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...a "tax on the stupid". It's easy to see how it preys on the poor...

This is a sentiment I hear often. Yet whenever one suggests that "stupid" might apply to more than just the lottery and might even be a cause of "poor", one is treated as an evil and unsympathetic person. It's a dichotomy I can't wrap my head around.

A question: do the poor actually live in a precarious situation in the UK? I was under the impression that the UK has extremely generous handouts which made working more or less optional for many people. (This is a genuine question, I don't know how the welfare state works in the UK beyond vague American stereotypes.)




The UK post-Thatcher doesn't have hugely generous social welfare, though it has some benefits, and health-care is covered.

The main benefit you can receive indefinitely if you're poor is a housing allowance, which is equivalent to your full rent (if you have low enough income/assets), capped at the 30th-percentile rate for rents in your area, for an accomodation suitable for your family size. For a single person, that maxes out at $400-600/mo, depending on what part of the UK you live in.

For cash benefits, there is a jobseeker's allowance, which you can receive if you show you're actively seeking work, participate in some mandatory programs to do so, and have a mandatory progress meeting every two weeks (and meet some other miscellaneous requirements that keep getting added). That has a max of about $100/wk for a single person.

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The UK post-Thatcher doesn't have hugely generous social welfare

Are you serious? Welfare + healthcare + pensions = 7.6 * defence in 2012[1]. People say cut Trident, well Trident is a rounding error. You could pay for it out of the NHS IT budget alone!

[1] http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk

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Wow, Christopher Chantrill is a powerhouse:

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/

http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk

http://usgovernmentrevenue.com

http://www.usfederalbailout.com/program_details

Any politician truly interested in transparent government will pay this guy a salary (job description: "same thing you always did, but more"), and maybe even give him a few hacker underlings and a web designer. His sites are ugly but awesome.

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From your description, it sounds as if non-workers in the UK live a reasonably stable lifestyle. Their basic needs (shelter, food and healthcare) are met. Is food sufficiently expensive that $100/week is not enough for one person? Or is there a significant danger that one will lose access to the benefits you describe and actually lose access to food, shelter or medicine?

From your description, it sounds as if motters' description of "one highly precarious situation to the next" was incorrect.

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There is a correlation between child rearing and benefits-seeking (at least in the UK). Your costs appear to go up exponentially in this instance, however the benefits don't always follow.

Also, some parts of the UK are significantly cheaper than others -- i'd argue that you might be successful keeping yourself stable in the north or middle of england, but you'd struggle in london or it's outer reaches.

One more thing- people don't 'opt' to be in this situation usually, so they are quite likely to enter into it with a reasonable chunk of unsecured loans and such that'll suck up the money.

So, sure. You can be a college grad who's not yet got anything but student loans, and happily enter in to benefits to support you whilst you build something interesting... But as soon as you need to go anywhere or spend any money to further your goals, you might find yourself pretty stuck.

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I had a one bedroom rented flat and claimed Housing + Council Tax + Job Seekers' benefits for 4 months. There was little pressure and it was quite relaxing.

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Well I could give anecdotal accounts about the precarious nature of life on "sink estates". Precarious means that you have no savings, if you're working there is perpetual job uncertainty but in most cases in these areas there is what's known as "generational unemployment". The chances of becoming the victim of crime are high and loan sharks/black marketeers/organised crime is endemic with little or no effective policing.

Of course there are many areas of the UK which are not poor and have a very high standard of living by international standards, so it's certainly not true that everyone lives like this.

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Precarious means that you have no savings, if you're working there is perpetual job uncertainty but in most cases in these areas there is what's known as "generational unemployment".

Ok, I think I understand what you mean by "precarious". It sounds as if the poor have a stable level of consumption (or at least a stable minimum level of consumption), but the specific manner in which that consumption is paid for can vary significantly - one week benefits, the next week employment. Also a high risk of crime, due to inadequate police protection. Is that a fair assessment of what you mean by "precarious"?

Now for some reason, the weekly variability of income and the risk of crime causes the poor to value an infinitesimal chance at large sums of money a more strongly than immediate and certain consumption. Assuming the poor are being rational here (rather than simply innumerate), this suggests that the poor assign a very low value to additional consumption, or perhaps a very high value to purely psychological benefits.

I have a suggestion for improving the lot of the poor in the UK: your government should sell more lottery tickets and use the profits to pay for additional policing. Perhaps you should also try to encourage microfinance - in the US, nonviolent microfinance outfits offering "payday loans" have pretty much pushed loansharks out of the market.

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>I have a suggestion for improving the lot of the poor in the UK: your government should sell more lottery tickets and use the profits to pay for additional policing.

The government were given the chance to have the lottery run for free by a group headed by Richard Branson - they chose instead to maintain the current incumbent who take 5% of gross takings ... that could have paid off some tax bills ...

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I've seen life in a fair amount of detail in some of the poorest areas of cities in the north of England. In these areas life is very precarious indeed, crime and vandalism are a daily phenomena and educational opportunities are minimal. Looking at how kids in these areas are raised its very easy to see how they have a systematic disadvantage when they become adults and compete with the rest of society.

The idea of a "tax on the stupid" comes from the point of view of people living comfortably. If most of your basic needs are met then gambling money on the lottery seems like irrational behavior (throwing your money away when you only have a small income to begin with).

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If most of your basic needs are met then...

From _delirium's comment, it sounds as the poor do have most/all of their basic needs met, though he doesn't address policing. Piecing together your comment and his, it sounds as if the only basic need the poor have which is not met is adequate police protection. Is this correct?

Your sentence ending in "comes from the point of view of people living comfortably" implies that from the point of view of someone else (presumably a person living in a crime-ridden neighborhood), the lottery is not irrational. Could you explain why, if that is indeed what you meant?

(Note: I actually do live in a crime-ridden neighborhood. But I'm also a 6'6" man who looks like he has nothing worth stealing, and I've only been the victim of a single, unsuccessful, attempt at robbery. So my point of view might be atypical.)

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There are other things unmet: for example, support in career progression, clothing, etc. Again, this is fine for a short period (as it was designed for) but imagine living for a year on benefits, where there simply isn't any budget for new shoes, or any kind of enrichment opportunities.

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some benefits for disability and other things are moderately generous by European standards, which is pretty generous by US standards. They are being cut though. The normal unemployment benefit is about £63 a week. Bear in mind that the UK is a very expensive place to live. Housing is in short supply. VAT is 20% on almost everything and petrol/gas is £1.30 a litre or nearly $10 a gallon.

Most people are not "precarious" unless they have a lot of debt or a small debt with a loanshark. Crime makes things bad, not money as such. By the standards of the 50's or even the 70's, basics and luxuries are affordable as long as you don't waste it.

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Bear in mind that the UK is a very expensive place to live

It's all relative. Coming from Ireland (and the Euro) the UK seems cheap. That's mostly the sterling/euro conversion rates in my favour. For example a pint of drink costs about €5 (about £4.50). The difference is so noticable that many people drive to Northern Ireland to do large shopping trips to get cheaper goods.

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do the poor actually live in a precarious situation in the UK?

Ummm yes. If you have no money or no job, you will not be living well. The steryotype is that you'll be living in a grimey 1960s style concrete block of flats with not a lot of money.

Compared the USA, "free healthcare" would be seen as generous, however not in the EU.

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... If you consider "not living well" to be a house, Sky TV, 40 fags a day, as much lager as you can drink and as many takeaways as you can eat. Admittedly their designer clothes will be fakes and their gold jewellery will be 9-carat.

No-one in the UK is actually poor.

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