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KEN HOUSTON says benefits-funded trade will ultimately prove bad for business 

ONCE upon a time I was acquainted with the sales director of a large chain of electrical goods retail stores, who simply lived and breathed sales targets.

I got to know him around the time politicians began planting the seed corn for what is now referred to as ‘Benefits Britain’. This included the assertion that as cookers (and, later washing machines and refrigerators) had become essential household items, “the poor” deserved the same access to new appliances as everyone else. Whether people were “poor” through misfortune or indolence was considered irrelevant as policy was based wholly on need.

This policy was less than popular with the tax-paying public but was a matter of complete indifference to my sales chum. “I don’t care who pays for ‘em,” he declared. “I just wanna’ sell ‘em!”.

The response summed up, and probably still does, a more general attitude within the retail and service sectors. That a contemporary family can afford a fortnight in the Mediterranean sun while living on benefits is probably immaterial to the holiday tour operator as long as the balance is paid on time.

Instead, sectors of business lobby government about policy that affects their particular interest (e.g. airline passenger duty, taxes on fuel and alcoholic drinks, etc). More general taxation, and the drag on disposable earned incomes, is not deemed to be a matter of corporate concern.

But perhaps it should be.

The proposals put forward in 1944 by Sir William Beveridge, the ‘father’ of the welfare state, held that the system should be contributory and that living on benefits should not be a lifestyle choice.

Beveridge would have been shocked to know that by 1971, only 21 per cent of the total paid out in benefits was based on contributions. Today the figure is just 5 per cent – meaning that for 95 per cent of claimants, benefits are essentially ‘free money’.

The result is people like Marie (pictured), a single mum of eight children living in Birmingham, and the subject of a recent Channel 5 reality programme.

Marie, we were told, was in receipt of £27,000 a year in benefits, equivalent to around £36,000 taxable income, which no doubt explains why she could afford to ferry her brood to and from school in a People Carrier. Her ex-partner made a ‘contribution’ (thankfully the children all had the same father) to household expenses but whether this was irregular or the subject of a court order (I suspect the former) was not made clear.

At the time of filming Marie was £1,000 in rent arrears to the council but, like Scarlett O’Hara, she couldn’t think about that just now; the festive season was approaching and her priority was giving each of her children “a good Christmas”.

As luck would have it, Santa also had a present for Marie; only the man in the white beard and red suit was an official from the council who called to say she had been allocated a larger, four-bedroom, house – the four-figure arrears on her current home notwithstanding.

A cue for throwing sandwiches at the telly? Actually no, because this viewer did have a sneaking admiration for Marie and her ability to play the system. Clearly no couch potato, she seemed to be doing a good job of raising such a large family on her own. I suspect that, in the business world, Marie would have been the type of young woman who, although academically unqualified, rises from a junior secretarial role to a senior management post through hard work, drive and a healthy dose of self-confidence.

It’s a pity this talent was wasted on a desire to exercise a ‘right’ to have eight children and then effectively abrogate financial responsibility for them onto the State.

You could say that, by luring an otherwise intuitive individual into dependency, the benefits system has not done Marie any favours just as in the long run, sales of government-funded household goods will not help businesses on the High Street.

Recent polls consistently show a hardening of public opinion toward benefit claimants, the genuinely disabled or with long-term illness excepted. This is based not just on the cost of benefits but on the sheer bloody unfairness of a system which often makes it more profitable to stay in bed than go out to work.

Consequently perhaps the time has come for the business community to pay more attention to the potential threat posed by ‘Benefits Britain’. Some might regard the current system as having already gone too far in upsetting the balance of work and reward, without which a heathy consumerist society simply will not be able to survive.



It was reported that 600 prisoners, including some convicted of murder, were permitted home leave to spend Christmas with their families – a figure not disputed by the Scottish Government.

The ‘home for Christmas’ policy characterises established left-liberal thinking towards law and order, which its adherents will call  “progressive” but others may argue focuses too much on the perpetrators of crime rather than their victims. Yet when it comes to the type of offences which outrage their sensitivities, ‘progressive’ politicians can become as hard line as any Tweedy ex-colonel from the hanging and flogging wing of the Tory party.

The new Justice Minister, Michael Matheson, recently announced the intention to give judges power to impose life sentences on people-traffickers who then kept their charges in ‘bonded service’ once in Scotland, turning them virtually into slave labour.

Most people with an ounce of decency would agree that such practices are wholly unacceptable in a modern democratic society. But hold on a minute: the ‘victims’ of people trafficking are not generally shoved, kicking and screaming, into the back of a lorry against their will. They use traffickers to bypass the legal requirements to live and work in the United Kingdom. So why is the government devoting scarce resources to law-breaking foreigners who might be considered authors of their own misfortune?

Already, applicants for asylum commonly claim to have been tortured or victimised because of their sexuality with nothing but their own word to back them up. Will a statement to the authorities that “I was people-trafficked” become the next get-out clause for what are essentially illegal economic immigrants?



Apparently Jack and Sophie were the most popular male and female Christian names for new-borns in Scotland during 2014.

Of more significance, perhaps, was the revelation that the year’s most popular Christian name for new-born males in Glasgow is Muhammed. Muhammed, of course, is not a Christian name at all. Even more significantly, the media considered this to be hardly worthy of comment.


Twitter: @PropPRMan