Thursday, 10 January 2013

The poor we have with us always.

Commentators are pointing out that what we used to call "social security" we now refer to by what they regard as the more pejorative term of "welfare."   I personally find little difference in the two terms.  Welfare, in the sense of "well being"  can be a very positive term, and work itself brings a good deal of welfare: a sense of purpose, of  self worth, usually social contacts, a pattern to the day,  and, above all, an income.

Like any other terms, both "on the social" and "on welfare" can be used pejoratively if the speaker or writer intends, and certainly the Daily Mail, Daily Express and I suspect, The Times and Telegraph hack away at this implication until the association with malingering becomes accepted .  But in my childhood in the 1940s and 50s it was still quite common for those  "thrown on the sick" or receiving a pension to talk of going to the Post Office to collect their "Lloyd George", and neither the speakers not their hearers thought this was in any way demeaning.  Rather they honoured the founder of the system, and I believe there was a hint of pride in belonging to a society that was civilised enough to provide for the sick, aged, disabled or those between jobs.

The Tory attack on the social security system will, I believe and hope, rebound on them, because it has generated a  discussion which has unearthed a lot of rather surprising facts which should dispel much misplaced prejudice.

The following have been picked up at random by me from the papers and casual listening to the radio:

  • social security may be the largest item of government expenditure, but nearly two thirds of it is on pensions (received, and paid for over a long working life, by people like me.)
  • only 3% of the expenditure is for unemployment benefit (now rather grandly called "Job Seekers' Allowance")
  • fraud accounts for only 0.7% of expenditure.  This, to be fair, amounts to around £1billion, which is a lot of mony, but not nearly as much as the estimated £70 billion lost annually in tax evasion.
  • in the past, social security payments have been increased at the same rate as prices, whereas wages have risen faster than prices.  Consequently, whereas unemployment benefit used to be approximately one fifth of the average wage, it is now barely one tenth (actually 11%).  Hence the argument that benefits should not rise faster than wages is "specious" (a useful work I picked up from a caller to "You and Yours.")
  • £71 a week, the current rate of JSA, is not a lot on which to live the Life of Riley.
Both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are to be congratulated on dissociating Liberal Democrats from the Tory (and Labour!) division of the working population  into "strivers" and "skivers," but I should like to see us distance ourselves completely from this attack on the welfare state we founded, and on those who suffer most from the the economic crisis caused, not by the unemployed, but by men (mostly) in full-time employment and on salaries beyond what for most of us are the dreams of avarice.


  1. Osborne and the Tories are going back to the old and the new poor laws, with the early modern stress on 'sturdy beggars' and the undeserving poor and the Victorian concept of utility and 'less eligibility' (the workhouuse conditions should be less eligible than those of the poorest outdoor worker in order to deter entry to them). Like the Bourbons the Tories have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. . .

  2. Post Script.I've written above that I hadn't really spotted the difference in tone between "social security" and "welfare."

    Other examples of subtle and not so subtle differences are now being publicised:

    1. The poor live in "social housing" but the well off in "residential properties".

    2. The poor get "benefits" but the rich (tax) "relief."

    3. Trade unions have "old fashioned practices" but parliament has "historic traditions."

    I'd be grateful for additions to this lexicon.

  3. Here's a few more:

    4. The poor live in flats but the rich in apartments.

    5. Labourers receive wages, professionals salaries, an odd assortment of virtuous professionals (clergy, teachers in some of the the posher public schools) stipends and top executives get, astonishingly, compensation.