Right-wing populist rhetoric often centres on the issues of “benefits scroungers” and immigration — too often dangerously intertwining the two, despite figures suggesting the opposite being the case. But let’s push the issue of immigration aside, and just focus on the former. There may be a good point here, with many people claiming benefits despite not needing them, and not even attempting to search for jobs to earn their own money. Of course, the vast majority of benefits recipients do not fall into this camp, but for those that do, the benefits they receive require a rethink. It would be unthinkable, however, for the government to remove their benefits and allow homelessness and impoverishment to rise, and as such, a radical new solution is desperately needed.
One model is Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is a sum of money paid to all adults to supplement living or to support them if they have no other means of income. This would be a very costly exercise for any government. While this fits the bill for some very wealthy countries such as Norway, Sweden, or Switzerland (which got so far as to have a referendum, before UBI was emphatically rejected), it wouldn’t work for the UK. This is it is a country attempting to balance maintaining provisions for those who need it with efficiency and cutting budgets — an important balance that more economies should be trying to find, rather than turning to fiscal irresponsibility and borrowing to solve public spending deficits. Therefore, any chance of UBI arriving in the UK is incredibly low, and it may well never happen.
A very much so fringe concept right now is the idea that benefits should be divided into two categories and changed based on this categorisation (i.e. short-term benefits should be protected but long-term benefits could be significantly altered). The major change needed to the benefits system is the core of it — the income support for those not in work, who need money for just food, clothes, heating, kids etcetera. Currently, as long as you can prove you’re looking for work, you get either Job-Seeker’s Allowance (JSA), or Universal Credit, or both. Universal Credit combines income-based support JSA and 5 other benefits, including Housing Benefits. However, this technically continues indefinitely. If short-term support was given to those genuinely searching for jobs, and then a new long-term system introduced, it could save a lot of money for the government.
So what to do with the new system? Well, there are lots of different ideas, but let’s focus on just one — the idea that in order to be in receipt of benefits, one must carry out just a few hours per week of community service or volunteering in order to help the government and councils. Another idea, along the same sort of lines, is that long-term support recipients could be required to do a few weeks per year of military service or overseas work. Some may criticise this idea, with many people, such as single parents, not being able to work or leave their kids at all (obviously until they get to school). However, childcare could be provided for the short time that they cannot be with infants, and for the majority of parents, children only need constant attention for the first 3 years of their life, and in holidays after that. Aside from these times, parents could be doing some work/service for their benefits.
This idea does have its pitfalls — and wouldn’t work universally. For example, some parents will have children that require constant attention, and with falling numbers of school places, homeschooling is on the rise. But it would be naive to believe that a universal system (such as UBI) is possible while maintaining efficiency and trying to balance the books, and a new, radical solution may well be required.