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The curious case of David Bennett and his £53 a week

By Peter Hoskin
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Today’s politics is brought to you by the number 53. That’s the amount, in pounds per week, that Iain Duncan Smith is being challenged to live on – and it came from a Today Programme interview with a market trader, David Bennett, who said that he’s struggling to get by now that his benefits have been cut. Mr Bennett’s incomings, it emerged, include around £50 a week from his stall, £57 in housing benefit, and some money from working tax credits, but when his rent and bills are taken into account he’s left with that £53 a week.

The Daily Mail has already done some digging, and it appears that all is not as it originally seemed. For starters, it looks as though Mr Bennett’s outgoings include bills for “a landline, mobile phone and Sky with broadband”. He claims that this actually leaves him with £23 a month, which really is very little, but that needs to be set against another detail in the Mail story: that Mr Bennett is a “regular gambler”. The paper goes on to note that “even a £10 bet would account for almost half of his monthly disposable income.” Curiouser and curiouser.

But, even putting that Mail story aside, there’s a more fundamental point about the coverage or Mr Bennett’s earnings – and it’s one that’s detailed in a blog-post at The Devil’s Knife. I’d recommend you read the whole thing, but here’s the key passage:

“So Mr Bennett was being slightly economical with the truth; as are the BBC—who have not altered their story as of 10pm today. There is, I think that you will agree, a considerable difference between these three options:

  • having £53 per week to pay for everything—including rent and bills;
  • having £53 per week to pay for everything except rent;
  • having £53 per week left after paying rent and bills.

The petition calls for Iain Duncan-Smith to go for Option 1—that is, to pay for everything with £53 per week.

Whereas the man who inspired the whole thing—David Bennett—actually lives on Option 3, i.e. that he has £53 per week after paying rent and bills (and what, exactly, is covered in ‘bills’, e.g. is travel included?).

These are two very different propositions.”

This isn’t specifically to attack Mr Bennett, who has been thrust into this story after writing a disobliging comment about David Cameron on the BBC website, and who is clearly under some financial pressure. But it is to say that those trying to brand IDS with the number 53 should be clear about what they’re saying and about where it’s coming from.