Thursday 5 January 2012

Back to the "undeserving " poor?

I don't pretend to be an expert on the highly complex welfare system, but it seems to me that, in his Guardian article, "Beveridge for this century" Liam Byrne wants the Labour Party to revert to making a distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving"poor. Byrne, shadow Work and Pensions secretary, claims that state help should be based on "something for something" and should reward "those who are desperately trying to do the right thing." He quotes Ed Miliband: "..we (Labour) are on the side of people who work hard and do the right thing."

Well, of course they are, and so is everyone else, but there is in the article no mention of how to differentiate between these virtuous citizens and those who don't meet the criteria, nor what to do about these less virtuous fellow citizens. Will Labour let them (and, more poignantly, their children) starve, leave them to build tree houses in the woods? (Byrne points out that housing benefit costs and "unbelievable" £20bn a year.)

It must have been in the 1960s or thereabouts that either Richard Titmuss or Peter Townsend (I can't remember which, but both were eminent sociologists and experts on welfare) wrote:

When the economic history of this era comes to be written the problem of the skiver will not merit so much as a footnote.

In spite of this, then as now we let the mistaken concept that vast hordes are ripping off the system and undeservedly getting "something for nothing" dictate our welfare policy, to the detriment of the quality of our civilisation.

Some years ago I heard a Radio 4 "Thought for the Day" speaker claim that, on top of the basic physical needs of security, shelter, warmth and food, all of us have three basic psychological needs:

-to know that somebody, somewhere, cares what happens to us;
-to feel that somebody, somewhere, has benefited from our existence;
-to pay our way.

All three of these make sense to me. In the context of welfare it is the third that is relevant. I cannot believe that there are many who are comfortable with being permanent spongers, either on their families, their friends or the state. Of course there are some, but we all have our pride and put a brave face on things when we are forced to accept welfare, and may make up boastful stories rather than admit that we can't find a niche in society which enables us to support ourselves. We mustn't let this minority and their self-justifying fictions wag the welfare dog.

The solution to the problem of these "undeserving poor" is to give to us all a Citizens' Income, as the Green Party has advocated and which the Liberal Democrats supported until we got cold feet. A Citizens' Income is received as or right, "deserved" because we are citizens. Those who chose to live on this very minimum income are welcome to do so and good luck to them.

Much better for Labour to adopt a visionary policy such as this rather than revert to a discredited and irrelevant Victorian concept

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