Friday 21 August 2020

Lining up the next U-turn

It has emerged that beneficiaries of the government’s scheme to pay a lump sum of £60,000 to the families of health care staff killed by the coronavirus pandemic will automatically lose the right to claim any other benefits, including universal credit, because of the rule that ‘savings’ cannot amount to more than £16,000. There is no doubt that this is a ‘correct’ interpretation of the benefit rules, nor that there is a certain logic behind the rule about savings (even if I don’t entirely accept that logic). At an entirely ‘logical’ level, one could even make out a decent case that the source of those ‘savings’ is, and should be, irrelevant and that no exceptions should be allowed. But the payments are more to do with a populist political gesture than with a thought-through attempt to deal with the financial consequences of the sacrifice that so many health care workers have made, and the political consequences of then stopping, or refusing to pay, other benefits are obvious.
The report makes it clear that the DWP, HM Treasury and the Department for Health and Social Care all agreed that these payments should not be disregarded for benefit purposes. What that tells us is that civil servants in three separate ministries sat around a (virtual, presumably) table and agreed that the benefit rules should not be waived. That in turn requires us to believe one of two things: either none of them even considered the potential political backlash when their interpretation became public so that none of them thought to inform their respective ministers, or else that one or more of them did inform the relevant minister and the minister(s) signed off on the decision without challenging it. There are ways, of course (and ‘Yes, Minister’ was good at highlighting them) in which ministers can be ‘informed’ of something without realising what they’ve been told. Given the traditional caution of the career civil service, that seems more likely to me than the suggestion that none of the civil servants involved realised the implications of what they were doing. It’s in their nature to ensure that they have political cover for anything likely to be controversial, and they’re paid to know what will be controversial. Ministers, on the other hand, are paid to take the responsibility. In the current ‘never explain, never apologise’ government, it’s not a responsibility which I expect any of them to fulfil.


dafis said...

U turns are the staple default manouvre of any government that doesn't give proper consideration prior to promulgation. The alternative is a stance of "oh fuck it,they can't expect a double win on benefits too". Now I can imagine Cummings and some of the other nut jobs buying into that but there is a streak of fundemental weakness, commonly found in bullies,that is found in this regime that will drive that U turn p.d.q.

Spirit of BME said...

I think the decision to give this pay-out was a mistake and it was a purely political one based on ‘the passions of the hour’, - regrettably, we have all done it.
Leaving aside the ‘mission creep’ this decision could have for other workers or emergencies as it establishes a bad principle ,the back-story ,if I recall it was that at the start of lockdown the propaganda was to save the health institutions, as this was devastating the over sixty-fives.
There was a fear that those healthy younger people would not abide by the instructions and so we had stories run by BBC and Sky that healthy younger people were also dying – this sent out a message, recorded in the Sage sub-committee on social behaviour published minutes ,of their wish to increase fear. Then ethnic deaths got caught up in this without any data study and an emotional plea about front line staff, who had all volunteered to simply do their job was added to the mix throughout the infected western world.
What should have happened is that a data survey be carried out to see if all these things were happening, but it`s far easier to hose cash around than await evidence. Now we have it, the NHS nor Columbia University in the USA can find any ethnic link apart from the fact they are clustered in the health industry and have concluded that life-style choices, on the maintenance of their heath was the paramount factor.
As to U-turns, I am quite fond of them and do them quite often, especially if driving down a road and being met by road works and a large hole. I do not see it as a moral issue and only total pratts would carry on regardless.