Monday will see the start of the benefits changes that will climax in the full introduction of the Universal Credit in a year’s time.
This is not an article about these changes. But it takes it kicks off from a brilliant text read out on Radio 5 this morning
“Can I have my council tax paid out of my benefits, I’m worried that I could fall behind? I’m not good with bills”
I bet many affluent readers, (including you maybe?) would be happy to have their finances managed out of their income.
Those relying solely on benefits are not of course eligible jobholders and don’t get a contribution to a workplace pension. But millions of people who are largely reliant on benefits and whose pay packet is a “top-up” will be saving sometime soon.
It is hard for an affluent well-organised financial services executive to properly appreciate the paralysis that budgeting causes those poorly-organised and not affluent.
For many of us, the payroll deduction is the greatest benefit of auto-enrolment. The direct debit the only way we’d pay our bills on time.
It’s not just the “what you don’t have you don’t miss” element. Tax and National insurance could be regarded as savings plans but aren’t. The difference with a deduction from salary into a workplace pension plan is that you didn’t have to make it, you chose to make it. Much the same can be said for the direct debits we set up after payday.
And if you don’t get what that means, I’ll spell it out. A voluntary contribution is a donation and a compulsory contribution is a tax. We feel good about giving, even it is to ourselves and we feel bad about having money taken from us without our having choice in the matter. If there is one word I can use it is PRIDE.
Those who work at a macro-economic level do not stop to think about pride, they see money moving around the system in big blocks and don’t have time to think about the impact of how benefits are paid or docked.
But those who work with the people who get the benefits, social services, those in the NHS, those who work in voluntary care , people Citizens Advice Bureaux of just help their family and friends because they are money savvy KNOW THIS.
Without choice, there is no pride in saving. We had no pride in SERPS and S2P (despite it being a much better savings system than AE). We are not proud of our tax and NI payments (we should be I know!).
But when I look at my savings, the statements that come through once a year, I am proud that I stuck with it and allowed money to come out of my pay packet each month.
And there is one further point, people like me have a choice, we can do automatic deductions from our bank accounts (direct debits). But many people with little income and less cash do not have bank accounts or if they do have them operate them on a “money in , money out” basis.
Despite all attempts to change this, many people do not trust direct debits. I know a few and what they say is that it’s not that they don’t trust the bank to take the money, it’s that they don’t trust themselves to remember to have the money in their accounts. And people dread the consequences of that.
There is a long tail to the poor house and the debtor’s prison. In our DNA is a distant memory of a bailiff or worse. Benefit deductions are (if voluntary) the poor man’s direct debit and the sooner people can choose to have council tax, utility bills and the like deducted from benefits, the better.
Destitution is one of the primary fears for most people in a country where family support systems are relatively weak. People do not want to fall into arrears on their council tax , gas bills or their pension plans. Fear is a driver.
But they do want to be given simple ways to prevent that happening, whether that be a deduction of council tax from the benefit payment of deduction of the pension contribution from the payslip. Choosing the sensible and responsible option, going-without to keep on the straight and narrow, IS A MATTER OF PRIDE.
Which is why we should be proud to have kept choice in the system, why I take delight in the low opt-out rates we have seen so far and why I believe that auto-enrolment will prove one of the great policy successes of this Government or indeed this Century!
- Can’t pay? Don’t pay (captainjacksblog.net)
- Council tax benefit cuts: the expense of getting people with no money to pay up | Alan Stanley (guardian.co.uk)
- Direct payments ‘see arrears soar’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Squeezing blood out of stones – Tory style (captainjacksblog.net)
- Law change call to avoid evictions (bbc.co.uk)
- Universal credit: more tenants face eviction and rent arrears (guardian.co.uk)
- Reforms trial sees rent arrears rise (bbc.co.uk)
- Universal credit benefits system ‘in meltdown’, claims Labour (guardian.co.uk)
- Negotiating With Your Creditors (nationaldebtrelief.com)