Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Saturday, 9 October 2010

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of universal benefits? The announcement this week at party conference that child benefit will be stopped to higher rate tax payers opens an interesting debate. Should there be any universal benefits at all? For example, the winter heating allowance. My parents do not need this, yet they like every other pensioner, get it. 
The principle behind universal benefits is simple. If everybody gets something out of it, there is a far greater buy in to the system. This is important for those who pay most to support it. Furthermore means testing is expensive and inefficient, nearly always putting off many who need the help but cannot cope with the process of claiming.
In part the future of other universal benefits will depend upon the economic performance of the country over the next few years. If we have steady growth from now on and whittle away this dreadful deficit I am sure that they will stay. I hope so. But if, as some predict, we are entering a period of either zero growth or further recession, then governments of all colours will need to find new ways of bailing out a sinking ship, both here and in all developed countries. The recent news from Ireland and Spain suggests we are not out of the woods yet, not by a long way.
One way to encourage us all to buy into the benefit system is to cut out some of the fraud and the excesses which drive us all crazy. The government is determined to do this, in part by making the whole system simpler and fairer. It must never pay anyone to be on benefits rather than to work and that is the cornerstone of the restructuring. I strongly support the decision to cap the upper limit on benefits to average earnings – a further incentive to work. In my weekly surgeries I see all sides of the story: people who are doing their best and need extra help and also those who are taking us all for a ride and should be standing on their own two feet.
I don't think recent announcements on these subjects are yet perfectly formed and I anticipate changes, but the direction of travel is set – we will oversee a major transformation of our welfare state. I would be interested to know whether you think universal benefits should be part of this brave new world.

posted by Gary @ 12:55