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On Benefits, Better Off: British Welfare System Enables Addicts and Emboldens the Non-Working Class

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On a BBC London early-morning radio talk show that I listened to this morning, the ever touchy subject of junkies and deadbeats was brought up. It's all people phoned in to chat about.

The subject commenced when a caller, already well known to the host, phoned in an attempt to remind everyone what a good person he really is despite having watched violent films (such as Reservoir Dogs) all day long while smoking crack. For those not familiar with the caller, to be known for the purposes of this article as J., he lives alone with only a dog for company. He spends just about all of his welfare money on dog food, drink and drugs. He hardly eats, just boozes from sunrise to long after sundown. He hasn't washed in ages. He just sits in his garden, drunk and stoned, staring at the sky. About the only thing that could be said in his favor is that he's refreshingly honest about the state of himself.

Some callers rightly expressed outrage. While noting their desire that J. eventually clean himself up, physically, emotionally and spiritually, they wondered why his behavior is tolerated by society. One caller said with indignation, "He has a garden? I work my behind off and have to share a second-floor flat with two other people. I don't have a garden." Another asserted that J., and all others like him, are a drain on the system, that welfare should be used only for those with serious illnesses who are genuinely not able to work.

On the flip side, you also had the predictable contingent of the clueless who called to express their love and condolensces to J., wishing him well and saying that no-one had any right to judge him. In a Britain that has seriously lost its way, it's no surprise to hear some air-headed people defending this J.'s idle and drugged-out way of life. As far as they are concerned, it's J.'s valid choice to waste away on drugs and drink courtesy of the taxpayer — under a roof that's also provided by the taxpayer.

Think about that. In a society where we are encouraged to think of ourselves as our brother's keeper, liberals think it's a sign of enlightenment that we should let people destroy themselves.

You can play the blame game all you want, but it all comes down to one thing: If the benefits we pay to such people were reduced to just below the minimum wage, the addicts and the idle would be much more encouraged to sober up, find work and remain clean. But drug addicts are not the only story. They're just playing the system; and they are just one part of a bigger malaise — the entitlement culture.

The system certainly doesn't do much to discourage it. As it stands, people living on welfare are actually better off than people working a minimum wage job. Billions of pounds of public expenditure are spent on benefits for people assumed to be effectively incapacitated by mental or physical illness. In reality, the number of people who truly need the helping hand are a fraction of those who claim welfare to live a lifestyle that would be unsustainable if they worked.

Welfare is being handed out to layabouts who claim that they are too fat or depressed to work. The Department for Work and Pensions has a list of 480 illnesses and complaints under which someone could claim incapacity benefit. A bad case of acne is all you need in order for the Government to feel sorry for you and redistribute the working man's "wealth" your way.

When President Clinton signed into law welfare reform in the States in 1996 (The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act), the liberal doom-and-gloom predictions of a sharp rise in homelessness did not happen. Americans who formerly fed at the public trough shaped up, got jobs and survived. Homelessness and destitution did not dramatically rise, but welfare rolls were significantly cut, by as much as 57 percent. Labour was and still is content to follow the U.S. lead on foreign policy, so why aren't they making good use of lessons learned from American domestic policy?

Indeed, the Government's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is still committed to "cohesive and prosperous society with fairness and social justice for all at its core" that will enable Britain to "combat property." The socialist language tells you all you need to know about how seriously they take welfare reform.

The DWP has crafted a report entitled "In Work, Better Off" which is truly risible when you consider that people on welfare are obviously not poor — go into any layabout's home and I guarantee that you will see LCD televisions with cable, state-of-the-art hi-fi systems, and the latest make of mobile phones. Again, what incentive for work do these people have when they receive an allowance that's worth more than an entry-level job salary and there is no time limit on how long they can claim said allowance?

I am not optimistic about the prospects for a shake-up in the system. Welfare "reform" in Britain is basically a revolving door. Even when an able-bodied welfare recipient does land work, there's a 40 percent chance he or she will land right back on benefits. This latest round of welfare measures is the 29th time such a package was announced by the Government since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

Every nation, every society, needs a welfare system to take care of those genuinely in need. I have no problem helping those who are incapable of helping themselves, through no fault of their own.

What I do have a problem with is that idea that, twenty years from now, working
people in Britain may well be a minority. When that day comes, the Government will still be stealing from those of us who work to fund the lifestyles and habits of the non-working class. Is that social justice?

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About Nightdragon

  • bliffle

    I’m not sure what your point is here. Are you suggesting some kind of ‘morals’ should apply? That scorn and deprivation should drive slackers out to do work, without, heaven forfend, turning to crime?

    Seems to me that that’s backwards. As productivity maintains it’s inexorable climb upwards we must adapt, in the future, to adjust to an overabundance of production. That means either reduce total work hours of a society or increase consumption. Well, we’ve been increasing consumption for 60 years now and most people are sick of it, literally as well as figuratively as their waistbands increase and they contract diabetes.

    Your slacker J. may represent the heroic non-consumer of the future who has mastered one of the arts of reducing consumption. I’m sure he doesn’t trade in his SUV every three years for a newer bigger one, a sure sign of moral decay.

    In the past, when goods were scarce and life was hard, one was considered to be a winner to be able to stop working and relax. It was considered ‘earned’ leisure. People who had to work every day were thought of as oppressed and miserable.

    But in the economy of the future, where goods are produced by machines requiring little human attention, we may have to force people to stop working. Only the privileged will be able to work. They will be considered self-indulgent. The truly virtuous will abstain from work and pursue simple pasttimes like staring at the sky, consuming cheap drugs, etc.

    Such are the conundrums that the study of ‘morals’ lead us into.

  • STM

    For all Manning’s pontificating, there is one point here that is not in dispute.

    Poverty and street crime in Britain, while far from perfect, is at far lower levels overall than it is in the US.

    The reason: people in lower socio-economic groupings don’t have to commit crime just to survive or put food on the table. They are also housed, and tend to have more disposable income per family because of Britain’s extensive social justice legislation.

    I have reservations too about the extent of reliance on welfare sometimes evident in Britain, and the courts’ soft approach to drugs as mainly a health issue rather than a problem of personal responsibility, but at least it goes some way to breaking the kind of cycle of poverty and crime that gives the United States the highest rate of homicide and street crime of any developed western nation.

    Mark needs to get out a bit more, and maybe travel to the suburbs of Washington and south-central Los Angeles for a really eye-opening comparison.

    There are very few areas of London where I’d feel unsafe walking at night (note I didn’t say none, while also using commonsense in regard to things like pub closing times). That is not the case in parts of Washington, New York or Los Angeles, and many other US cities as well.

  • Todd

    LOL. Keep on working bliffle millions of slackers and drug addicts depend on you.

  • Clavos

    “The reason: people in lower socio-economic groupings don’t have to commit crime just to survive or put food on the table.”

    Most of ’em don’t have to here, either, mate.

    A significant portion of the crime committed here occurs so the perps can put drugs in their veins/lungs.

    Our welfare/housing assistance/food stamp programs are pretty comprehensive; ask Doc.

  • Doug Hunter

    There is a somewhat decent part of the population who, for one reason or another, are unable to regularly contribute to society in any meaningful way. I believe we owe these people the basics: food, clothing, and shelter. I’d rather do that than have a wholesale riot or have these people breaking in and taking my stuff by force.

    My concept of the basics include a cot, some soup, and secondhand clothing, and (I’m going to piss some people off here) a little bit of basic medical care so you’re not dying annoyingly in the street.

    If you want more than that from society I suggest you contribute something to it, for this action we give you a chit you can redeem for a good or service from another of your fellow humans of roughly equal value. We civilized folks call it money.

    Remember kids, having money is not a sign that you should do something good for society, it’s a sign that you already have!

  • Mark Edward Manning

    Stan, New York City, while I’m no great fan of the place being from Boston as I am, has been safer than London for at least a decade now. There are a lot of places in London I wouldn’t dare walk around at night, and I’m no coward. I once took a run along the Camberwell high street in the early morning hours — I honestly think that’s the fastest two miles I’ve ever run.
    Honestly, Stan, when was the last time you’ve been to London for a significant amount of time? Are you really saying that you’d walk anywhere at night around London — or perhaps Manchester, Liverpool or Nottingham?
    Every major city has its problems and, you’re right, inner cities do seem especially bad in the U.S. Even Boston, remarkably safe as it is, has areas I refuse to go to. But the no-go areas there are a lot smaller than here and they’re geographically compact. Here, they’re peppered liberally across the entirety of the Greater London area. You really have to know this city well to know which areas to stay out of.

  • Mark Edward Manning

    Bliffle, while I entirely agree with you on the subject of consumerism, why should we let people destroy themselves, lay around day after day or have 10 children on public expenditure? I pay my taxes for infrastructure, police (useless here as they are) and welfare for those genuinely in need?
    How immoral is it to let society take care of you while you contribute absolutely nothing to that society?
    What’s wrong with working hard but eschewing destructive consumerism at once?

  • STM

    OK, Mark, you’ve busted me … it has been a while since I actually stayed in London for more than a few days, and quite a while since I’ve been in NYC at all. It felt a bit dodgy last time in some places, but in fact wasn’t that bad. I’ve actually felt worse in one bad inner-suburb of Sydney. I guess it’s the old story: stay away from the places where there’s a risk.

    I do watch the British reality cop shows, though, and you’re right … Britain has become a more lawless place than it was. Road Wars is a good show, as is Murder Blues, about the homicide squad task force from Scotland Yard investigating the London black-on-black gang wars.

    Road Wars is interesting: Kind of like the US show Cops, with pommy accents and shitty weather.

    But honestly, way back when, I didn’t even feel alarmed in Brixton when it was a bit rugged. Maybe because I’m a foreigner, don’t know any better, and I’m walking down the street nodding at everyone and saying “G’day”.

  • STM

    Some of those pommy welfare recipients with big families would love Australia.

    You get $5000 (yes, 5 grand) straight up, tax free, just for having a baby here. It’s universal, and not means-tested – and of course, it’s open to abuse.

  • Mark Edward Manning

    Amazing, isn’t it, Stan? $5,000 just for dropping a kid! I’m sorry to hear that Australia has the same whacked policy as Britain and the U.S. do. Considering how population is getting out of control, we should be paying people not to have kids. Yet all three of our nations provide the incentive to breed like rabbits and we don’t even demand stable families from these breeders.
    When I first came here, I too was just taken in by being in another country, I didn’t know any better and said “hi” to everyone. It was exciting. Now, after eight years here, I’ve become very British in my habits and outlook — I keep myself well to myself. I don’t even make eye contact with strangers, if I can help it. I find life here is just so much easier that way.

  • Dr Dreadful

    There’s nowhere in London I’d fear to tread, especially in search of something to eat at 11.30 p.m. having not had a chance to grab dinner earlier before performing in a show. This is what happened to me when I visited home in December. If one has grown up in the Smoke, one knows that the only places still open to grab a bite at that hour (a) serve kebabs and (b) tend to be located in the shabbiest parts of town. So that is where you go…

    I must admit to having been somewhat shocked at the dearth of nosh opportunities. I’m spoiled by America, where one can rely on at least a Taco Bell and a Denny’s being open no matter what insane time it is, and was ill-prepared for life back in the real world.

    Speaking of what insane time it is, it’s 2 a.m. over here and I have a few more things to say about the issues raised in the article and thread, but am currently more interested in perusing the insides of my eyelids. I’ll get back to you all.

    Enjoy the FA Cup semis, Mark. I’m cheering for Cardiff. G’night.

  • STM

    Mark, our situation is a bit different population-wise. One in four Australians was born somewhere else, and I think the government is simply encouraging people to populate. They figure the money just about goes to cover the cost of having a child, which is true, but in my view, it should be means tested. Many companies also offer extended paid maternity and paternity leave.

    I earn pretty big bucks, and I’d get it too. One of my mates had a “late” baby recently, and they used the money to have a holiday later as like us, they really don’t need the dough. It’s always handy, but still …

    The $5000 is about $4700 US, or roughly in the region of 2500 pounds sterling (not sure of the exact current exchange rate).

    However, the government, to its credit is at least quarantining it and replacing it with bill-and-food vouchers for people who are not seen to be good parents – those with active drug and alcohol problems, for instance – so the money actually goes to benefit the child not mum or dad’s arm.

    I think it’s a good idea in Australia’s situation (only 20 million of us), but I hope the govt does stay on top of administering it so that it’s not abused.

  • Mark Edward Manning

    Dr. D: Well, I’m a vegetarian, so I think kebabs and fried chicken are disgusting. Though I can’t blame people for eating that “food” as it’s cheap and healthier options seem to cost a package.
    Yep, in the States, you can always depend on an IHOP. Where I work (in Bromley), there’s now two places on the high street (across from South Station) where you can get a take-a-way, both are open till 1 a.m. I’ve gotten a veggie burger from either place many times …
    I could care less about the FA Cup. Soccer means nothing to me. I’d rather be at Fenway Park rooting for my beloved Red Sox.
    Pleasant dreams.

  • Mark Edward Manning

    Well, Stan, it’s advisable to keep your population relatively small because most of your continent is pretty much uninhabitable. There’s a reason Aussies have primarily made their homes along the coast. Therefore, you have an incentive to prevent overcrowding in your cities. Suburban sprawl can only go so far in Oz.

  • STM

    The thing is though Mark, which people don’t understand, when we talk about coastal we really do mean coastal, and the truth is, there are heaps of smaller cities going as far inland as 500km that are perfectly liveable, especially on the eastern seaboard.

    One of the things they try to do here when encouraging migrants is to offer them incentives to live in some of the smaller inland cities within that 500km belt.

    Most Aussies like to live on the coast though, because really, that’s what this place is all about. However, some of the inland cities are quite beautiful, and of course, housing is cheap as chips.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Mark: Bromley, eh? Know it well. I grew up in Croydon.

    Not exactly the ghetto, though, is it?

    If you work there (and presumably live nearby) you’re no doubt familiar with the New Addington estate, just across the borough boundary. I’ll hazard a guess that it would be on your list of places in London to avoid.

    Up until I moved over here, I worked for Croydon Public Libraries, and for a time my job involved filling in whenever one of the branch libraries was short-handed. The New Addington branch was my favourite place to work. The staff went out of their way to make the library welcoming and user-friendly, and the patrons were great – always friendly and really appreciative of the library as a resource in their community.

    After dark, though, New Addington is a completely different kettle of fish. It’s huge and easy to get lost in, and if you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing (and what would you be doing there at night if you don’t live there?) it certainly can take on a menacing aspect.

    That said, I’ve never felt threatened in places like that. I think the trick is to act like you belong. I always knew where I was going and walked at my normal pace.

  • Dr Dreadful

    On some of the points in the article/thread: I do take issue with your blanket equating of welfare with indolence. The majority of people receiving public benefits are in genuine need of them. And you simply cannot ‘guarantee’ that a welfare recipient will have a big screen TV and the latest mobile phone.

    I frankly don’t have much knowledge of or experience with the UK system, but as Clavos said, the US is another story, and the 1997 welfare rules here actually put a lot of restrictions on benefits, especially TANF (formerly AFDC). Parents have a 60-month lifetime allowance (which doesn’t have to run consecutively, so if you’re smart you can be tactical about it and only claim welfare when you really need it), and families can’t get any extra TANF for new babies born after they’ve been on TANF for 10 months. Also, you have to show your worker that you’re actively jobseeking or they cut you off. In all case, though, your kids continue to get assistance. No sense in penalizing the innocent.

    Of course there are and always will be those who abuse the system, and a lot of the time they’re not even smart about it. I sometimes feel that a few of my clients expend so much effort in avoiding work that their lives would actually be easier and less stressful if they just went out and got a job.