Letters: Welfare should be celebrated, not a dirty word

Letters: The revelations about the plight of the 'cliff-edge' households demonstrate that work is no longer the best form of welfare. The problem is not a culture of entitlement, but a culture of exploitation and indifference to need

David Cameron eschews a "culture of entitlement" (PM sets out Tory plan to slash benefits, 25 June). But surely that is precisely what a liberal democracy is supposed to aspire to: a society in which we are entitled as citizens not only to vote and to freedom under the law, but – in the words of the universal declaration of human rights – to "security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability … or other lack of livelihood", and to "work, to free choice of employment [and] to just and favourable conditions of work".

The idea of social security has effectively been banished (across the political spectrum) in favour of a language in which "welfare", far from being a celebrated ideal, has become a dirty word. Why should we not be able to expect a basic level of security over the course of our lives and to have access to decent jobs? The revelations about the plight of the "cliff-edge" households (Report, 19 June) demonstrate that work is no longer the best form of welfare. The problem is not a culture of entitlement, but a culture of exploitation and indifference to need.
Professor Hartley Dean
Co-editor, Journal of Social Policy

• Who are the 18/19-year-olds who get housing benefit without signing on unemployed? Housing benefit only covers rent, so it is no use without another source of income for food, fuel, water, travel, etc. Is it the small group of young people claiming while in full-time further education? They also receive income support because they have no parents, or, of necessity, cannot live with parents, for example they have been thrown out, or abused, or been in care, or they are lone parents themselves.

Is it young people who are working part-time or on very low wages? Is it young lone parents on income support who have regular work-focused interviews to move them into work? Is it young disabled people on employment and support allowance with no parent carers? As usual, the government's words on benefit changes damage and mislead, ignoring the facts of the benefit rules and the real lives of young people needing social security, not punishment.
Jean Betteridge
Failsworth, Manchester

• At least no one can be in any doubt now where Cameron stands on inequality. He makes the claim that "a single parent living outside London [with] four children … renting a house on housing benefit … can claim almost £25,000 a year. That is more than the average take-home pay of a farm worker and nursery nurse put together." The low wages cited draw no criticism from Cameron. The appalling wages of the working poor are a convenient stick with which to beat the non-working poor and nothing more. We now need to know where the Lib Dems stand on all of this. Are there any out there with some backbone left?
Alistair Richardson

• Cameron's aim in comparing the maximum possible benefit payment to the wages of low-paid workers is clearly to suggest only those who do not work receive these benefits. This is untrue: the farm worker and nursery nurse will also receive housing benefit if they are forced to live in high-rent private housing.

Cameron hides the fact that most of a £25,000 benefit payment will go straight to the landlord as rent. This arrangement, when introduced, was intended to give short-term cover. It has become long-term for many only because the running down of council housing under the 1980s Tory government means there is not enough social housing available.

My passage to independence was living away as a student, an option now made much harder due to cuts in student support. For an earlier generation, national service was another passage. If one wishes to have a generation of feckless "kidults", one could not do better than to force people in their 20s to "live in their childhood bedrooms". I assume someone from a wealthy background like Cameron just cannot understand that high house prices mean that in many parts of the country a lifetime of "saving up" will still not enable a person on average wages to buy a property of their own.
Matthew Huntbach

• So the prime minister wishes to promote a debate about the cost to housing benefit of housing under-25s with young families. Under the current policy mix this cost will rise sharply, because: (1) at present this group is the prime entrant into social housing because of the priority homeless rules; (2) the Localism Act empowers authorities to house them in the private sector where rents are double; (3) universal credit will give the rent to the claimant so landlords face a sharply increased arrears risk which they will have to factor into their pricing; and (4) private sector rented housing is short-term, so a claimant household will re-present as homeless every six months. Now let's have the debate – which needs to be about risk transfer and housing procurement.
Paul Lusk
Albrighton, Wolverhampton

• Cameron wants a debate on our "something for nothing" culture. Can we start by defining terms? Does he mean the wealthy who use the country's facilities while avoiding paying tax? Or maybe he's thinking on another level: perhaps he means those who expect to play a full part in the democratic process without buying themselves an expensive place at Tory party dinners?
Dr Stephen Riley
Winchester, Hampshire

• David Cameron has argued for "reforms" on welfare payments on the basis that the current system promotes a "something for nothing" culture of entitlement. Yet only three weeks ago he was inviting us to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the rule of the matriarch of a family who have always lived in expectation of "something for nothing".
Sasha Simic

• David Cameron seems to be confusing economics and morals. Whether he likes it or not, to boost the economy we need to put money in the pockets of the lowest-paid, who will spend it, not into the pockets of wealthier people, who will send it abroad. If those on low incomes are sat at home not working and having children that is a different debate, and in our highly productive economy it may be necessary to keep those out of work consuming or austerity becomes self-reinforcing, leading to the cycle of economic decline we are presently experiencing.

A simple solution would be to replace all benefits and tax allowances with a single universal amount (a citizens' allowance as it is sometimes called), add in a child benefit, and it could be set so that nobody is in poverty, with no withdrawal of benefit on working but every pound earned taxed – then any job, even an hour a week, would pay as you would always keep an after-tax amount. 

It would have the added benefit of simplicity to implement – and instead of over complicating the tax system with attempts to change behaviour you could subsidise directly those behaviours you want to encourage, and impose a direct tax on those you want to discourage.
Jon Fanning
Teaching fellow in strategy, skills and employability, The York Management School, University of York

• I was stunned by David Cameron's latest attack on the poorest in our society but shouldn't have been surprised. This can be traced back to when Labour became New Labour. This shift to the right got them elected but meant giving up on many of their core working-class support. This enabled a corresponding shift to the right by both the Tories and the Lib Dems. Recently, I was so upset by my Lib Dem MP's support for the housing benefit cap that I wrote in to the local press. A former Lib Dem councillor replied in agreement, before noting that it was the Lib Dems' "sudden lack of appetite for fighting issues of social justice that made me leave the party". The simple fact is that many within mainstream politics with a previous belief in social justice have remained silent, and this is allowing a small elite to force through policies that will institutionalise inequality in our society.
Mark Murton
Wallington, Surrey

• Our "dear leader" might learn something from the vestry minutes of the parish of Wimbledon in 1750. These record a determination to take action "against all idle persons who, having nothing to maintain themselves, live idly and extravagantly without labour or employment". Cameron might also note that the remedy is that the idle be "sent to the House of Correction for a month of hard labour".
Ed Miller
Oakham, Leicestershire

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