I have nothing but contempt for most national politicians; arrogant, greedy, lying, self-serving and out-of-touch are just some of the milder adjectives I would apply. Yet they know what side their bread is buttered so should at least have an instinct for survival and the good PR that aids their survival. Even weasels have survival instincts! So how on earth do they dream up stuff like this?
What a hare brained and idiotic piece of nannying. How fat does one need to be to be targeted? What’s a reasonable housing benefit reduction? Does it matter if the person’s girth prevents them from working, or are the council just anti fat? It’s just downright stupid. Muddled, vague and divisive.
And yet, there is some sense lurking in the background. They want doctors to prescribe exercise for those who would benefit from it and intend to give them free access to a gym – I can accept that, exercise can indeed be more cost effective all round than pills for some conditions. But then, worried about the money being wasted the council want to withdraw housing benefits when people with such free access don’t use it.
There is a simple uncomplicated way to achieve exactly the same end, and with more benefits for more people and without messing around with an already overloaded and overcomplicated benefit system.
Let doctors offer people who need it, and agree to exercise treatment, free gym membership, but with a condition. If they attend the gym all well and good, if they don’t, and waste the membership fee, then charge them for the gym membership. Job done, no new laws, no enforced exercise, no aggravated people, no fines, no fuss and it can be applied to anyone for whom exercise is a better alternative to pills, not just benefit claimants, who after all can lose benefits if they wilfully avoid work anyhow.
And while I’m at it a word about OAP’s heating allowance. Partly because I’m sick of pensioner bashing, but also because this represents an earlier piece of idiotic stupidity which has caused nothing but annoyance for years. It was given to OAPs labelled as a benefit only because Gordon Brown completely broke the covenant that had existed between the government and hard working responsible self-reliant people. Those people working on low wages without civil service or company pension schemes but trying to make some modest private pension provisions to be self reliant in their old age. He stole a large part of their pension pots. Then he hit the slightly older, already retired group of similar responsible people, those who had paid into the NI scheme all their working lives with the promise of a meagre state pension. He deliberately devalued their state pension relative to the cost of living. The heating allowance, as a small lump sum before Christmas, was a sop (bribe) to deflect some of the ill feeling. In essence it should have been part of the basic pension.
Yes I know there are some very well off pensioners who don’t need it, but there are also millions more who do. Especially those who were self sufficient and responsible all their lives on low incomes working for small companies. Those people are trapped. Because they have an asset, a house, they are too rich for benefits, but many have an income that is barely above basic state pension. These are the squeezed middle of the OAP generation, far removed from the gold plated pension entitled state employees.
So why not simply incorporate the heating allowance as a part of the main pension so it becomes fully taxable? Admin cost to government would be less than now, tax receipts would be slightly up, inconvenience would be nil. Fairness quotient would not be perfect, the rich would get something of it, but very much fairer than now.
And along those lines why not make all benefits taxable? Why should a working family pay tax while a non working family get not just a tax free income but also benefits in kind (like free prescriptions). Why isn’t benefit paid out via the tax system on a simple basic scale related to average incomes then everyone taxed and charged for services on exactly the same basis?