In the hate campaign currently being conducted by the Coalition and the mainstream media against the welfare state and the poor, deserving or otherwise, one very inconvenient fact goes unmentioned: everyone is a recipient of welfare. How is this? Because much of welfare is not identified as welfare.
People generally think of welfare as being merely benefits to paid the unemployed, sick and disabled, which include housing and council tax benefit as well as what would once have been known as the dole and incapacity benefit. The reality is that you are also on welfare if you receive any of the following:
1. Child benefit.
2. Tax credits , either while working or after retirement.
3. The state retirement pension – this is far from being fully funded by contributions for the large majority of the population, even if 30% of the income tax and tax and national insurance contributions paid throughout their working lives was notionally deemed to be a pension pot.
4. Private pensions and other forms of saving which benefit from tax relief.
5. A public sector pension, none of which are anything like fully funded.
6. NHS treatment for yourself or your children – free dental treatment for children
7. State schooling for yourself or your children.
8. Private education for yourself or your children where the school is a charity.
9. University education for you or your children – this is still heavily subsidised despite tuition fees.
10. Carers receiving state benefits.
11. Those in homes for the elderly paid for by the taxpayer or who are in receipt of taxpayer funded help in their own homes.
12. Those benefitting from taxpayer subsidised rail, underground, tram and bus fares, especially those with free travel cards.
13. Those in housing with rents held below the market rate such as council housing and Housing Association properties.
14 . Those exercising their Right to Buy a council or Housing Association property at a heavy discount.
15. Those taking advantage of free or subsidised entry to public establishments such as libraries museums , art galleries, parks, sports fields, swimming pools, sports centres and youth clubs.
16. Those taking advantage as a spectator of any artistic or sporting activity subsidised by the taxpayer, for example, the Royal Opera House, National Theatre, the Olympics and Wembley Stadium.
17. Those taking advantage of the multiplicity of taxpayer funded groups to promote specific activities and parts of the population, for example, women, gays and ethnic minorities.
18. Public service employees who are union representatives allowed time off for union work.
19. Those who have benefitted from a charity, especially those which receives taxpayers’ money.
20. Those who have benefitted from a not-for-profit body other than a charity which receives tax breaks and/or public money.
21. Those over 60 receiving the winter fuel payment receiving.
22. Those over 75 receiving free TV licences.
There are also all the benefits which no longer exist, but which benefitted millions of people alive today and indirectly millions of their descendants who inherited their parents’ property and enjoyed a higher standard of living when children because of these massive subsidies of their parents.
23. Mortgage Interest Relief at Source, or MIRAS
24. Free University education
25. University maintenance grants
Finally, there are the general economic circumstances which politicians promote that benefit parts of society disproportionately. They can also be considered welfare in the sense that the advantage gained is due to government action.
Loose tax regimes favour the better off, for example, those regimes with plenty of scope for avoidance, and the creation of circumstances which produce increases in the value of assets favours only those who already possess the assets or can afford to purchase them when there is still steam in the inflationary potential of their value. That is what has happened in spades with the British housing market over the past twenty five years. This was brought about by successive governments allowing mortgages to be granted recklessly with little or no deposit and on insane multiples of earnings, a virtual moratorium on council house building and massive levels of immigration.
A case could also be made for saying any taxpayer funded employment, whether funded through direct public provision or the sub-contracting of work to private business, charities and other not-for-profit enterprises is a form of benefit because without the state funding the employment would not exist. Beyond that can be included the private business, charities and not-for-profit who profit from the expenditure of public employees. The last two examples are probably pushing the definition of welfare too far, but they do illustrate how inter-dependent the state and private business is. This is unsurprising when over 40% of GDP is spent by public bodies, both national and local.
Let us have an end to this vicious hate campaign against the welfare state and recognise it for what it is: a fundamental part of our society in which everyone shares to a lesser or greater degree.