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Housing Benefit, Cameron’s ideological wrecking-ball, and five simple words

June 25, 2012

First, allow me to apologise. This post is a little rushed and disorganised, but that’s because I’ve let it pour out of me rather faster than I usually do. This technique generally works better for creative writing, but I hope it helps make my point here, in the realm of reality.

So. David Cameron wants to cut Housing Benefit for people under 25. This is a sentence you will be familiar with by now. This is a sentence that has made everyone whose physical or digital company I care to keep incredibly angry. Now it’s my turn, and I have a particular sentence with which I wish to familiarise you, and particularly David Cameron. It’ll pop up a few times later on. I’m sure you’ll spot it.

But first: Why, David? You want to promote hard work, rather than enouraging those who would shun employment and sponge off the state. Well, 7 out of 8 Housing Benefit claimants have jobs, and just need some help to get on their feet in the working, property-renting, tax-paying world. But you don’t seem to mind that. You’re disadvantaging without a care as to whether your assumptions are accurate. Or are you? Probably it’s more a case of “you were going to do it whatever the evidence says”. Damn the evidence. As usual.

So for the people Cameron puts out of their modest first homes, what advice does he have? “Move back in with your parents”.

Great.

Great! Your parents are rich. Moving in with them would probably be ace, even for a man with a wife and children. There’s probably room (EDIT: since posting, I have been informed that David Cameron’s dad has passed away. I’m sure the £300,000 of tax-free inheritance softened the blow, but seriously, my sincerest condolences. Furthermore, I’d like to point out that this negates precisely none of my points, and in fact possibly strengthens the sentence which this edit follows). You could sell all four of the houses you have. But, David, here’s the thing. Not everybody is this lucky. You want people to move back in with their parents? Well, as it happens, I have some experience in that area. Let me explain how it feels to move back in with your parents if you’re a normal person.

I went to university. I was lucky enough to have that funded privately by my grandmother, who’s fairly well-off. Not everybody is this lucky.

I struggled a lot in my first year at university. My lecturers saw I was struggling, and helped me understand exactly what was expected of university work, and how to produce it. Not everybody is this lucky.

I worked hard in my second and third years, and once I’d clicked on what academic writing was all about, I found I actually had quite a knack for it. Not everybody is this lucky.

I graduated university with a First. This was a close call. A few circumstantial factors could have gone a different way, causing a few borderline marks to slip a bit lower, and I might not have managed that final result. But fate was kind and I got my First. Not everybody is this lucky.

Straight out of university, I had no job prospects despite spending my spare time during dissertation season trying to plan what I could do. As such, after about a month, I began claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance. Because of the shares I own in a company passed down through various branches of my extended family, the Department of Work and Pensions determined that I was entitled to £25 a week. I’d moved back in with my parents, and felt guilty about it, but they refused to accept any financial contribution until I had a stable job and only until I could afford a place of my own. £25 a week was, as such, just about sufficient for me to travel across town to see my then-girlfriend, now-fiancée. £25 a week was workable. Not everybody is this lucky.

I attended every single Jobcentre meeting I was required to. I couldn’t find work. I didn’t find work for 10 months. My first job was with a charity, but paid for by the state – under the Future Jobs Fund, most recently famous for being cut by David Cameron. Without it, I might not have had a job to this day. I came through the system at a time when the system was kinder. Not everybody is this lucky.

I worked hard. I was commended for the commitment I brought to the role, as well as the skill (helped by natural writing ability which underwent crucial refinement thanks to the hard work I put in at uni). The post was funded for six months. I wasn’t informed that I wouldn’t be kept on by the company until a few days before I left. I am not upset by this, as it was because they were trying extremely hard to find enough money to keep me on under their own steam. I couldn’t go back on JSA as I now had too much money in savings and wouldn’t be eligible. Apparently I could sustain myself. This would mean selling my shares, which would give me a yearly income that would be less than what would make me eligible to pay back my student loan (maintenance, gran payed for tuition). It would give me that yearly income for a grand total of one year. Right now, in the entire world, I have about £12,000. Not everyone is this lucky.

I still live with my parents. I have applied for hundreds of jobs, both in the private & public sectors, and I have rarely got so much as an acknowledgement that my application has been received. Jobs that need my degree aren’t there. Jobs that are plentiful need experience that I don’t have, and as such can’t get because I don’t have experience to qualify for the opportunity to get it (the Coalition Conundrum, as I like to call it). I’m waiting to hear back from one job about which I’m fairly optimistic, but even that will not pay me enough to move out from my parents’ house and into a studio flat sharing rent with my fianceé. I have a kind family and a kind partner. I have lots of love to cushion my lack of forward momentum. Not everyone is this lucky.

Here’s the worst part, for me: I feel like a burden. I know I could be so much worse off, and so could my parents, but I still feel like a burden. Between them, they make enough money to keep me and live a relatively comfortable life. However, one of them works in a public sector job that is currently in a great deal of danger, regardless of their hard work and specialist training. I’m told it’s likely to fall prey to the apparently common tactic of avoiding redundancy payments by changing the role so drastically and to something the employee will probably dislike, to coerce them into taking voluntary redundancy. If my parent ends up in this situation, they might have to do a job they hate for over a decade to retire with the entirety of whatever will be left of the pension they’ve amassed over almost their entire working life. And I might still be here, relying on them to stay alive, because there are almost no jobs for me and no hope of any significant state assistance to get me going. I’m 23 years old, have a First-class degree, and have found the person I wish to spend my life with. Unemployed, living with my parents and being ruled over by a government that doesn’t seem to think I’m worth investing in for a later return is not the situation I’d guess at for someone like that. I should be out on my own (with the missus, obviously) starting a proper life, because I have some core building blocks of a good one. Furthermore, not everyone is this lucky.

My entire family, myself included, has worked hard, but we’ve also been fortunate that we’ve had, by national standards, a relatively privileged base from which to work. Yet still, we could end up squeezed. Imagine how those who haven’t had the modest privileges we have will fare. Cameron says “move back in with your parents” as if it’s an infallible idea. Some under-25s have well-off parents that will gladly welcome them back. Some under-25s have parents with a backup plan who could just about stretch to having their kid back under the family roof for a while, until junior gets on their feet proper. Some under-25s have good, healthy relationship with their parents and can stand to be around them. Not everyone is this lucky.

David Cameron’s mother got him a £90,000-a-year job, but it’s mind-boggling to think that he’s so wrapped up in the bubble that has protected him his entire life that he can’t comprehend that others might not be so lucky. Yet that is what the evidence suggests. That the fate of so many lies in this man’s hands is terrifying to me. We are in a situation where we could conceivably end up with homeless university graduates under the age of 25, and the man in charge of this country either A) considers that less perverse than young people asking for some state assistance to help them to become reliable taxpayers, or B) just hasn’t thought about it.

Cameron slashes, cuts, dismantles, pulls apart and decimates, and believes he will be left with something other than wreckage. Cameron, beyond all logic, seems unable to comprehend that people don’t have the fall-backs he was blessed with. In the opinion of this smart, hard-working and responsible British citizen who just wants a chance to use this qualities to become a decent tax-paying bona-fide adult, David Cameron would do well to remember five words. Can you guess what they are?

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