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In Tweets: Comment at the Benefits Debate

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Debate Correspondent Fiona Potigny reports on the most recent DebSoc event, taking to Twitter in search of the finest commentary the audience had to offer.

DebSoc know how to keep it classy: even with the motion “This House believes the benefits system in Britain is too generous”, the debate didn’t collapse into a Hopkins-esque “Big Benefits Row”, or a political face-off, which prompted George Causer to tweet:

As ever, though, the Twitteratti did not let us down. Exeposé Comment is here with a few of our favourites.

  Flattered we were to hear Ruth Smith, Chairman of the Exeter Conservatives Association, applaud our strife, angst and hard efforts to gain a university place. Yet more flattering was that her agreement with the motion was for “you and all in your generation” – oh Ruth, we’re blushing. With this in mind, she denounced those who choose the “comfortable” life of unemployment post-study, a cushy £26,000/year lifestyle choice, which pays better than the starting salary of a teacher, civil servant or nurse.

Naturally, Simon Bowkett, Exeter City Councillor and 2015 Labour Candidate for South Dorset, had something to say about that, dismissing Smith’s claims as a blatant attempt at creating an “us vs. them” atmosphere: we, the ambitious, hardworking students, against the unashamed “scrounger”.

Bowkett’s argument was incredibly well-structured, flowing smoothly through a brief rebuttal of Smith’s argument (notably, her lack of attention to basic subsistence benefits for the sick and elderly); a dismantling of the “myth” that unnecessary unemployment benefit pay-outs caused the economic collapse; and a particularly illuminating comparison with Europe, in which it transpired that the UK ranks 46th place out of 51 assessed countries in benefit “generosity”, with the average benefits package constituting just 18.9% of the average UK wage, compared to the productive Netherlands who offer the substantial sum of 70%. All of the above, earned him a good deal of DebSoc respect.

 

  Next up: Shaun Bailey, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Youth and Crime.

Though the words sadly weren’t immortalised in Tweet form, overheard in the Moot Room were the words: “Is he actually a politician? He’s not an arse”, which some might say is probably one of the highest accolades one can receive from the politically cynical student.

Yes, Shaun Bailey certainly impressed and surprised a good few with his level-headed and “non-mean-spirited” defence of the motion, which lay in stark contrast to that of his partner. His agreement with the motion rooted itself in the definition of the word “generous” within the motion; himself taking it to mean “too easily accessible” and “non-contributory”, a fair analysis indeed, which even left Bowkett nodding along, and prompted him to thank him for his just and “open-minded” approach.

Having lived on benefits himself, he was both conscious of their life-changing impact and wary of their potential to “park people in poverty”, a resulting burden on both the claimant and the taxpayer. As a result, he argued for a rise in wages, and a slash in corporation tax as an incentive for employers to pay more – thinking that particularly captivated two audience members:

 

With these kind of reactions, Best Speaker goes without saying, I’m sure…can’t argue with the fan club. Tom Messere, Author of “The Big Book of Benefits”, was last to take the stand. Embellishing his discourse with fantastically flowery language – the post-war world that gave rise to benefits being described as “grey as the monochrome films of the period”, for example – seemed to be one of his strengths, and certainly injected life into an otherwise bleak landscape of our perceived “benefits culture”. He also mentioned the £16 million of unclaimed benefits from means testing alone, taking this as a jump-off point for a deeper discussion of the issues of means testing, these being predominantly: invasiveness, frequent lack of medical precision, and the artificiality of the supposed “threshold”, one which last year deemed 37% of previous claimants “fit for work” simply by “moving the boundaries”. Questions were probing as always, this time focusing on tax system adjustments as a possible answer, an idea welcomed by both prop and opp; the possibility of a “universal adult benefit” to resolve the issue of stifling bureaucracy; and an assessment of benefits for the elderly. When the issue of bus passes came into the picture, Smith was quick to interject…

 

The best reaction of the evening, however, came as a result of Bowkett’s revelation that basic subsistence benefits for the elderly constitute near 50% of the £54 billion allocated for benefits pay-outs, owing to their increasing longevity. The following leap in logic was likely not what he had in mind, though…


And to the final vote…

 

Fiona Potigny

Did you attend last Friday’s debate? Is this an accurate version of events? Leave a comment below or write to the Comment team at the Exeposé Comment Facebook Group or on Twitter @CommentExepose.

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Exeposé News Editor 2015/16. All about that scoop, with a mega love of all that is culture, current affairs, fashion, feminism, philology… and FOIs. Puns make me very, very happy.

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