Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Means Tested Christmas Bonus: A Necessary Provision

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.” (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)

Geoff Southern has lodged a proposition to retain the Christmas bonus for pensioners – but on a means tested basis. That, of course, should have been the way it was retained in the first place, but was not. Deputy Southern needs to think more carefully before putting propositions before the States. Fortunately, at the 11th hour, there is still an opportunity to correct this.

Looking back at the debate which rejected a blanket Christmas bonus, it will be interesting to see how States members now justify rejecting, because a number made statements rejecting it on the grounds that it was given to all, even those who didn’t need it.

Senator Alan Maclean, in particular, rejected the original proposition saying that it was universal and “That is what we need, targeted benefits, getting to those that really need them. “

This was in line with his manifesto promises, which said support for the elderly needed to be targetted:

“Inflation and especially the rising costs of food and fuel are impacting on retired people living on fixed incomes. We must ensure that help is available and targeted in a fair and dignified manner to those in genuine need.”

Meanwhile, Susie Pinel, the Social Security Minister, criticised the original proposition as follows. She said that “Deputy Southern talks about supporting the most vulnerable in our society and protecting the poorest households. This part of his amendment does not achieve the same. The impact is to keep the Christmas bonus for rich and poor alike”

But she went on to say: “I absolutely appreciate that there is a strong sympathy and emotional attachment to the Christmas bonus but I do not believe that the States Assembly would support the introduction of a non-means-tested Christmas bonus today. However, I do understand that there might be support for introducing a means-tested Christmas bonus, perhaps as part of the overall income support scheme, but to be clear, that is not what we are being asked to vote on today.”

And Constable Len Norman, who also rejected the original proposition, noted this: “Surely the people that Senator Cameron was talking about, they need to be helped but use the money that I am getting and people like me are getting and target them, not just spread all this money around to anybody because they have reached a certain age.”

The Constable of St Peter, John Refault noted this:

“I met them for the first time when becoming a Procureur du Bien Public and doing welfare. These people were coming in who were desperate for money in any way just to be able to eat and have some form of heating. I know that we used to go around at Christmas time with what hampers we could make up to their houses and found them coming to the door in the overcoats and relying on a tin or a packet to have as Christmas dinner. It is those people that I feel very strongly for today."

"It is that 20 to 25 per cent of our population who have come to expect that little bonus that just helps them perhaps to buy a little bit of coal to go on the fire at Christmas, to have something slightly better to eat than something out of a baked bean can or a packet. They probably have not even got a microwave in which to heat it". 

"The 75 per cent, Len Norman and myself and many of us in here, we do not need it. We do not want it, we do not need and we should not have it. There has to be another way in which we can be dealing with this.”

These are all people who rejected the proposal on the grounds that it was not targetted.

Now it has been changed to restrict it to the most vulnerable, those who are so accurately depicted in John Refault’s speech, will they vote against keeping in under those terms? Or is all the talk of giving help in a fair and dignified manner just so much smoke and mirrors?

Why is it important for those in need at Christmas, rather than to be used in some other way, as will be probably be argued? Those who don't understand that just don't understand human beings at all. They are economic calculators, devoid of feeling. They should try taking the message home from "A Christmas Carol". It is a time when want is keenly felt.

To lose the money in welfare mechanisms which supposedly will benefit the poor better is missing the point. We don't know how much that might help those in need; we do know that a bonus will bring them something palpably sold that will definitely improve their lives. That it may not be so much spread across the year is also to miss the point. Do States members spread their own Christmas expenses across 12 months? Of course not.

Perhaps they should go out into the streets and flats, and speak to a few pensioners in need, and ask them what they really want, rather than just pontificating from on high in a rather patronising manner. Why is Christmas more important. If they honestly don't know that, they should not be in charge of other people's welfare.

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

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