I guess I'm letting myself get a bit wound up by things in the news in order to get back to writing regularly.
Another problematic BBC News article UK needs to adopt tough US stance on earning welfare - another opinionated assertion posing as a news headline. From the main site, this was linked to as simply Workshy Britons. The article itself neither explains why the UK needs to adopt a tougher stance, nor does it demonstrate that there are any work-shy Britons.
Lawrie Mead, a US academic, visits Liverpool and laments how unemployed people feel entitled to having enough money to stay warm and have something to eat. Some telling sentences are
“One initial surprise was that the city did not appear down-at-heel.”and
“The parents and children I encountered in Anfield seemed to me upbeat and well-organised. The community did not manifest the deeper disarray that one often encounters in poor areas in America.”
Thing is, being unemployed in the UK is a very different thing to being unemployed in the US. People are impoverished, but most people are not made desperate. The UK welfare state has been historically based on the idea that everyone pays into an insurance scheme and when someone does fall on hard times and need to claim from it, they do not have to give up their self-respect. Benefits are relatively generous and things like the National Health Service means that people don't so easily fall through the cracks. The vast majority of people who claim benefits work most of their lives and claim only briefly before returning to work. Just now, there are a lot of hard-working people on benefits because jobs are being lost all the time. These people do not need to be made to earn benefits – they already did. They simply need to be supported until such a time that they can earn a living and recommence paying into the pot
Another reason why impoverished parts of the country aren't so bad as impoverished parts of the US is that we have a minimum wage. It is illegal to employ people for less than £5.93 an hour (for those over 21). So if people are to work for their benefits, they cannot be expected to work more than 11 hours a week. That's just over two hours a day for the highest rate of Job Seekers Allowance.
But the biggest practical problem for getting unemployed people to work for their benefits is that there is no work. If the state had work that needed doing, it would surely employ peopl? . Unless of course the plan is to save the state money by first cutting public sector jobs, then forcing all these newly unemployed folk to work for illegally low pay under the guise of giving the work-shy incentives to work... well, it's a plan, I guess. Mead continues
“More important is the fact that many people still believe in entitlement - this is the idea that you have a right to get benefits if you qualify under the income rules, and you should not have to work for them.”
But you do. As a British citizen, you do have this right. Just as you have a right to claim on your car insurance if you have a bump. Everyone is entitled to claim benefits when they are out of work.
Something that really bugs me about the recent rhetoric around benefits is that there are lots of different ways in which the welfare state can work. There are lots of ways in which things could be reformed, made fairer, where we could guard against fraud and abuse and so on. There are even some ways in which costs could be cut.
But the principles underlining the benefits system are fundamentally fair. It is not a charity pot. The people of this country are not divided into hard-working tax-payers and work-shy layabouts. And just now, when more and more tax-payers are needing to claim from the pot – our pot - this rhetoric is particularly insulting.