Benefits should not pay for luxuries

Today the BBC carried an article about a family who live on benefits who would be affected by the government’s proposed cap on payments. I hardly need to write this article now, as more than a thousand people have commented saying much the same thing, but here goes anyway.

The man, an unemployed father of seven identified only as Raymond, has been unemployed for 10 years. He says he needs over £30,000 per year to live, and adds that if the cap is introduced, and their income reduced to £26,0000, he can “see eight people here having to choose between eating or heating.”

So what does he spend his weekly budget of £582 on? They give a breakdown. Rent and energy bills seem fair enough, and the £30 per week on public transport seems quite high, but is worth it if it allows his son to go to college. However, it soon becomes obvious how Raymond could save the £82.40 per week he would need to if the cap were introduced as proposed.

Let’s start with the £15 for Sky TV. Raymond complains, “We’re stuck in the house all week – otherwise we wouldn’t have any entertainment.” Funnily enough, most people manage to entertain themselves without paying £60 per month to Sky. If sitting and watching TV is his only idea of entertainment, there is plenty of free-to-air television these days thanks to Freeview, or even Freesat as he already has the dish. Of course, perhaps he should try going out to look for work rather than sitting about watching TV.

Then there is £32 per week on mobile phones. As there is £7 included for phone and internet, they clearly have a landline phone, so why do they need mobile phones at all? Each family member could have a pay-as-you-go phone for emergencies, which would cost next to nothing each week, so let’s budget £5. Having a landline and internet connection is fair enough, as these can be important tools when searching for a job.

But by far the worst aspect of Raymond’s weekly budget are the “24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco” that form part of his £240 weekly shop, and the £20 he spends each week on Friday night having three or four pints down the pub. I’m sorry, but as a tax payer I don’t expect to be paying for this sort of thing for people on benefits. Leaving aside whether we approve of this aspect of someone’s lifestyle, if people are going to choose to live like that, they have to pay for it themselves. The costs aren’t itemised, but a quick look at supermarket sites online suggests £15 each for the lager and tobacco, and £60 for the cigarettes.

Let’s add up all that unnecessary spending: £15 + 27 + 20 + 90 = £152. So in fact, even with the cap, it would be £70 more than they really need. It’s important to point out that they do live in an area of Wales where housing is particularly cheap, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that a fixed cap on benefits across the country is fair. What it does show is that lots of people are having their idea of a good or comfortable life at the taxpayer’s expense. Benefits should pay for the essentials and nothing more. If people want luxury items, or to indulge themselves with their vices or addictions, they have to pay for them out of their own earnings. It’s hardly surprising the public won’t stand for the present situation continuing.

As for Raymond, the worst aspect of this man’s twisted world view is that he says receiving less money from the state would mean his children are hungry or cold, while he drinks, smokes, and goes down the pub. Raymond, I don’t think you have anyone’s sympathy.

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