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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Pity poor Karla Whiffen

I suppose when you're a not outstandingly bright young woman on benefits and a nice friendly journalist comes calling the dangers are unforeseen. I suspect poor Karla Whiffen little guessed that when the 'Mail' featured her in a piece on affordable housing it would juxtapose her picture with photographs of a show flat considerably larger and more luxurious than her studio, captioned 'fit for a king - the kitchen and diner' and 'touch of class - the bedroom', with the suggestion for the undiscerning reader that these were pictures of Karla's flat. It is a bread and butter 'Mail' piece, written to draw the opprobrium of the nation down on the head of some helpless ninny.

And ninny she certainly is. The paper quotes her as saying "When I fell pregnant I put my name down on the council housing list then eight months later this place came up. I pay £75 a week using my housing benefit which is very good. I know as Millie gets bigger we'll need to move but I don't want to - I love it here and feel very lucky."

And here we have in two sentences the pernicious effects of the victim culture and the rights culture; to 'fall' pregnant as though one is the victim of an accident of circumstances wholly outside one's control, and the delusion that Karla is actually paying anything at all. Which of course she isn't. Not a penny. And not a penny in Council Tax. And so the Mail, which believes being unemployed is morally reprehensible and that single mums should be miserable, has a perfect story. But it really isn't Karla's fault, and she is undeserving of the bile that will doubtless accrue around her.

If Karla had to knock on the doors of all her neighbours in their £0.5m flats each week and ask each for a quid instead of being paid by the anonymous 'social' she may be more aware of whose money she's spending, but Leviathan has disconnected the direct financial relationship between taxpayer and welfare recipient. And the capital cost of her flat has been paid for by all those in the development whose purchase price has been inflated by the developer to pay for the compulsory 'social' housing; a proportion of the monthly mortgage payment that each of them makes will be paying for Karla's flat. This is the price of planning consent, which is paid by ordinary working homeowners not by fat developers in stove-pipe hats. It's just another stealth tax.

If some compassionate person actually sat Karla down and explained all this to her kindly and carefully I'm sure she's a decent young woman and would then regard her neighbours a little differently. She might even feel a responsibility to be less of a drain on their wallets and purses. Frank Field favours devolving welfare payment decisions right down to local level as far as they can go, and this is good. If a more direct link was made between taxes paid locally and welfare payments it would be even better.

The Mail's readers may fulminate against Karla, but she's really the wrong target by a million miles.

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