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Right to Benefits?

Stiletto Wheels Question Mark

Right to Benefits?

A week or two back, I was concerned to read media attacks on Katie Price who receives welfare state support for her disabled son, Harvey.

The attacks seemed, in the main, to be premised on the view that: Katie Price is rich, why should she receive state support if she can afford to pay?  A premise, reportedly, supported by many other disabled, and not, benefit recipients as well as the wider general public.

In my view there are a number of very good reasons, some not immediately apparent to everyone, why Katie Price has every right to get the support available to her and her son.

Thankfully, others have eloquently argued in favour of the broadest argument supporting her rights, that of universal benefits – for an example of this read The Guardian’s Frances Ryan on ‘Why we must defend Katie Price …’ .

Frankly, it is beyond my belief why anyone who receives benefits, disability or otherwise, would want to attack Katie Price for claiming the support she is entitled to by current universal right.   To be critical of this plays right into the hands of those in government who support across the board reductions in social welfare.

Sure, attack the rich person today, but tomorrow will your circumstance be any better?  I don’t think so.  Already, we see the limits on exclusion expanding, even now to include not only the rich but very average income earners. Money ‘saved’ is rarely redistributed via higher benefits to others.

Step back from this manufactured division: those ‘in need’ versus the ‘not in need’.  Solidarity is what all disabled people need.  Supporting disability is not just about money and every disabled person knows that.

For one thing, an exclusive welfare state is not a well supported one by those who pay for it.  People who work and pay taxes will be far less supportive of social welfare if it does not recognise and support them, to at least some degree, through hardship too.  As disability campaigners often say, ‘This could happen to you’.  Yes, it does and division between taxpayers and non-taxpayers erodes good will toward the welfare state.  Taxpayers must want to support those in need when they are able to, not be alienated from them.

Another point I’d like to make is that having money, a high income or cash in the bank, does not mean you don’t need support when bad things happen to you.

Specifically, if you are ill or disabled  In a country where most – maybe over 95% – of disability support and therapy is commissioned within the state sector, it is actually not very easy to go ‘private’.  All the expertise you might be in need of is servicing and working for the 95% via the public sector.

In fact, going totally ‘private’ is almost impossible as you lack both the expertise to know what you need and, in the UK, find yourself dealing with a sector that is geared to supplying massive state contracts and not lone private individuals.  This support sector does not like dealing with the hassle of private individuals: it wants the huge state contracts.  In supply, servicing and maintenance, private individuals receive short shrift – monopolistic suppliers, low service levels and high cost.  No bulk discounting for individuals – the state pays about half the cost charged to private clients.

Alternatively, you find yourself dealing with small businesses, therapists and adaptors on a one-to-one basis who may have little relevant experience, with no back-up or recourse when things go wrong.

You might be thinking by this point that Social Services would at least give you advice on these issues, right? No, not right.

When I became ill, knowing that certain services were means tested, I expected to have to pay toward anything I might need.  I absolutely did not expect to be told by welfare services that I was ‘not eligible for any support’ and to sort myself out.  I had no idea what I needed or where to go.  It was a very painful learning process at a time I was least able to deal with it.  I was shocked that the welfare system I had paid into my entire life – and still do – gave me no support at all.

As an adult, with a caring family, I coped.  For those with no family, complex needs and/or a dependent child who will need ongoing and expert support, possibly after a parents’ lifespan,  rich or not, do we not assume the welfare state should be there to help?  I do.

Seventeen years on, knowing more and apropos Katie Price’s situation, I would also say that most people, benefit recipients or not, have no idea how incredibly expensive it is to support severe disability privately for decades as you must do for a child or with some illnesses and accidents.

We are talking tens of thousands of pounds here, every year, for decades.  Over such a time frame, those with the highest of incomes and assets or fluctuating levels of income and certainly those on middle incomes, surely deserve some financial rebate from the huge taxes they pay, in recognition of these substantial cost?  The most equable way to do this is via the welfare benefits system which has set limits on outlay per person regardless of personal wealth or income.

I do get that some super-wealthy people  might choose to decline such financial aid and they should have that option.  Seriously, a financial opt-out shouldn’t too difficult to implement in this day and age.

If a wealthy person choses to top up the state service provision, that is their prerogative; the corollary being that the limit set allows the poorest among us to access a life worth living.  

That the current limits set are inadequate, or given out erratically, is not Katie Price’s fault and depriving her disabled child, or any other ‘rich’ claimants,  will not change that fact.  Nor is it likely to lead to higher limits or better benefits for anyone else.

More likely is the ‘creep’ effect whereby thousands more on middle incomes will be gradually excluded from support, driving down taxpayer commitment to the welfare state.  I fear to ask what support will ultimately be available for the most in need?  Again, I’m thinking of the USA and other less well developed economies.

Thankfully, here in the UK, Katie Price and her son are entitled to receive support, both financial and non-financial, from our current welfare state.  David Cameron also received help for his disabled child.  I am glad about this. I  don’t care what either earns or has.  I want to live in a country that recognises anyone, rich or poor, may need help at some point in life and gives it when needed.  Money should not be the only issue here.

In my view, Katie Price, David Cameron and all UK citizens have equal right to social welfare support and benefits.  For the sake of everyone in need, I hope it is always so.



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