Robert Walker is professor of social policy at Oxford University, and is to publish this month a book called "The Shame of Poverty."
In a preview Professor Walker points out that the policy of our politicians of both the largest parties is to demonise the poor. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, routinely speaks of living on benefits as "a lifestyle choice" and is determined to weed out "fraudulent claims." Labour, in its latest attempt to seem as tough as the Tories, bullies the "young jobless [who] must train or be stripped of their benefits."
Professor Walker's conclusion, based on systematic research rather than saloon bar punditry, is that ""the unusually vitriolic language of British politicians, amplified by the media, serves to open a psychological wound that is never allowed to heal." and that "far from being shameless, people in poverty feel humiliation on a daily basis."
The article reminds me of a speaker I heard many years ago in the "non-religious" slot of Radio 4's "Thought for the day." He believed that, beyond the basics, everyone has three psychological needs:
- to know that at least somebody (parent, partner, sibling, friend, offspring?) cares what happens to you;
- to feel that at least somebody, somewhere, has benefited from your having lived;
- to pay your way.
No one wants to be thought a sponger, and certainly nobody chooses that as a life-style, although they may put a brave face on it if circumstances leave them with no other option.
Our politicians, and especially those allegedly on the left, should take note. Liberal Democrats in government seem remarkable quite on this issue.
We and should remember our heritage as the party of Beveridge. We once had the courage to adopt, along with the Greens, the policy of a Citizen's Income. The Citizen's Income Trust explains how it works and how it is affordable. Its advantage would be that, what everyone gets, no one can resent. If some choose to live on that alone, well, that's their choice.