Monday, 13 July 2015

Feeling the pain

It was interesting to read this article by the Independent online which highlights the discrepancy between what voters think are the statistics on welfare and benefits and the reality. The piece brought to mind two conversations I overheard this week on the subject of the budget. One was at a family funeral when I heard a member of my family talking about how the Government have to crack down on benefit scroungers. I did have some sympathy; the said family member is a farmer who will be up by 5am facing a long working day and all the frustrations of decreasing prices and cut throat supermarkets  making every day life a struggle for survival. Meanwhile the media spawns articles and documentaries featuring families,usually obese and gobby, with at least thirteen kids none of which express any intention of ever getting a job, living in a luxury house, claiming £80, 000 in benefits, surrounded by flat screen TVs and play stations! I guess at some point the commentator will intone, "this is life in benefits Britain"; it really is calculated to incite outrage at a time when money is short and people are suffering. The other conversation was between Mr M and a shop manager (I was trying on a swimsuit) which was quite amusing as they started discussing the budget and Mr M is as left as they come while this woman was decrying everything from the new living wage, which she felt would force her out of business, to benefits claimants, immigrants and "foreign doctors" who speak with an accent.

So given the outcome of the General Election, perhaps it was unsurprising to hear Harriet Harman first jumping on the welfare bandwagon and saying Labour would back tax credit cuts. Maybe it was equally predictable that she would retract this after an outcry from party members. I feel Harman is entirely motivated by expediency rather than conviction, I have no sympathy whatsoever and no wonder Labour are in the shit! I just don't know whether to be depressed or just to react with bemusement as I did when overhearing the two conversations above.

In general things don't really look great, but at least the summer holidays have started for me- we go back mid August before anyone starts to rant about lazy teachers-  and also our younger son has just found out he has done very well in his first year exams. That will do for my feel good factor for now.

1 comment:

  1. As Ecclesiastes 7:10 (Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions) illustrates, people are not very reliable witnesses, when it comes to comprehending the past or the present. It seems to be part of human nature to believe the past was better than the present; whereas in reality, we actually live in a far, far better society now, that probably any other time in history.

    A few years ago I was invited (by Theos) to some evening bash at the Houses of Parliament – it was a debate on the Church and the Welfare State. The popular belief, particular prevalent among clergy and suited Christians, was that the Welfare State has led to a rise in ‘immorality’ and family breakdown – the ‘Welfare State’ was seen as something others use (a mysterious, ill-defined, amorphous, sub-class – typified by teenage mother on benefits and living in a council flat). The reality is of course that the largest consumers of the welfare state are your over 65s. And of course ‘family breakdown’ was just as common (if not more common) when the churches were fuller, because parents had a habit of dying young – some give the average length of marriage in Victorian England as 11 years.

    I thought there was a palpable sense of pulling up the ladders behind them, on the part of many of those suited Christians voicing their criticisms of the welfare state. They forget if it wasn’t for access to education and greater social mobility, many of us would still be trapped into manual, low skilled labour – which was the lot of the vast majority of the UK until the 1940s. Of course, according to Gavin Shuker (a MP on the panel), we have Christians to thank for our Welfare State and all the blessings of liberal, secular democracy - a lesson in social history was sorely needed by many in the Theos event audience! Self-congratulation abounded – often built on a self-flattering view of history where we have Christians to thank for every good thing in our society – odd we had to wait the best part of 2000 years of Christianity before these benefits emerged as the ‘fruit’ of Christian governance!

    That said, as a long in the tooth qualified social worker, I strongly back benefits’ reform. I’m self-employed, as I work freelance. The thing you dread as a locum – serious injury or illness - occurred to me the day after the Election – I broke my leg, tripping on a paving stone. However I was only off work two weeks – and almost three months later, still using crutches, I continue to work (a journey of taxi, train and tube every day – plus visits all over north London). Why? Because I would only get SSP if I didn’t work – and because I’d go mad, sitting at home.

    At present I visit people who are less disabled than I am, who are not working on health grounds and claiming benefits – you feel like giving them a good kicking. The benefits system needs shaking up – national debt stands at £1.5 trillion (http://www.nationaldebtclock.co.uk/) and rises by £5,000 a second – we can’t go on supporting people to live lost lives on benefits.

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