Home » News/Views » Them and us

Them and us

Good times, Bad times: the Welfare Myth of Them and Us, by John Hills, paperback, 334 pages, ISBN 978-1-44732-003-6, Policy Press, 2014, £12.99.

Sir John Hills is Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His deeply researched book demolishes many of the myths about welfare.

Unemployment benefits account for just 4 per cent of Britain’s welfare budget. But 75 per cent of us thought that they account for 40 per cent or more. Myths have consequences. Playing on such false belief makes it easier to justify cutting the welfare budget.

Hills shows that the Coalition’s policies made more people poor and will keep them that way. “The new ‘welfare cap’ is intended to ensure that total benefit and tax credit spending (excluding pensions) never grows faster than prices...living standards for many in the bottom half of the income distribution will automatically fall behind others when the economy returns to growth. If this happens, poverty will rise.”

So this is a ratchet device for the continual forcing down of welfare levels over the long term.

Most of us believe that benefits and services should go to people according to their needs, and that those on higher incomes should pay proportionately more. But that is not happening in Britain. Tax and benefit reforms have been regressive, shifting the burden in the opposite direction.

Long-term changes

Hills examines the myth that there is a static group – “them” – who benefit, and another static group – “us” – who pay for it. This contains a profound misunderstanding. Instead of remaining static, we experience long-term changes over our lives and many have sudden changes in circumstances, causing a temporary need for

In conclusion Hills says “…most of us get back something at least close to what we pay in over our lives towards the welfare state. When we pay in more than we get out, we are helping our parents, our children...In that sense, we are all – or nearly all – in it together.” Not a message you are likely to hear anywhere near Westminster or Holyrood.