Cutting the minimum

An article in today’s Observer argues:

“Make no mistake. The 1% uprating means that for the first time since 1931, the income of the poorest will fall as a deliberate act of government policy.”

That’s only half true. This is the first general cut since 1931, but there have been other, less wide-ranging cuts, and many have been deeper.

The minimum income standards that apply in the UK have never been complete, and they have not been maintained very faithfully. The rates of the system in 1948 were represented as being based on Rowntree’s 1936 standards, but they were actually less, and known to be inadequate at the time. (I have amended this from the first posted draft, in recognition of a comment from John Veit Wilson, whose authoritative study I can’t do justice to here.) In the 1980s, there were changes in the structure of the basic rates, leaving some people markedly worse off – for example, householders under the age of 25. And various provisions have been made for money to be taken off benefits, for example deductions that apply to people who fail to take up work – the suspension of benefits through sanctions is currently affecting very large numbers of people (3 million claimants have had varied length sanctions, and 1.3 million fixed length sanctions, since 2000). There has never been a true national minimum. Perhaps there should be.

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