A response to my post yesterday on Twitter asks: “Wondering what “directed to the wrong purposes” really means?” Twitter isn’t a good medium for discussion, so I’m going to try to deal with it here. This government believes, I think genuinely, that the primary purpose of benefits is to help people into work. That was the view not just of the Coalition before them, but the Labour government after 1998: people may remember the slogan, “work for those who can, support for those who cannot”.
I tackle this point in my book, What’s wrong with social security benefits? Most people on benefits aren’t expected to work (actually, most of them are pensioners); most people of working age aren’t expected to be in the labour market; most of the rest are working. Benefits are there for lots of reasons – among them, meeting need, relieving poverty, economic management, social inclusion, subsidy, compensation, and so on. When we get to particular categories of people, such as disability, the aims multiply; for example, I gave a special presentation last year about the provision available for people with mental health problems, and the list I’ve just given here doesn’t cover the ground at all. When we get to the issues of Universal Credit, pat formulas about work miss the point; and the incongruity of lumping together issues such as self-employment together with incapacity, homelessness and child care helps to explain not just why the system isn’t working, but why it can’t.