The state of our welfare system has been subject to renewed debate this month, following the airing of a programme, Benefits Street, by Channel 4.
We do need to have a rational, informed debate about how to improve our welfare system, but the editorial line taken by supposedly factual ‘reality TV’ adds very little to that.
I do believe that those of us afforded a public platform – be that as politicians or in the media – have a responsibility to the people whose lives we discuss and I suspect this programme will have only fed existing prejudices and further stigmatised people needing the support of our benefits system.
It is right that society helps and protects hardworking people who fall on tough times, especially when the economy tanks as it did five years ago.
There is no shame in accepting that support, and nothing inferior about those who need to.
That’s why our welfare system is essential, but also why it’s important that we make sure it works properly.
Benefits should enable people to get on in life, and not act as a barrier stopping them from going back to work.
In government, the Liberal Democrats have raised the point at which you start paying income tax to £10,000, and are now campaigning to raise it further so that no one on the minimum wage pays any income tax.
That helps to make sure that work pays more than welfare.
As unemployment falls, I hope the Low Pay Commission will be able to raise the minimum wage towards a genuinely living wage.
Of course, the best way to help people off benefits and into work is to make sure there are jobs for them to get.
Figures out this week show that new jobs created locally have helped bring the number of jobseekers in the Chippenham constituency down below 1,000 for the first time in more than five years.
I want to see it fall further, and the Liberal Democrats are now working with businesses to create another million jobs for a stronger economy.
Having returned to Parliament following my paternity leave, my next three constituency surgeries will be at my office in Avonbridge House, Chippenham, tomorrow, 1pm-2.30pm; at Melksham Town Hall on Saturday, 10am-11.30am; and at Bradford on Avon Library on Saturday, February 1, 1pm-2.30pm.