Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Welfare State makes me proud to be human - so why are ‘Benefits’ being used as a weapon against the poor?

There’s not much that makes me proud to be human, but the Welfare State was Britain’s finest creation, as compassionate and civilised a route as any society might hope to choose.

Clement Attlee's 1945 Labour government went to war on what the Beveridge Report called ‘The Five Giant Evils’ of squalor; ignorance; want; idleness and disease. They introduced laws to provide for the people "from the cradle to the grave”.

Nobody ever need be homeless, hungry, or uneducated. Why you fell ill, you were cared for. Wonderful.

(Sorry, colyoomistas - just have to pause here and say ‘Health, housing and education. Health, housing and education. Health, housing and education.’ for the umpteenth time in my life. Write it off as a nervous tic, a Socialist Obsessive Compulsive flicking his moral light switch three times, to make himself feel better.)

There was no need for Communism. Give everyone a safe, informed and healthy start, then let the human race rip. We’ll all go off in different directions, but we’ll live without fear. Well, we would, but the rich like to hold on to their riches, and the Tories turned our right of support into a privilege.

Now Cameron's Conservatives are throwing lumps of bloody red meat to the wolves baying for rioters’ blood. If you riot, your family loses its benefits. If you play truant from school, your family lose their council house. That’ll bloody show the scum, eh chaps! Can’t sit back and let the anarchists control the streets, what!

Quite apart from the simple fact that hundreds of middle class rioters and truants have families with neither benefits nor council houses to lose, there’s an elephant in the room: the real cause of the riots, which was simply rampant materialism.

These kids have grown up in a society where stuff counts and to be a face, a hit on the street, you need the bestest most superlative hyperbolic all-new must-have stuff at all times. Come the recession, come the heinous Conservative cuts, and the kids ain’t getting their stuff.

This week at their party conference, the Tories blamed the riots on poor parenting and ‘Benefit Culture’, but ironically it was the very same acquisitional Capitalist society that the Conservatives have always encouraged which drove those angry young people to steal trainers and TVs, and all the other stuff they can’t afford.

And what of this ‘Benefit Culture’? The only people who say how easy it is to live on the dole in England are those who never have. Over here in Ireland the dole is set at €188 a week, but in the UK you get £65, and still politicians talk of benefit culture. It drives me crazy. Yes, of course, there are out there some few professionals who screw the system for every penny they can get, but mostly it’s just poor decent people trying desperately to keep their heads above water.

Those who talk of ‘Benefit Culture’ tell their researchers to look up how much you can get with a family of four on full housing benefit, full family credit and all the other benefits they can find, and then come out with absurd stories about how the poor are living it large on the backs of the middle classes.

What they might not know, and certainly have no desire to find out, is that you might well claim for all that stuff, but you’re a rare person if you actually get it.

Murdoch’s Irish Sunday Times last week ran a front page piece under the headline ‘Welfare Wage €28,000. According to the piece, there’s no point in getting a job for less that €28,000, because you’re better off on the dole. If you have 4 children and are in receipt of every possible available benefit to its highest threshold, that may be the case, but what the journalist doesn’t bother to explain is that the partner of that recipient will only receive a pittance in proportion to the main claimant, who most likely isn’t getting half of it anyway.

Most likely that recipient is sitting on a plastic chair, in a soul-sapping queue, watching the numbers go round, deciding whether it’s the wife or the son who’ll receive no birthday present this year, waiting to be called, and the rich call that ‘Living It Large’? They dare to threaten the poor with the withdrawal of these cash dribbles while they award themselves gold mountains ...oh  ah eeee I’m starting to feel angry.

Calm down calm down. I experienced the UK’s Welfare State system during the Thatcher years, and I’m ready to admit that once, at Shepherd’s Bush Dole office, they made me cry. The Irish attitude is thankfully more respectful of the poor, but when you hear on the news those stats about the numbers claiming benefits, never ever assume the people are actually receiving the money.

This practice of using welfare as a weapon comes, of course, from the USA, and just as when Washington sneezes, London catches a cold, we here in the West of Ireland run the risk of droplet infection.

Let’s hang on to our precious values and never use the most wonderful creation of the almost civilised world as a weapon to beat the least guilty.


Paz said...

Good stuff as usual, but you should see one of the regional offices in Galway County, it speciality is humiliation and stripping you of your dignity.

Charlie Adley said...

Not sometinmg I look forward to. Sounds gruesome. Still think the Englsish punish their own people for being poor much more than the Irish do!