A poorly framed debate on welfare will lead us nowhere

As changes to welfare go live this April, it is depressing that much of the debate focuses on whether or not the secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) could survive on £53 a week. The MP for Chingford and Woodford Green commented that if he had to, he could. If that sum is after rent and bills then yes, he probably wouldn't have much difficulty surviving. He's lived on benefits twice before. Although as an MP he claimed £2,807 for rail journeys between his constituency and Westminster alone in 2008/9, which averages out at around £53.98 per week, so he wouldn't be able to continue his work and participate in such a challenge.

The debate is largely a stunt designed to garner publicity, but even if IDS did participate, it wouldn't prove anything about how difficult it is for people in Britain to get by. The truth is that for those at the bottom, times are tough. We should be far more concerned about what people can buy on £53 (or the £71 a week that JSA offers). A constructive debate would look at the things that keep those on low incomes squeezed.

We should look to stop taking tax from the poorest, especially those receiving less than the minimum wage, to promote the appeal of work. If we are to have a minimum wage, then taking tax from those on less than the minimum would seem a dastardly cruel thing to do. Making jobs more readily available would be possible by tackling the job's tax, as employer national insurance contributions put a tax on each new job, disincentivising the employment of new staff.

Looking at areas in which markets can drive down costs would be another positive step forward. While many have worried about the withdrawal of state services, it looks like entrepreneurs may now roll in to deliver low cost services in their place.

As the state rolls back, things will be painful. But this is less the fault of politicians who are reducing spending, and more of those who expanded the size of the state in the first place. The reach of government grew too great, to a point that it can now no longer be supported. In doing so it crowded out all the voluntary mechanisms that used to provide vital services. Now that they have been wiped out by the state, they will not remerge overnight.