Last night on the doorstep, I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who complained that when she had a job in central London, she was left with little more than someone on benefits after paying for childcare, travel, work clothes and so on. This was despite a good wage of £34,000 per year.
She had a point. The complexities and contradictions of the benefits system have been used by the Tories to attack the very notion of the welfare state. But it is their policies that have brought this situation about. The woman I was talking to highlighted the fact that it was housing benefits that were the key problem, as high rents meant that people were pushed into a benefits trap. They had to earn really good wages in order to be able to pay their own rent or otherwise it was not worth working. Those with kids also had to pay very high childcare costs.
It is the Tories, who over the years, pushed up rents without understanding that much of the cost ends up being born by the taxpayer. And it was the indiscriminate use of the right to buy, with very large discounts for the lucky few, which has exacerbated the situation. So instead of people paying a relatively low rent to the original council which owned their flat, they now pay a much higher amount to the private landlord who is letting out that very same flat. So the taxpayer is paying for the increase in rent which makes up the landlords profit after the flat was sold at a massive discount, again costing the taxpayer dear.
This is typical Tory ideology. While implying that the public sector is wasteful, it is policies that favour the private individual over the public realm which waste taxpayers money.
Of course this situation cannot be sorted out overnight. However, with a long term strategy of holding down rents, reducing discounts for the right to buy and building more social housing – which will be made more possible by cutting back on the numbers sold under the right to buy as this ensures there will be a long term income flow towards paying for them – Labour can begin sorting this mess out. No other party has addressed this issue and put forward a coherent solution.