OpinionMay 9 2013

Benefits grabbers

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Such benefits as the winter heating allowance, freedom passes and television licences for those over the age of 75.

With that he brought down a storm of protests, most of it from the usual protesters, all pointing out that they have paid their taxes, and national insurance, and whatever the latest self-justification is for so-called entitlements.

It does not matter that a large number of those who get the winter heating allowance will not miss it if it were taken away, or that an equally large number of those ‘entitled’ to freedom passes can easily afford to pay their local travel costs, or that most of us are ashamed to even let our friends know we watch television.

It is the entitlement that matters, something that we have paid for and are entitled to and we want it even if we do not need it. Maybe it speaks of something in our cultural ethic, a primitive gene that causes us to grab as much as we could, no matter who misses out. It is social Darwinism at its worst.

The reality is that most of our benefits system has emerged like a jigsaw ever since it was created by William Beveridge.

We have added to it, tweaked parts and removed some, but at the core is always the belief that since most people believe that means-testing is undignified and intrusive, it is better to offer universal benefits so that it sweeps up the needy and not so needy.

But should this principle, designed during the war years, prevent us from taking seriously the minister’s proposition?

Gill Cardy

Sharp readers will notice that Gill Cardy has returned as a columnist in Financial Adviser.

Gill, who held the position for a long time (she explains) has succeeded the enormously popular Dennis Hall, who has gone off to write a book and look after business.

We welcome her with wide-opened arms.