The government has revealed the 20 parliamentary constituencies where the most benefits were paid out in the past year. It’s not a grimy inner-city stereotype of Benefits Street that tops the list: it’s the Isle of Wight
The island came top, with a benefits bill of £449 million, and while it was followed by the mixed London boroughs of Brent and Tottenham, fourth on the list is the seaside resort of Clacton.
In fact, these London boroughs and seaside towns jostle for position throughout the top 20 – which also features Folkestone and Hythe, Eastbourne, Hasting and Rye.
1. Isle of Wight
2. Brent Central
6. Hackney North and Stoke Newington
7. West Ham
9. Holborn and St Pancras
11. Folkestone and Hythe
14. Hastings and Rye
15. Louth and Horncastle
16. Liverpool, Walton
17. Westminster North
20. Bexhill and Battle
All 20 of these areas have a higher benefits bill than the home of TV’s Benefits Street (Ladywood in Birmingham). It may come as something of a surprise that so many nice seaside areas make the list, but there’s a very good reason for this – the government included pensions.
This makes up most of the benefits bills in some of these areas. In the Isle of Wight, for example, of the total £449 million paid out in benefits, £268.2 million of it was state pension payments. It reflects the fact that the state pension bill dwarfs that for all other benefits combined.
If you strip pensions out of the list, the seaside towns drop out of the top 20, leaving a list of city centre areas of deprivation – 15 of which are in London.
Why should we care?
There will be plenty of people who argue that this list is disingenuous, because state pensions are very different from other kinds of benefits. They will say that while working age benefits may be claimed by people who have put very little into the system, their state pension is awarded after decades of paying taxes and at least 30 years of National Insurance contributions – so it has in effect been earned.
However, there are others who would point out that a state pension is not actually ‘built up’ from these contributions, and is being paid out by people who’re currently in work. They might also add that state pensioners are no more in need of state assistance than someone facing a disability that means they will never be able to work.
If you accept the argument that all benefits are equal, then you have to ask why those receiving working age benefits are seeing enormous cuts to their income, while pensioners have the triple lock guarantee that will ensure their state pension never loses value with inflation.
Cuts to come?
Those on benefits may already be struggling with cuts implemented in the past four years – along with the arbitrary benefits cap. Now tax credit cuts passed last month, which will come into effect in April, will see some families lose around £1,000 in income.
You have to ask how long it is before the government realises that those on working age benefits have been squeezed as hard as humanly possible, and turns its attention to pensioners. While the state pension itself may be protected for now, those universal pensioner benefits are starting to look more and more precarious.
But what do you think? Should the government be tackling the pensions bill in the same way it is decimating the benefits budget? Or have pensioners earned the right to a state pension that should never be pulled out from under them? Let us know in the comments.