I have sought to define fairness on this blog this morning. I have suggested that fairness is subjective and contextual and cannot therefore be determined without consideration of the facts that the person using the term uses in support of their claim of perceived justice or injustice.
So, what of a welfare cap? Is that fair?
My answer is, straightforwardly, no it is not. If you believe, as I do, that the role of government is to ensure that those suffering misfortune through no fault of their own do not suffer unduly as a consequence then to demand a cap on what I call social security payments must be unfair. That is because such a cap, that insists current provision as adjusted for inflation, is sufficient very obviously does not consider the fact that circumstances may change.
I am, of course, aware that the propose cap excludes basic pensions (but not other age related provision) and excludes basic job seekers allowance, but its scope remains enormous nonetheless and as such fails, completely, to consider changes in circumstance in society which will now, legally, be precluded from consideration when setting the social security budget.
Let me take three examples where injustice might result. First, suppose there is a boom in rents. The welfare cap will not be allowed to consider this even if it arises as a result of failure to meet housing demand.
Second, suppose there is a significant increase in national income going mainly to a few in society: those on benefits will see their relative well being cut, and inequality now matters, as even the IMF has admitted. As they have also said, it is not just the tax system that must beat that inequality; social security has a role to play too. This role is now being taken, very deliberately, out of the equation meaning inequality will be harder to tackle.
And thirdly, what if we have a rising population? This seem likely. What then? Remember, this cap applies to all child related social security including, even, maternity pay.
Of course, in practice, there is a limit to what any society can afford to redistribute of its wealth. I have to accept that. But, to define that in terms of financial limits set at an arbitrary point in time and which then fails to take into account all possible changes in subsequent circumstances is not just to create a crass and arbitrary decision making tool, it's also more obviously a tool intended to increase inequality in society which is why I applaud all politicians who oppose the cap today.
Neoliberalism embraces a philosophy that says that what those who subscribe to that creed think of as losers should pay the price of their failure. We saw it when neoliberals demanded that banks should be allowed to fail without consideration of the cost to society. We are seeing it here too. The welfare cap is indication of that belief that the loser should pay in action. This is a policy proposed by those who think themselves the winners to claim more of the rewards of society at cost to those they consider losers. This policy needs to be be named as such. And it needs to be said that this is unfair because it is socially unjust. I will do that. I hope others do as well.