Doubt of the Benefit

The issue of benefits remains contentious. Whether or not this is Mr Cameron trying claw the initiative back from Mr Miliband by addressing an issue that elicits much passion, the matter requires some scrutiny. Is it a case of ‘the poor and the undeserving poor’? This article suggests that excessive state benefits perpetuate more problems than they offer solutions.

Frequently, a neighbour of mine reminds me of how hard it is living on benefits. She tells me of the bureaucratic struggle she goes through in order to gain these sums – it sounds like a frustrating experience. Her rent, which amounts to several hundred pounds pcm, along with additional housing benefits, are paid for her. Nice though she is, my inner voice has often  retorted ‘imagine how hard it can be to living on no benefits at all!’.

Every claimant’s situation is unique and each person has their case to make, but the overriding impression remains, that however true or false it may be, there now seems little distinction between those who really need benefits and those who have just got used to receiving them. Even in the unlikely event that benefits are properly regulated and that all those being paid these sums are deserving, the perception that this is not the case, even if it is misguided, has been substantial enough to make the issue political reality.

In my previous article (‘Through the Looking Glass‘), I suggested that if Mr Milliband wishes to tackle the issue of immigration, then he must address the matter of benefits. If he is serious about  British workers being afforded the first refusal on jobs, then he must cut the incentives for immigrants to travel to the UK and occupy such positions; equally he must pull the rug of benefits out from beneath those who are using it to furnish a ‘can’t work, won’t work’ attitude. If the argument is that foreign workers are taking British jobs, then it follows that those Britains on long term unemployment benefits seeking work should occupy the jobs undertaken by a great many foreign workers, be it as cleaners, as farm labourers or otherwise. If you are fit to work then you should be compelled to work; if you refuse, your benefits should be cut.

It is no exaggeration to say that the great sums paid in benefits have not enabled social mobility, they have caused social stagnation. For example, a family funded by state benefits begets a generation who  are naturally inclined to be fostered by state funds. Is it any wonder that parents of this ilk feel that once they have had their children, their job is done? That it is then up to the state to educate, cultivate and nourish them? The removal of autonomy and personal responsibility is the sorry realisation of big government and a damning indictment against socialist agendas. Labour’s unprecedented engorgement of this dependency culture was their not-so-subtle means of buying the electorate and furthering these dubious ends.

A bit like the issue of immigration, benefits need proper enforcement to eek out bogus claims and bogus claimants; they require regulation to best serve the people who really need them. Indeed, I would add that benefits are not something operating in isolation, they are enmeshed in a web of economic, social and political factors which may make the proposals below appear simplistic. The moment benefits are paid, the emphasis should be on weaning the claimant off them. This need not be draconian, it should simply emphasise that unless one faces exceptional circumstances, benefits are a temporary stay.

Benefits have not broken down distinctions between the poor and the undeserving poor, they have reaffirmed the notion. Since equivocation is the undoing of clarity, I would propose:

  • Benefits should be accessible to those in genuine need
  • Benefits should be advertised as a last resort and a short term solution, not a long term entitlement
  • Long term unemployed on benefits must be compelled to work or face having their payments withdrawn
  • Foreign immigrants should not be entitled to any state benefits until they have worked in the UK for at least five years
  • Where child benefit is paid, it should be paid for two children at most to discourage the baby-benefits-boom that furnishes the idle

To enact a dramatic paraphrase, a culture is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within [1]. A point has been reached whereby even the slightest curtailment of excess is seen as an infringement upon a perceived right or entitlement, so it is little wonder that the mention of cutting benefits is the cause of wails of anguish and indignation, especially from the left.

Excessive benefits are one of the root causes of a culture of dependency, of permissiveness and of the ceding of individual irresponsibility. Governments owe a duty of care to the people, but in recent times what we have seen is mollycoddling; excessive state intervention rather than occasional assistance smothers rather than stimulates the growth of any nation. Economically it is unaffordable; morally, it is unsustainable.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012

Notes

  • 1. Will & Ariel Durant. The Story of Civilization (Vol 3 Caesar And Christ. Epilogue—Why Rome fell). ‘A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within’
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