Short-termism in the welfare debate is shortchanging our society

Making access to benefits tougher for young people could be counter-productive

Share
Related Topics

Claims and counter-claims about the impact of EU migrants on our welfare system are obscuring a proper debate about the role of Britain’s welfare state. Conflating these issues in public and political discourse jeopardises our ability to have an intelligent and much-needed discussion about them separately and on their own merits.

Predictions about the economic impact of migration vary wildly. Conversely, we can expect with some certainty further cuts to the welfare budget, with George Osborne suggesting a further £12bn of cuts will be needed after 2015.

An influential alliance of the Office for Budget Responsibility, the IFS and the Deputy Prime Minister seem to agree that these cuts would disproportionately affect the working poor and sick. There is a danger that removing state welfare support for millions of families becomes the answer to a very different debate about the Government’s approach to EU migration.

Failing to distinguish between a legitimate discussion regarding migration from the EU, and whether or not families can access vital support will only foster a shallow public debate which sidelines long-term stability in favour of short-term cash savings.

A hard-headed analysis of how we prioritise public spending is overdue, but to truly guarantee the wellbeing of individuals facing hard times, debate must do justice to the vast complexity of welfare policy-making. 

The longer we look at our safety net as a credit card statement of isolated, independent, burdensome cash transfers, which can simply be cut, frozen or increased, the harder it will be to solve the long-term challenges facing the welfare state in our country. 

The debate around welfare provision must include consideration of whether people can access the skills, housing, education and healthcare they need to live independently.  

Take two issues selected for scrutiny recently. First, limiting support given to parents to help them raise their children. Second, cutting housing support for young people. Taking these proposals forward may make the national balance sheets look better in the short-term, but cutting and capping without consideration of implications for how people affected can live their life is harmful and potentially costly in the long-run. 

Making it tougher for young people to afford to move out of their parents’ home, take a job somewhere else and contribute to the public purse could be counter-productive and damaging. Cutting Child Benefit may make it harder for parents to give children the strong start in life they need in order to be able to live independently and rely less on support in later life.

Short-termism in the debate obscures the importance of investing in the future of individuals. Tailored support is required to help young people live independently through stable employment, not a system which is all stick and precious little carrot.  Not only have young people borne the brunt of the recession but the same people and future generations of school-leavers will foot the bill for the effects of an ageing population. Full-blooded investment in the current generations of young adults must surely be a down-payment on the security of future generations of elderly people. 

Maximising the life-chances of people in the UK demands a debate about the validity of welfare spending on its own terms; not as an afterthought, or even worse, as a bit-part player, playing second-fiddle to the rights and wrongs of migration policy.

We cannot afford for this debate to be a mere subplot. As a society we face fundamental questions about how we support each other: how to tailor provision to provide value for money and empower people? How to balance the intergenerational demands on our state safety net? What support can be delivered locally and what needs to stay in Whitehall?

The answers to these questions involve tough choices about making the most of resources available. Without strong argument and deliberation, those tough choices are reduced simply to rash impulses.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?