An article about a forthcoming academic conference at the British Library Conference Centre which will discuss the welfare system in Britain: who benefits from it, and who doesn't.
Who benefits from welfare benefits? is the title of a conference to be held at the British Library on Wednesday night, although one question that probably won’t be asked at this meeting of intellectuals is who benefits from studying welfare benefits? Nevertheless, the answer can be found from a review of the panel, because participants include the Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group; in April last year this post was advertised in the Sunday Times at a salary of £65,000-£70,000 a year; and Professor Jane Millar, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) at the University of Bath; in 2009, the salaries of university vice-chancellors averaged £194,00 per annum.
Other participants include David Brindle of the Guardian newspaper and Professor Stephen McKay, Professor of Social Research, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham. Professor Mackay is the author of a number of publications on the welfare state, the provision of pensions and related issues. Asked if the conference would include a discussion of those trapped by the safety net, he replied: “ Analysis of an 'underclass' will not be a key theme of my presentation, but I expect it will be an important part of the discussion.”
The theme of the discussion is has the welfare system become a recipé for dependence instead of or in addition to a safety net? The Labour Government under Tony Blair promised “a hand up, not a hand out”, a key plank of this was to take children out of poverty. There can be no doubt that the government of the day was sincere about this, and but for the then ongoing situation in the Gulf, and then September 11 and Tony Blair’s love affair with George W. Bush, they might have had more success. The new Coalition Government’s Welfare Reform Bill, will lead to a radical overhaul of the benefit system, including both cracking down on fraud and helping increase the take up of people who for whatever reason do not claim everything to which they are entitled.
The problem with regard to reducing fraud is that the people at the very bottom are stuck forever in the poverty trap and have little or no chance of bettering themselves without resorting to some kind of fraud. Under Labour the social security bureaucracy probably spent more money on so-called fraud investigators than was lost to genuine fraud.
The only realistic solution to this is the institution of a non-means tested basic income as is proposed by groups such as the Basic Income Earth Network, but it is really too much to expect academics living in their ivory towers with inflated sinecures and fat pensions to even consider that.
For anyone who might wish to attend the meeting, it is being held in the British Library’s Conference Centre, 18.30-20.00 with a cash bar afterwards. Naturally.
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