Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme - They are enforcing a patriarchal discipline on women and families by means testing
- Category: Analysis
- Published on Tuesday, 21 October 2014
- Written by Richard Atkinson
- Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme
- 1. They are not trying (very hard) to reduce welfare expenditure
- 2. They do not want, at all, to reduce welfare dependency
- 3. They are not interested in getting people into work...
- 4. ... because they don't know what to do with people when they are working
- 5. They are not, exactly, aiming to abolish the welfare state
- 6. … not least because the present welfare state is their own, neoliberal, creation
- 7. They are converting the DWP into a punitive arm of the state
- 8. They are looking to create a low waged, unskilled, precarious workforce
- 9. They are enforcing a patriarchal discipline on women and families by means testing
- 10. They are winning ...
- 11. ... and Universal Credit will seal their victory for a generation
- 12. They have a problem with pensioners, which they have yet to sort out
- 13. Labour are as deeply committed to these aims as the Tories
- 14. Why it’s Welfare, not Social Security
- 15. Why it’s back to 1601 not 1834
- 16. No-one asked for welfare
- 17. Against welfare: for class independence
- ADDENDUM - On proposals for an Unconditional Basic Income.
- All Pages
9. They are enforcing a patriarchal discipline on women and families by means testing
Separate income tax assessments for couples were introduced in 1990, abandoning any assumption about family composition and income structure and ending any interference by the state in the private lives of people paying income tax. Ironically this interference had to be partially re-introduced when the Coalition tried to introduce taxation of Child Benefit for higher band income taxpayers in January 2013. They then realised they had no means of knowing when taxpayers were members of a couple, information they needed to apply the new rule. But for benefit and Tax Credit claimants the requirement to inform the state when you began to live with anyone never went away and has always been rigorously enforced (as the Child Benefit rule won’t be).
If you start to live with anybody “as man and wife”, or “as civil partners” for same sex couples, and you claim means tested benefits or Tax Credits, you must inform the DWP or the Revenue immediately or risk benefit fraud sanctions and prosecution (anyone who falls foul of the new Child Benefit rules by contrast is penalised, if at all, under the much gentler income tax rules - they may have to pay something back but there is zero chance of prosecution). And they decide when you are living with someone, not you, under very opaque guidelines.
The result is that poorer women, in particular, live with the permanent threat of state scrutiny of their personal and sexual behaviour:
- Your son storms out after a row. You don't know if or when he's going to move back in but he keeps coming back for a sub. So you keep claiming for him.
- Or your kids are taken into care. You want them back but you've got a dodgy boyfriend so the social workers will only let you have daytime contacts - no overnights. You've still got the expenses so you still claim for them.
- Or your boyfriend sort of comes and goes. Good fun when he's around, brings drugs for you and presents for the kids. But you've got two kids and you can't rely on him so you claim as a single parent. BIG overpayment because he used your address to apply for a credit card and you can't prove he wasn't there most of the time.
- Or you get divorced but you can't get rid of your ex. He keeps coming round because he can't find anywhere half decent to live so you drift into letting him sleep on the sofa. That neighbour you quarrelled with phones the fraud hotline and you're in Court for cohabitation.
The mistake people make is to assume that the complicated messes they make of their lives are their problem and their business. WRONG. If you're poor and claiming benefit, and especially if you're a woman with children, it's the state's business and you account for it in Court. This is happening every day - Styal prison is half full of women caught for ‘cohabitation’. Because it only happens to poor people, and mainly to poor women, it is considered acceptable. It is a direct consequence of a means tested benefit system, and is high on the list of reasons for abolishing any such system.