The ghost of Dame Shirley

In 2013 the rules concerning council tax benefit will be changing so that the level allowed to each claimant can be decided by their local authority rather than awarded in accordance with a tariff set by central government. Never ones to miss a chance to kick people when they’re down, Westminster council has decided that rather than award benefits on the basis of need they will award benefit based on the ‘behaviour’ of claimants – erstwhile gerrymanderer and hater of the poor, Dame Shirley Porter, would be proud of them.

Now, stop me if I’m being a stupid ninnyhead, but surely the essence of benefits is that they are awarded according to need? Yes, we know that there are bludgers who abuse the system out there, they’re the ones the papers like to tell us about. But the vast, nay, VAST majority of those who claim benefits do so honestly and manage to behave themselves while they’re at it. To allow an arbitrary panel to rule on what may be the difference between eating and starving for individuals or even families would be the worst extreme of a nanny state, which Tories are supposed to hate.

And when will the quotas be brought in? In this age of targets and Key Performance Indicators local authorities have already been setting targets regarding such processes as homeless applications; the authority where I worked had a 50% quota and if a caseworker went higher than that then they would get a bollocking and disciplinary measures would be mentioned, never mind if the reality was that 77% of homeless applicants were in genuine need. I can foresee the top brass at Westminster deciding that the performance of this new procedure needs measuring somehow, why not set a target that 25% of claimants will forfeit some or all of their benefit? And if the assessors don’t hit their targets, woe betide them.

There are some nasty bastards in the world, some of them claim benefits, others claim governmental expenses and/or run local authorities. This latest attempt at lynch mob popularism by those in charge will have a far more detrimental effect on society than the actions of a minority of ‘wrongdoers’. Such a financial carrot and stick method will only serve to entrench the small minority in their antisocial way of life – we are bombarded with tales of the ‘feral underclass’ but it seems those who rule are determined to make it a reality.

At their base measures such as this and evicting ‘badly behaved’ council tenants flag up an increasing lack of faith in our fellow humans to the extent that groups in society are being dehumanised as a result of politicians’ words and actions and the resultant media spin. It is yet another sign of the divide and rule tactics so beloved of our leaders; we must not allow them to succeed.

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