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UK may cut housing benefit

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal of stopping payments to those young enough to live with their parents has caused quite a stir in the motherland. Axing the housing benefit for under-25s is thought provoking policy at the very least, one that highlights intergenerational relationships and the obligations and incentives that bind or divide them. While there are coherent arguments against policies like this that promote one way of living over another, a good proportion of criticism portrays them as moralising or discriminatory.

This line of argument is based on the myth that legislation is morally neutral, a myth that needs busting. Cameron believes that the existing benefits system is “sending out strange signals on working, housing and families,” and while not everyone agrees that these signals are strange, they are signals nonetheless. Incentives matter. Families matter too. The question is not whether the DPB incentivises sole-parenthood, or whether the accommodation supplement incentivises teenagers to leave home for example; they most certainly do. The question is what do we value as a society? 

Cameron’s policies may be controversial, but his call to return to “first principles…to ask some fundamental, searching questions” about working-age welfare should be heard. “What is it actually for? Who should receive it? What are the limits of state provision? What kind of contribution should we expect from beneficiaries?” Excellent questions, and ones we need to confront here. Let’s have some reasonable and robust debate, for how we answer these questions profoundly impacts the lives of New Zealanders everywhere.

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