Wednesday 8 January 2014


Following on from the post yesterday about Labour voting against Free School Meals, I thought it worth adding this editorial piece from the Daily Record along with some comments on universality of benefits.

THE independence debate is so fraught that there is a danger of politicians falling into the trap of believing anyone they disagree with must be wrong about everything. 

Labour’s opposition to universal free school meals is a perfect example. Alex Salmond yesterday announced that every pupil in P1 to P3 will get a free hot meal at school.

This has to be a good thing and was widely welcomed. It will mean every child whose parents struggle to feed them adequately is guaranteed a nutritious, healthy meal at a time when getting youngsters to eat healthily has never been more important.

More than that, as all pupils will be eligible, it will remove any stigma from the 20 per cent who already get free school meals.

That too is a step forward.

But despite this win-win situation, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont still opposed the move. She claimed free school meals would not be her priority as it would largely benefit better off children and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

The respected Child Poverty Action Group and many others vehemently disagree.

They argue that this is a genuine step forward in the battle on poverty.
That is not to say there is no room to criticise the SNP over the free meals issue.

As Tory leader Ruth Davidson pointed out, it is a policy the SNP first promised in 2007 and have had plenty of time to bring about.

But better late than never.

And Labour now find themselves opposing a move welcomed by just about anyone with anything to say about education and the eradication of poverty.

Labour are now at loggerheads with charities and campaigners like the EIS teaching union, the STUC, the Unison union and Save the Children, not to mention the Child Poverty Action Group.

These are organisations Labour should surely be on the right side of.

But in a miscalculation that may come back to haunt them, they have allowed the SNP to steal their clothes.

Leaving aside the fact that if the Record are saying it in their opinion piece, it can be fairly assumed that Lamont has made a pretty serious error there, the vexed question of means testing rears its ugly head yet again. 

I can see Lamont's point of course. The scheme, by not discriminating between poor and rich families, inevitably results in children of rich people being subsidised. 

What's the answer?

There isn't a definitive one. You have to weigh up the pros and cons. 

In this case there's the elimination of the embarrassment of poor children being singled out for free lunches. I can remember how kids hated dinner money being taken at school and some getting a free pass, indicating that in some way their parents were inadequate and couldn't afford to feed them. Making that a thing of the past for kids will certainly be a good thing.

There's the fact that feeding a reasonably nutritious meal every day will improve their health; even reasonably rich parents don't necessarily bother balancing healthy eating with making it tasty (witness the overweight and obese children getting out of Chelsea tractors).

And take into consideration that means testing is expensive and frequently abused. A person who is out of work and applies for free meals (or anything else) may have plenty money in the bank, stocks, shares and a time share in Bulgaria. Or they may be back in work a few weeks after the application, and yet say nothing. Rigorous and regular testing of recipients is expensive, not to mention intrusive. And of course there are people who simply will not beg for help and end up paying although they can ill afford it.

We had the same sort of arguments over free prescriptions when the SNP reintroduced them. 

When Labour brought in the NHS prescriptions were free. Indeed when they

later proposed the introduction of fees, small though it was, Ny Bevan resigned. (Gaitskill proposed prescription fees, dental fees and eyesight test fees to fund, as ever with Britain, yet another war; Korean this time).

With prescriptions we are already subsidising the rich who require expensive drugs. I was recently given a prescription for 100 paracetamol... the commercial cost of this would have been around £1.00. If I'd been in England it would have cost me over £8! On the other hand there are people on massively expensive drugs who also pay only £8. If we were fair, surely we would expect rich people to pay a far greater share of the REAL cost of their medicine.

In the UK as things get tighter... as Mr Osborne promises they will, we will see more of this battle about universality of benefits. 

Richer pensioners may lose the free tv licence (over 75) or the various bus pass schemes that operate in the different countries of the UK.

Again many would agree. Why should Cilla Black or Princess Alexandra have a free tv licence and bus pass or a £200 heating allowance?

And they are fair questions. (But you might also ask if it is right that they should receive a retirement pension.)

Once again, of course the cost of means testing must be taken into consideration. A massive organisation would be required to sift out those who would be entitled. And of course the question is, where would the cut off point be? Income £199.99 per week = bus pass; income £200 a week = no bus pass? Would the cost justify the savings, and how would we deal with people who were 1p above the allowed amount, who would now face bus fares of maybe £15 a week? Also how many cars driven by old people does it keep off the road; how many accidents does this prevent, and how many buses would still run if it weren't for all the old people travelling free?

How many people rich people actually apply for a bus pass in any case? I'd be willing to bet that, although in theory they are entitled to them, neither of the two women above had taken advantage of them.

There is also the inevitability that when you remove the interest of richer people in benefits, these benefits are bound to become squeezed. One of the reasons that we should pay retirement pensions to the likes of John Major is that once benefits of any kind become only for the poor, the standard of their provision inevitably drops. The amount of money put into them diminishes; no one in power has any interest in increasing it.

However, it has to be said that, against all of that, there are undoubtedly billions of pounds, given to people who have absolutely no need of it and which might be better spent on the poor. And that then begs another question: what would the Uk do with that money? Give it to the poor, or start another war?

What do you think?


  1. So many things to say:

    First off, didn't the SNP get given labour's clothes at the start of Blair's "New Labour" appeal to Tory voters?

    Means testing and universal benefits:
    Someone should really see how much, say, JobCenter+ costs to run, and compare that to just giving *everyone* a national stipend that's enough to survive on. Then we can factor in the costs of crime (and police/security) that's caused by people who have no other options to survive, homeless shelters, foodbanks, charities for the homeless and poor, probably a prison or two, and all those other things, and see if it comes out cheaper to just make sure that everyone has enough money to afford to live.

    It's perfectly fair that the rich get them too, because, quite frankly, to them it's barely more than a penny, but to those who need it, it's food on the table and a roof over their heads.

    Maybe we'd have to up taxes some, but I don't see the problem with upping income tax by an equal amount to the national stipend, and making the stipend immune from tax. That should more than pay for it when combined with the savings from ditching the means testing costs.

    Same logic for any other universal benefit. To the rich it's barely noticeable, but to the poor it can be the difference between life and death.

    Make it universal, and you dodge the problem of people who are worse off when their pay goes over whatever threshold is set, along with all the costs involved in the bureaucracy to check people.

    You also improve people's privacy, as all that would be needed to pick up your benefits would by your national insurance number.

    I've probably rambled enough here...

    1. Not at all. I asked what you thought :)

      I've always thought that the government (Scottish, English or whatever) should consider accepting that there are certain people who will not work. Whether that's because they are ill, or ill equipped or have served time for violent or sexual crimes, have low IQ, etc.

      They could stop wasting time and money on them. As a person who has run "back to work" courses, I know what a distraction they can be for other people and their forced participation when no one is going to give them a job, because they have done 11 years for murder, or have a nazi tattoo on their forehead is off-putting for other people who want to profit from the course. Better to write them off, unless of course Mr Duncan Smith wants to employ them.

      I'd not like to explain to my female staff why I have an ex- rapist working in the office or to my customers why I have a bloke with HATE tattooed on his knuckles, or who shakes until he takes his first sip of beer at five past none in the morning!

      The expectation that everyone can find work in this high tech, politically correct society is farcical and is only allowed to continue to stop the Daily Mail bellyaching about scroungers being given a free pass.

      I happen to think that you are bang on about benefits being universal. That said, I clearly don't think everyone should get a council tax rebate, or rent rebate, so I somewhat destroy my argument there. But at least these things can be graduated.

      You either get a bus pass or you don't, you can't have the first mile free and then pay after that!

      And yes, the way to deal with the super rich getting advantage is to add the cost to the higher rates of taxation.

      Of course, I can't see the Tories or Labour wanting to do that and upset their banker mates.

      As for Cilla she can have anything she wants as long as she promises not to sing, and to put on a long sleeved, high necked jersey.

    2. I think you may have misunderstood me about how to not bankrupt the nation with a national stipend.

      I wasn't suggesting that the rich pay for the poor with this, I was suggesting that, at least initially, *everyone* in work gets their taxes raised by the same amount they recieve from the national stipend. Cost savings from not running the bueracracy should pay for the small numbers of people who would then recive benefits that didn't used to, and might give some of them the boost they need to get back to a state where they *can* be productive. (I've been unemployed for a two-year block, and I can tell you firsthand that it can be crippling to your ability to be productive)

      All I was suggesting was a simple way to cut costs in this "time of austerity". I have lots of ideas for that, with no downsides I can see other than increacing the number of unemployed, due to their jobs not being needed anymore.

      The other big one is to scrap "vice" crimes, drugs, prostitution, etc... Beyond the the savings on police, the judicial system and the prisions, you also cut related crime from people having to deal with a criminal element, and improve national health by having, say, people who are overdosing not being afraid of going to the hospital, or knowing that what you're smoking hasn't been cut with arsrnic, or knowing that the prostitute you're hiring doesn't have any STDs.

      You know, simple things that only have the downside of reducing government employees and contractors.


      Perfection is reached not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

    3. Google 'A town without poverty, canada' or look up the Basic Income Network BEIN or Robin McAlbine Universalism Debate.

      Universalism is ALWAYS more cost effective than means testing

      Derick fae Yell

    4. Np. ots fine. I understood... and it's an interesting idea...

    5. I agree Derick...


  2. In my view the answer is quite simple. Everyone should get free bus passes when they reach the qualifying age, free prescriptions and so on. There should be no money wasted on the bureaucracy of means testing such benefits, and no-one deterred from receiving them because they are too proud to claim them. Even the richest people should receive such benefits automatically, but the bargain should be that the rich pay more in income tax than they would otherwise do.

    The ultimate (but probably hopelessly utopian) version of this would be that the state pay everyone a basic income, but that all additional income is then taxed in a progressive manner. That basic income might vary with age; children's income would be paid to their parents. There would then be no need for any kind of unemployment benefit, basic state pension or child allowance. The only additional benefits which would have to be assessed on an individual basis would for those with disabilities or chronic health problems. Some people would be happy to make do with this basic income rather than work, but since technology is going to make it more difficult for society to provide everyone with useful jobs, this might be a good thing in the long run.


    1. Illy beat me to it, while I was typing my comment. Great minds think alike....


    2. LOL yeah... so I saw...

      I see you're saying much the same as i was about technology denying a whole group of people employment...

    3. I'm a bit mystified that someone has disagreed with the post, as it gave the two sides, and then asked what people thought... what's to disagree with?

  3. I'm a bit mystified that someone has disagreed with the post, as it gave the two sides, and then asked what people thought... what's to disagree with?

    I can give you two reasons the first two pics of Thatcher in drag.

    1. yuk... you say the most horrible things....

  4. Re Cilla Black etc, they do not need to avail themselves of these assistances if they do not need them. Any way can anyone believe that she uses her bus pass.
    Similarly, does avail herself of a Winter Heating Allowance? I would believe Ken Dodd probably did.

    1. No, I doubt very much that Cilla Black, who is apparently a terrible snob, would ever use a bus pass.

      In most cases you have to apply for these benefits, and the qualification being age alone, all you have to do is provide a Birth Certificate. That done, as you are unlikely to get younger, you have the benefit until you die. So the cost of testing for them is small.

      There are, of course, older people with money who make use of their bus pass, but my way of looking at it is that they keep the bus services running for younger people, they keep cars off the roads, and with the greatest respect there are some older people who just should NOT be driving.

      As we know, David Cameron made a concious effort to claim benefits for his ill son, and Osborne has admitted that he has his family allowance or whatever it is called. So some rich people do take where they have no need to.

      But that is to the good, because as long as people like Cameron adn Osborne have an interest in these things they are likely to continue to be funded.

      Is it a coincidence that when, sadly for him Ivan died and Cameron had not longer any personal interest in DLA it was scrapped and replaced by something that pays a lot less? Possibly, possibly not.

      If I were rich and had access to these benefits, I would take things like the WFA and give it to a charity. I would also take the bus pass and help keep death off the roads.

      I bet Cherry Blair has her bus pass!!!

  5. Replies
    1. You say the most horrible things too. ewwwww

  6. completely o/t but nonetheless important. Rod at Auld Acquaintance has done some digging and the last date for registering for a vote in referendum is midnight 3rd September.

    "please let them know that as long as they are domiciled in Scotland with their main residence here, the very latest that they can be on the electoral role is midnight on the 3rd of September"

    1. Thank you, PP.

      That's actually quite late.

      I have a few student friends who have spent the last few years having their ears assaulted by me and are now firmly independentistas. I must make sure they know this.

      Well done to Rod as usual.

  7. Tris

    Labour stooped to a new low voting against this measure and while there will be some backlash it could have been so much more if the BBC and main stream media gave it the coverage they would had it been the SNP. At least the Daily Rangers understood that they could not ignore this one.

    Lets hope that Lamont and the Dugdales of the world keep it up as it all falls into the hands of the YES Campaign. Maybe the Scottish Government should have a debate on every single element of universal entitlement just to embarrass Labour at every turn.

    I actually have no problem with so called rich people or kids from so called rich backgrounds getting prescriptions, school meals, bus passes, care in the community etc as that is all part of the social contract that Government must have with the people. If I was to make any change at all I would try to devise a cost effective opt out system so those who would never use say the bus pass could say thanks but no thanks, likewise with heating allowance etc but again it would have to be cost effective as means testing is not only very expensive but an embarrassment for those having to go through it.

    Still when I saw it I just had a wee smile to myself as Lamont proved that she is even more stupid and inept than I had thought before. Please I hope Labour keep her and the rest.


    1. In the end Bruce, I think we all pay taxes to pay for these benefits and we should all be entitles to them...

      Prescriptions, bus passes, pensions, sickness and unemployment benefits when we need them, and because the pension is so extremely low in the UK, an extra £100, £200 or £300 to help us out with heating costs when we are old.

      I think it would be reasonable to increase the age at which these things become available to the current pension age, and keep it in line as the pension age goes up. No one can retire at 60, yet that is the age that people get bus passes... Silly!

      I noticed your comment at Pa's place, about the cheek of Davidson... done with Westmionster's money... and who the hell provides Westminster with that money.

      That bitch is determined to paint Scotland as a something for nothing country leaching off England, presumably so that people will assume that without English money we would all starve to death.

      Just because the Scottish Tory party and better together campaign exist on English money, it doesn't mean that Scotland can't exist without English money. And all this from a woman who has been dependent on state money for almost all her life... Cheeky bitch.

      Ask Iceland how it manages without English money...

  8. Alright chuck...cilla ear. I tried to get Johan Lamont a blind date but no one was havin it.... ta ra for now chuck.

    1. Bless you Cilla...

      Surprise, Surprise... no one wanted Johann...well....