Why the new government should reform benefits

The story of Sadie Boucher is one that I was almost surprised to read in the papers.  The mum-of-seven, who lives in Gloucester, does not work and has never worked.  She lives of around £30,000 a year in benefits and claims she was £200 a week worse off when she was married .  She adds that she won’t settle down with a partner again because she’ll lose those generous hand-outs.

 “Before we tied the knot we were coping, but as soon as we got married we were left high and dry.  Suddenly my benefits were cut and we went seven weeks with no money while they decided what tax credits we were entitled to. It was a nightmare.”

What surprised me was that her story made it into the papers, because it is not that unusual or uncommon for young mothers to find themselves in her situation.  She’s not exactly your average single parent, because she has seven children, but she epitomises our broken welfare system in many other ways.  She seems happy to live off benefits.  She does not seem to struggle with her pride, this week she features in a gloating magazine article, promoting her ‘plight’ to other would-be single mothers.  She gleefully tells how she warns other mums off relationships, saying she’s “scared of losing my money”.  But it’s not your money Sadie, it’s taxpayers’ cash that funds your benefits and the four bedroom house that you live in.

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The Sadie cliché is not what these benefits were created for, they should be a safety net for the neediest in society but far too often the net has caught the work-shy and those with an overbearing sense of entitlement.  This story about the Mc Fadden family is another example of this attitude, in the article Steven Martin claims “It's my right to claim benefits. We're all entitled to do what we want in life.”


But benefits should not be a lifestyle choice.  Peter and Claire Davey are another couple who realised there was little point in working (read their story here).  They drive a Mercedes and enjoy watching their 42 inch flat screen tv, but apparently “still feel they are entitled to more”

These permanently (often multi-generationally) workless households are drunk on a cocktail of their own indifference and a sense of entitlement.  One problem is that previous governments have sanctioned this benefits binge with their welfare policies. Now it’s time for everyone to sober up.  We cannot continue to offer taxpayers’ money on tap, with benefits coming on a more reliable and sometimes also more generous basis than income from a hard days’ work.  We cannot afford to keep encouraging benefits dependency.


I am not absolving Sadie Boucher, or these other parents from responsibility by any stretch of the imagination, we should apportion some blame to them all for their reckless behaviour. But if the government does too much to cosset people then they too are responsible; they’re trampling on any motivation or incentive for people to take care of themselves.   Millions of pounds have been pumped into initiatives to get people back into work, to offer them training and a chance to learn skills, but this is wasted if we do not attack the rotten foundation that this whole system is built on.  2008 saw around 6 million people (including 1.8 million children) living in households where no one works (source).


In tackling this problem the new government needs to enrich these people with ambition, not simply cash.  Nurturing a sense of pride encourages people to work and not live off others, this does not need expensive schemes and initiatives, it can be done by reforming Britain’s benefits system.  There are those who might argue that it is cold-hearted for the state to turn its back on Sadie Boucher, that there is a duty to look after those children and their mother, and I agree.  We should not turn our backs on the Sadies of Britain, but equally we should not confuse hand-outs with helping out.  I want to see families helped, but I don’t want to see young women blocked from seeing a way to look after themselves.


There will always be those who refuse to be weaned, who try to suck on the public teat whilst others toil, plan and save, that cannot be changed. What can be tackled is the entrenched pattern of unemployment that is being passed down through generations of families.  This can be achieved by making changes to the welfare system and producing a more sensible tax and benefits system that will get people back into work.  Let’s hope that the new coalition government will make these changes.

The TPA manifesto calls for wide ranging reform in benefits and improved incentives to work within the next five years.  Read more here.

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