Monthly Archives: November 2014

Benefit cheats: The biggest potential victim of austerity is our ability to be compassionate

I wonder if those who view people in receipt of benefits as inferior to themselves are fans of John Locke? Locke’s views on those receiving benefits could be guiding government policy today. In a memorandum to the Board of Trade, written in 1697, he talks about the rising number of poor and the unacceptable cost of poor relief, suggesting the rise was not due to adverse structural factors but was the result of the characteristics of the poor and failings in their behaviour.

It’s worth repeating his quote, it could almost appear as an editorial piece in some of our daily papers today

If the causes of this evil be looked into, it will be found to have proceeded neither from the scarcity of provisions, nor from want of employment for the poor. The growth of the poor must therefore have some other cause; and it can be nothing else but the relaxation of discipline, and corruption of manners: virtue and industry being as constant companions on the one side as vice and idleness on the other’ (Locke, 1697).

For Locke, and those of a like mind, since poverty and reliance on welfare stem from the personal failings of the individual it is obvious to correct the situation the focus needs to be on ‘correcting’ that individual.

A first step to addressing this issue requires those who pay taxes to turn against those entitled to benefits. This is easily achieved when we accept unquestioningly spurious facts and figures presented in a manner which aims to diminish our compassion for others. An excellent piece by Sky News highlights how easy this is for government. Soon we will all receive a personal tax summary which provides a breakdown of how our taxes are spent. However, the article suggests when individuals see the breakdown it is highly likely their collective eyebrows will be raised at the amount spent on welfare

The problem is there is no definition of what ‘welfare’ means accompanying this chart. Given the continual drip drip drip in the popular media and from some in government, and outside of government, there is a massive assumption welfare equates to those on benefits and that they are obviously cheats. Therefore all our taxes are going to fund welfare for people who do not deserve welfare, the unemployed for example. However, this research suggests unemployment benefits account for only 0.7% of the governments total spending bill. Whilst state pensions account for 15.2% of welfare spending, 5.5% is spent on disabilities and 2.4% on child benefit. Also included under welfare is social work and social care.

I’m not sure whom from the groups mentioned society would determine as undeserving. However, I do know we must stop and ask more questions because unthinking acceptance will diminishing all of our capacity to express compassion and a society devoid of compassion would be a very bleak place indeed.