There’s a lot I don’t know or understand about politics, and learning more about it seems, if anything, only to make my ignorance more obvious. But one thing I do reckon, with some conviction, is that people ought to help each other.
I dunno, call me a radical socialist. (Flattery will get you everywhere.)
I have some vague, meandering thoughts on the nature of this help we offer each other, too. Let’s start things very simple.
Times are tough at the moment, and while many of us are doing okay, some of us are struggling. (We’re all “us”, remember. There are no others.) If we can help those of us who are currently worse off in any way, that would generally seem to be a good thing.
Of course, some of us will be tempted to take advantage of our generosity, and accept help which they don’t really need – but let’s not be among those cynical ones of us who see this as an argument against generosity. If, in trying to do good for those who need it, we accidentally spend our time doing some good for someone who didn’t really need it also, this doesn’t have to be a horrible outcome.
But it’s not unreasonable to take some measures, to ensure that our generosity isn’t abused. Our resources for helping those who need it is limited, after all, and those who take help they don’t need might be indirectly harming others, to whom such help is no longer as available.
For instance, one of the ways we try and keep the needy among us afloat (in the UK) is with Disability Living Allowance. If one of us has an illness or disability that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to do certain kinds of work, it’s a good thing when the rest of us offer to help.
But when our own resources are thin, we might want to be careful just who we help in this way. There might, after all, be some unscrupulous souls who try to take help they don’t really need. They might falsely claim to need assistance, when actually they’re simply looking for ways to avoid paying their own way.
Now, even though this sort of benefit fraud is far, far from being the country’s most serious financial problem, it’s not out of the question that we should take some sort of precautions when deciding who we help. Maybe there should be some sort of check that people are actually in need of help, so long as we don’t get too officious and stingy about it and lose track of the primary goal of helping each other.
Another example we have here is Jobseeker’s Allowance, a regular payment given to those who can’t find paid employment.
This is a valuable way of helping many people, but once again there are those who’ll try and game the system. Some people might be happy to take the help, without even looking for a chance to earn a decent living for themselves. So, maybe it’s not crazy to expect people to really be looking for work, if they want to get the help reserved for people in between jobs.
Maybe, then, if there’s a job available, within a reasonable distance of someone claiming help and in a field of expertise where they’re capable of contributing, we should expect them to take it, unless there’s a good reason not to. If they persistently turn down legitimate work offers, their claim to be a “jobseeker” might start looking a little flimsy, and we might suspect they’d rather not do any work but keep letting the rest of us support them, which isn’t really fair on the others we’re trying to help who really need it.
And perhaps, to make sure the system’s not being exploited, we should take some of the people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, put them on a bus across the country overnight, make them sleep under a bridge, give them no access to toilets, make them change clothes in public, and tell them that if they don’t work 14-hour shifts for no pay we’re cutting their benefits.
Wait… Sorry, I seemed to turn into a completely evil bastard in that last paragraph. I must have been channeling some of the people involved in Workfare.
Downing Street’s comment on what amounts to slave labour being used to make sure the Queen’s jubilee celebrations went off without a hitch were that it was an “isolated incident” and… that seems to be it. It’s of no further concern to them, apparently. It just happened the once, so it might as well have not happened at all.
The government and many tabloids are still trying to convince us that the workfare scheme isn’t an unjustifiably cruel and exploitative joke, and that immigrant benefit cheats are the ones who are really destroying our country. But I’m far more pissed off about those in authority treating the “little people” like this than I am about the idea that some families might be mooching off the government’s welfare system more than I’ve ever been able to. It takes a special kind of bigotry to still find the working class and job-seeking “scroungers” the most loathsome part of this interaction.
The almost comically dystopian details – the lack of toilet facilities, the four-hour coach ride from Bristol in the middle of the night, the apparent deception in implying that participants would be paid before later calling it “work experience”, and so on – have drawn some much-needed attention to the Workfare issue, but these aren’t what make its basic premise unacceptable. It’s not a system that’s essentially fine except for this one outlying instance where people were treated without a shred of humanity.
What makes it unacceptable is that the safety net we’re supposed to be offering is nothing of the sort. More and more people are losing their benefits, and those who keep them are having to jump through greater and greater hoops to be deemed worthy of our help – in this case, to the extent of being forced to work in intolerable conditions without being paid.
This latest situation with the jubilee stewards symbolises the way some people see a certain class of jobseekers, and where they see themselves by comparison. This classism and lack of compassion is, ultimately, what needs to change, but in the meantime it’s clear that the whole system of Workfare itself is beneath us as a sentient species.