Big Issue founder Bird under fire for proposing benefit cuts

Big Issue founder Bird under fire for proposing benefit cuts
Raymond Duncan, TfN
16.07.10

An outspoken social campaigner who founded a magazine sold by homeless people has called on the Prime Minister to cut state benefits.

John Bird, founder of homeless charity The Big Issue, urged David Cameron to reform Britain’s benefits system which he believes traps the worst-off in poverty while fuelling addictions.

Bird believes that before they receive benefits the unemployed should be involved in community worlc, and that this would help them back into worlc.

However his idea that people must worlc before they can receive benefits was condemned by Citizens Advice Scotland, the umbrella body supporting Scottish citizens advice bureaux, as "beset with flaws."

And the Poverty Alliance, the anti-poverty network in Scotland which unites, among others, charities and community groups, said the assumption that people living on low incomes did not want to worlc was "simply discrimination" .

Bird maintained society had made it possible for too many to live on benefits without helping themselves gain the experience and confidence needed to find worlc.

‘"That’s not only damaging to individuals, it’s damaging to society."

He added: "The drug crime industry would be lost without the support of the welfare state.

”The drinks industry and fast food outlets such as Macdonalds would be hard hit without the govemment pounds being placed in their tills by benefit claimants."

As would "existing government structures that misguidedly make life easier for the poor entrench poverty, exclusion and hopelessness."

He maintained it was more expensive to keep a child in care than to send them to Eton.

The Prime Minister "has to move fast: a new government has only six months of goodwill."

Bird has been working on a book The Benefit Exit Handbook examining how pe0ple on long-term benefits have got off welfare.

The common thread, he said, appeared to be volunteering.

"But most people don’t know how to do that," he said. "So they moulder away in front of the telly and get stuck on benefits.

”There’s no compulsion to get educated, to help society, no contract between the recipients of benefits and us, the people paying that tax."

However, Bird’s comments have provoked anger amongst poverty campaigners.

Matt Lancashire, spokesman for Citizens Advice Scotland, said this was a time of real uncertainty for people on low incomes.

"Changes to the benefits system like the Employment and Support Allowance are beginning to take effect and are not worlcing out as well as planned.

"We support the idea people should worlc where they can worlc. But the idea they must worlc before they can receive benefits is beset with flaws.

"For one thing the worlc has to be available and it has to be appropriate."

Robin Tennant, fieldwork manager at the Poverty Alliance, said: "In the midst of a recession where many people are losing their jobs and where the ratio of vacancies to applicants is even higher than usual, people are more than ever in need of a safety net to protect them from unemployment.

"Assumptions that people living on low incomes do not want to worlc is simply discrimination and adds nothing to developing support and help for people to access employment.

"Mr Bird should be condemning the low wages that prevent people from accessing employment and questioning the non existent "contract" between the taxpayer and the banks who are continuing to pay bonuses whilst the most vulnerable people in society bear the brunt of their mistakes".