see, all the evidence points towards the majority of people on incapacity being genuine, not workshy.

    Sadly the majority of the problem appears to stem from comments (and the welfare reform report) made by Lord Frued, who claimed 2/3rds of claimaints on incap were not genuine.

    Sadly for him, he admitted to not knowing anything about the benefits system when he started that report, and wrote the report rather fast. Plus he made numerous factually incorrect statements, including the classic one that claimaints are only assessed by their own gp.

    The lack of research, and glaring errors he made was outstanding, yet the press and many politicians still use him as a source – despite the fact that clear evidence shows his evidence to be uncredible in my opinion.

    (Plenty more on google about that subject).

    Sadly, for some reason, the easiest targets, the sick and disabled are being targetted, despite the evidence that is used to target them being usually without any evidence base.

    Perhaps its just easier for the politicians to attack people least able to defend themselves, instead of investigating the billions of pounds of lost revenue due to companies not paying full corporation tax, or looking at other benefits that have higher fraud rates.

  5. says: Steven Baker

    There is for me a twofold social tragedy connected with incapacity benefit.

    In the first place, people find themselves labelled and “shunted into life’s sidings”. From Iain Duncan Smith’s 2006 Chamberlain lecture (emphasis mine):

    Joblessness is also an increasing problem. Throughout the UK, 2.7 million people are claiming incapacity benefit. This offers guaranteed payouts for life and, together with the associated benefits, can pay more than an uncertain life of work on the minimum wage. As David Cameron pointed out in his speech to the CSJ earlier this year, a new class of decommissioned people is being created. Vulnerable people who should have been guided on to paths out of poverty have instead been shunted into life’s sidings.

    In his conference speech in Manchester on Tuesday, Tony Blair admitted that welfare reform is needed to rectify this situation. It certainly is, for the current welfare system, designed to eradicate the poverty of the last century, is now fuelling the new persistent poverty of the 21st. Many vulnerable people now lack the capacity, spirit or will to do anything to improve the lives of themselves, their families and their communities. Large numbers have wearily resigned themselves to their fate.

    Preparing for this lecture, I took the opportunity to read Dick Atkinson’s excellent book – Civil Renewal – Mending the Hole in the Social Ozone Layer. It is a powerful and persuasive tome. In response to the mystery of why the vast sums invested in alleviating poverty and regenerating deprived areas have not reaped greater dividends, Dick says:

    The answer lies in the fact that the most crushing obstacle standing between these neighbourhoods and renewal is not material poverty, but a social and cultural poverty, a poverty of the soul…Unless we address this poverty, the hole in the social ozone layer, we will not achieve renewal.

    The welfare society is founded on the norms and values that underpin our wider society and ultimately, underpin our civilization. Strengthening and equipping the welfare society is a great task for this generation and those to follow. I fully concur with Dick when he says that this will not just happen naturally but will take the patient investment of time and resources over many years. And although appropriate government action is vital in the success of this project, it will also require each of us to make a significant contribution.

    The second tragedy is that the potential contribution of incapacitated people is lost to us all, not just economically, though that is vital, but also in terms of the very fabric of our society. It is awful that anyone should be incapacitated or that they should live the life of the incapacitated if they need not. We compound our social failure if we allow a centralised bureaucracy to hide from us the vulnerable in our midst, enabling us to abdicate our responsibilities to our fellows.

    Our present system simply is not good enough. People must have more to do with one another and the bureaucracy less if we are to lift one another up and make progress.

  6. says: ukbix

    Sadly it appears Ian duncan smith is yet another who has no idea how the current system works.

    “this offers guaranteed payouts for life”.

    Sorry – no it does not.

    You are re-assessed on a regular ongoing basis, and many people are kicked off, despite still being ill, and find they have to appeal (and go without incapacity benefit for upto 6 months (in some cases longer) until their appeal is heard. Appeal win rates (where the claimaint wins his case) are 58 percent (if the claimaint is represented).

    Incap is certainly not a case of “guaranteed payouts for life”.

    I really wish politicians would actually bother to do even the basics of research instead of making things up of the top of their heads.

  7. says: Dave Brown.

    OK course many of the people on IB have illnesses related to many years of unemployment.

    Anyway, what does a public school educated toff know about the real world?

    Someone who had about four time more spend solely on his education than some gets on IB.

    We have a million young people unemployed, are they all ‘work-shy’ if I can use that term of middle class abuse?

    No they were not born into privilege with a silver spoon in their mouths.

    Presumably when he speaks of ‘local citizens’ he means upper-middle class toffs like himself, you won’t find many of those living in deprived areas, they would probably be to frightened to visit them without a police escort.

    Oh and he expects the poor to pay for the benefits of the poorest whilst the rich like himself pay nothing.

    What a vile, selfish uncaring pig. No surprise he is a magistrate.

    1. To Dave Brown

      Just for the record, 3 years out of my 16 years in education was educated in the state sector, replete with free school dinners etc, the other 3 being by the Quakers.

      I was bought up in a housing association 1 bedroom apartment with my mother and sister for my early life then on the subsidised charity of my aunt. So I do know a lot about poverty.

      You are clearly a prejudiced and small minded person.

      I pray for you. I pray your pain goes away and you get more peace within yourself.

      Thank you for taking the time to read.

      We seldom have blind invective written on this site which is testament to its good standards of readership. Your falls well under this standard, what a shame.

      1. I would also like to add, one year for A Levels I worked and paid for myself to go to a Tutorial college and in the 2nd and 3rd year of my degree at LSE, because I was working, I did not claim my grant money that I was entitled to claim. So much for being a public school educated toff!

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