Sunday, 11 December 2011

Case #1: I'd Be A Conservative If I Ever Met One

There are many different estimates for how much unpaid carers save the country each year; some include those receiving benefits, some exclude them and some only count them. A report this year produced the figure of £119 billion.

This is relevant because Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit have always been cost-saving: they enable individuals to live either on their own or with their families and carers rather than residential care, which was and is extremely expensive. Many of the people with fairly serious illnesses and disabilities do not even have carers and are saving even more money by being their own carers, enabled by DLA and IB/ESA. Take those benefits away and those people will find it much harder to look after themselves or be looked after by friends and family(it is a fact-free, insidious myth that people depend on the state as a substitute for family when the truth is that their resources are squeezed and they need support).

There will either be a humanitarian crisis, or the budgets for social and NHS care would have to be vastly expanded beyond what the DWP saves in order to pick up the pieces. You can not cut budgets for basic human needs, only shift the balance from one budget to another; someone must pay. The only question is who can afford what and how much?

1. Disabled people and carers can afford the least for themselves from their budgets even with income from benefits. But with these meagre budgets, they can spend efficiently and their care and self-care means they don't add costs to 2 and 3.

2. The DWP can save money from their budget, but only by shifting costs towards 1 or 3. Their budget is largest and most efficiently spent by giving money to 1 to aid with their personal care.

3. The NHS and Social Services. Their budgets are smaller than 2 but way bigger than 1. Yet to do the functions of number 1, they would need more than the budget of number 2. 

For me the answer seems clear: number 2 can do the most good for the least money by taking the strain number 1 can not cope with. If they do not, number 3 does not have the budget to clean up the mess. An informed fiscal conservative in politics or the media would be blasting the Welfare Reform Bill to bits every day because of this. Why has opposition to the government's welfare reform seemingly become 'Left-wing'? Certainly not because of the presence of high-profile heavyweight Leftist intellectuals and writers that seem to show up at the last second(Laurie Penny in the Independent says she's been 'campaigning' against ESA for three years, which I can't disprove: it's just that I can't seem to find any evidence of it) and then advertise how superficial their knowledge of the topic is(Zoe Williams confused ESA and DLA in the Guardian and appears to have got the figure wrong when the new means-test for ESA kicks in: at around £7,500 and not her figure of £25,000).

It's Left-wing and 'liberal' because whilst there is a prominent political Right, they are not fiscal conservatives and may not even be conservatives at all how I understand the term. 'Neo-liberal' does not mean fiscally conservative. Fiscal conservatism would not permit a Neo-liberal vanity project like the Work Programme or any out-sourcing to private contractors unless there was some deeply convincing mechanism for insuring it's worth it. They chose instead to fool themselves with 'payment by results' as if this would mean competition is where contractors strive to improve service, rather than strive to win contracts, loss-lead, shifts costs to charities not even involved in the WP and collect as much money as they can before it collapses. The fight for sane welfare reforms is Left-wing by default, even if 38 Degrees taught us it's mainly a token issue for Britain's Left, simply because so much of the political Right abandoned principle ('the welfare reforms are a false economy, they must be stopped') and took comfort in populist ideology ('the welfare reforms finally deal with the scroungers, they must be supported'). They surrendered this to the Left and some of them actually seem butt-hurt about it, the more conscientious and thoughtful ones.

If you see the austerity-supporting side in a debate defend the welfare reforms by arguing "well what would you cut instead?", they are trying to box their opponent into the 'deficit denier' category they have ready-made by spin-doctors and focus groups, containing all the pre-written reasons why those in that box have little of value to say about budgets. It's easier than accepting a widespread secret shame: that there are some on the Left who are far closer to the fairytale fiscal conservative ideals than Neo-liberalism allows the modern Right to be.

And it tears them apart.

1 comment:

  1. Severely mentally ill person27 December 2011 at 19:23

    I've been telling people for years that paying me the benefits I get is getting my care on the cheap. My psychiatrist wanted to put me in a residential home and I resisted. In doing so, I not only maintained my independence, I saved the state money.

    By using the money I have to get proper support to look after myself, I can contribute to the local voluntary economy (saving the local authority money) and I can save myself intermittent stays in psychiatric hospitals (saving the state more money).

    The government wants care on the cheap. It will turf people off disability and incapacity benefits and a few will die from suicide or neglect and then the government will be faced with the problem of what to do with the rest. Some will struggle on, rotting in their bedsits, but others will start filling up the acute wards, stretch social services budgets etc.

    Local authorities that currently cap the money they will spend on residential care will be stuffed once they have a lot more people needing residential care off their budgets with no nationally-paid DLA to subsidise them.

    All good fun.