In declaring war yesterday on both poverty and the benefits system, Iain Duncan Smith had it right. If the Government is going to make real inroads into the deficit it will have to tackle the nearly £200 billion ($300 billion) welfare budget, which is a third of government spending. This week’s £6 billion of cuts was only Round 1: £6 billion is only 1 per cent of government expenditure, so this was a warm-up.
But the argument for welfare reform is not just one of affordability. In too many cases, welfare has entrenched poverty. … Gordon Brown made life more bearable for many people on benefits, but he also made it harder to escape from them. Get a job tomorrow earning between £10,000 and £30,000 a year and you’ll take home only 30p out of every extra pound you earn after the first £10,000….
The fear of losing benefits – of not being able to scramble back on to the lifeboat if you fall off – is a huge disincentive to change your circumstances, let alone report them.
One-in-seven working-age households is dependent on benefits for more than half its income. More than half of all single parents depend on the State for at least half their income.
William Beveridge would be horrified to discover that the safety net he designed has become a trap, creating generations of worklessness and dwindling self-esteem. It is also creating a glut of unemployed, unwanted, unmarriageable men.
Immigration reduced the opportunities available to white British men whose poor education made them less attractive candidates, while the benefits system undermined their motivation.
The problem affects the whole of society because of the striking correlation between male joblessness and single motherhood, particularly in the old industrial cities.
In Liverpool, male unemployment rose from 12 per cent in 1971 to 30 per cent in 2001. In 1971 11 per cent of families were headed by a single parent; by 2001, 45 per cent were.
Similar patterns can be seen in Birmingham, Strathclyde and Newcastle. The epidemic of male joblessness after the collapse of manufacturing industries coincided with an increase in female employment and welfare support to mothers who found that they could manage alone.
Overlooked by society, irrelevant to employers, unwanted by women who can raise families on benefits without their help, the man who has no work or a series of short-term jobs is a problem.
Without steady work, he will struggle to acquire a family: unemployed men are less likely to marry or cohabit than employed ones. Without a stable relationship, he is less likely to grow into a good family man and raise good sons.
The taxpayer has become the father: one in four mothers is single and more than half live on welfare. A lot of these women describe the real fathers of their children as “useless” or worse. The men have no role.
In the worst cases, the State has helped to create a class of jobless serial boyfriends who prey on single mothers on benefits. When two of these men moved into the flat that Haringey Council had generously provided for Tracey Connelly, Baby P’s mother, the little boy’s fate was sealed. They killed him.
Other such men appear in bit parts in tragedies such as that of Shannon Matthews, abducted and drugged by her own “family”. The welfare system has helped to deprive these children of the most effective check on abuse — the family.
Robert Rowthorn, Professor of Economics at Cambridge, has shown that female and male worklessness have been going in opposite directions for 30 years, well before this latest “mancession”.
His research suggests that half the rise in lone parenthood in the past 30 years may be due to male unemployment. He believes that governments must start to focus on these men, and question the feminisation of education and the workplace.
It is no solution, he says, to say that women don’t need men or that men should become more female. Nor is it any good waiting for economic growth to dig them out of poverty. Those men need a chance, not a benefits system that undermines them.