Is welfare a life-style choice?


I must recently have made some passing comment about welfare, because a certain @DocHackenbush replied: “Memo to Helmer: Unless you’ve lived on social security, you don’t get to have an opinion on it”.  That’s about as sensible as saying “Unless you’ve been hooked on cocaine, you can’t mention drugs”.  So I responded “No, Bush” (he seems to call himself Bush, for short, perhaps in honour of George W.)  “I’m entitled to an opinion on social security because, like most of us, I pay for it”.

This response was felt by a close family member (of mine) to be somewhat lacking in compassion.  Yet is seems to chime with public opinion.  I was rather surprised to find in a recent opinion poll that 62% of respondents agreed that “unemployment benefit is too high and discourages work”.  The public understands that the welfare budget is out of control, and that we cannot solve the country’s fiscal and debt problems without dealing with the welfare issue.

I often argue that UKIP is neither right nor left, just common sense, and I applaud the great British public for their own common sense on this issue.  Compassion is all very well, but if we allow the costs of compassion to run out of control, it can do more harm than good.  You don’t eliminate poverty by bankrupting the country.  I was particularly struck by the case of the single mother of eleven, Heather Frost, who has a new £400,000 house being built for her and her eleven children, all living on benefits.  Hard-working tax-payers who couldn’t dream of having such a house built are paying for Ms. Frost’s house — and have every reason to be angry.  They will be asking “Why do we have to pay?  Where are the men who fathered those children?  Why don’t they pay?”.

This point, however, seems to have escaped our new Archbishop Welby, who has written to the papers saying that the government’s welfare policy will have a negative social impact on children.  Of course in the short term, and assuming a static view of the economy, he has a point.  Take money from a family, and if nothing else changes, that family will be worse off.  But the good prelate ignores the positive impact on the wider economy from getting debt and government spending under control.

To this extent, he’s like BBC’s reporting of the spare-room subsidy (aka the bedroom tax).  The BBC constantly runs tear-jerking stories about disabled couples who will be disadvantaged (although special provision is being made for them).  Yet it never cites the potential benefits to homeless people on the waiting list for social housing, currently “bed-blocked” by small families in large houses.

I remember years ago talking to the (then) Prime Minister of Singapore, who was being challenged on the City-State’s rather limited welfare provision, by the (then) Labour MEP Richard Corbett.  The PM’s reply should be carved in stone.  “We find that if we pay people to be unemployed, we get a lot of unemployed people.  And if we give apartments to teenage single mothers, we get a lot more teenage single mothers.  So we don’t do those things”.

His point, of course, was the perverse incentives created by welfare.  Why did the feckless Heather Frost continue to have babies, when she had neither the husband nor the means to provide for them?  Because she knew the State would pay.  I don’t say that she had the children purely in order to get the welfare (although for all I know she may have done), but it’s a safe bet that the security provided by the promise of welfare made her less eager to take care and behave responsibly.

Welfare will not end poverty (the Archbishop may like to recall Our Lord’s words “The poor ye have with you always”).  Indeed it may quite possibly entrench poverty and dependency.  It undermines self-confidence.  And it creates perverse incentives and unintended consequences.

Of course in a compassionate society we should always be ready to help those who through no fault of their own fall on hard times, perhaps by reason of illness, or temporary and unforeseen unemployment.  But (and here I agree with IDS) we should not allow living on welfare to become a lifestyle choice.

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26 Responses to Is welfare a life-style choice?

  1. Phil J says:

    I totally hear what you say here Roger but there is one part of the equation that you failed to mention and one that I (and UKIP) feel very strongly about-Immigration.
    Our welfare system is being attacked by mass immigration for there are no jobs for these people who come here ‘looking for work’ and better still, they know that, but they also know that the British benefit system is a damned sight better than anything they have in their own countries.
    I have friends in Bulgaria who have told me that families are already selling what little they have in order to arrive here next January-and we are talking about people who have virtually nothing whilst in Bulgaria. Here? They will feel like kings & queens as our welfare system receives even more battering but furnishes them with a lifestyle that they could never have dreamed of before. Why is it Camoron cannot see this glaringly obvious destruction of our welfare sustem for as long as the immigration doors are wide open our welfare system will be continuously raped!

  2. There is a point at which compassion shifts into melodrama, particularly if, asc experience suggests, Bush isn’t actually one of the disabled poor but an ultimately taxpayer funded activist.

    There is also the point that if he were being consistent he would be saying that the poor in Britain have no right to an opinion becase the poor across the world are much poorer than those in Britain and thus are entitled to the monopoly of opinion on whether the entire British budget should be spent on foreign aid.

    However the main reason he is absolutely and completely wrong is one Hayek would have taken. That if the individual has zero right to determine what is done with their money, only the state has, we have zwero freedom. We are all serfs to the state.

    Heinlein said that a duty is something you choose for yourself. If Bush feels it is his duty to work 16 hours a day and give all the money to those worse off than himself, then that is his self-chosen duty (I assume he doesn’t) . But he has no right to impose “duties” on others. He also proves by his words the other part of H’s words – that if you accept any “duty” others would have you accept there is literally no limit to what will ultimately be demanded of you.

    We have already gone much further down this road than is good for society. It is not nobility but moral cowardice not tom face this problem.

  3. Denis Graham Allen says:

    In the past 3 years benefits have risen 60% faster than average wages. As poverty is defined as “living on less than 60% of average wage” this has lifted 300,000 children out of “Poverty”.
    Of course their situation has not changed at all (it just shows haw stupid the definition of poverty is).

  4. Rich Tee says:

    The BBC is running a hard hitting piece about unemployed people in Hull. I sympathise, but when our ancestors found themselves jobless they simply moved to where the jobs are. The Polish did that too when the borders were opened.

    I recently retrained into a new occupation and I had pretty much accepted that I may have to move across the country to take up a position, although thankfully I eventually found a post locally. And since I am now unable to afford a home to live in, and I will probably spend the rest of my life in private rented accommodation, I resent that my taxes are used to subsidise the rented council accommodation of other people who have cheap, controlled rents and guaranteed security of tenure. This Conservative government is even making it easier for them to buy their council properties too!

  5. Chris. says:

    The long term unemployed, which in my view starts after 7 months, should be compelled to accept work which may, or may not, be suitable to their skills or education. If they refuse. then their benefit is reduced. Ideally, it should be training or work which complements their skills.

    This could be stacking shelves in Tesco, working for the British Red Cross or learning computer skills. While they are doing this, the unemployment office, should help look for job interviews which match skills. Any refusal to go on these job applications, results in a cut in benefits.

    The country cannot continue to be paying for people to be on the dole, when East Europeans are coming into the UK and finding work. In what parallel universe, does the government think this is correct and is sustainable?

    • I used to be an Anglican Rector with a house and salary and a good position in society and I felt just like you. Except, of course, I had a lot of people in the study whom I listened to prayerfully and oh so understandingly. (!)
      Then I became a Catholic. There was not a lot of work for an out of work Rector.
      So I took a job wherever it was offered. In a call centre, in a photographers, selling double glazing, cold calling house to house, in several schools on supply, and I did jobs in sales for free too.
      The problem was that I was working for people who felt frightened of me. This made them very aggressive and silly quite often. I did not realise it at the time, but they felt the need to show me up. And, of course, they had the power to terminate me. And so the jobs lasted just a couple of weeks usually, after a lot of humiliation (Even being told to stand in the corner!)
      Thank heavens, my wife and children were all working and thank heavens they stood by
      Anyway, I eventually got a temporary post or two teaching, of all things, Classics! And then I retired.

  6. Patryk says:

    You are indeed the most sensible Ukipper. The whole parapgraph on welfare without mentioning ‘Eastern European immigrants’! Hopefully this will be contageous and your Dear Leader (Farage) and his soldiers (Diane James) will see the real UK’s problem – welfare dependency, not immigration who in their masses work to provide for those benefits.

    • rfhmep says:

      Replying to Patryk and Phil: You can’t get everything into one short piece, and I didn’t mention immigration in this piece. But of course immigration is a significant part of the problem — indeed the two issues are closely interlinked. But I am with Nigel and Diane on immigration — it’s a major issue, especially with Romania and Bulgaria only nine months away.

      • We have had a spot of bother about this in Wisbech, Cambs, recently. Immigration seethes round here and now, thanks to a “UKIP Regional Organiser”, we have got the police and also the TUC involved. UKIP has been portrayed as racist by Searchlight and this was proved by a Facebook page!
        OK it is a storm in a teacup, but it really does show how one Facebook page can brew up a tempest.

      • H Walker says:

        Mr Helmer, an excellent article spoilt by your follow up comment. I want to support UKIP as I agree with many policies but am troubled by your views on immigration. It’s easy to see how they can be interpreted as racist when UKIP refers to Romanians and Bulgarians at every opportunity.

        I agree that immigration and benefits are a linked cause of local unemployment but immigration has not caused unemployment.

        Immigration is a symptom of a benefits system that provides the means for people to travel internationally to gain employment AND creates a culture of benefit dependency in the UK. It’s incredible that the majority of new jobs (pre bust) went to immigrants when there were so many UK nationals on benefits.

        Hard working Poles travel half a continent to get work (and the jobs obviously existed) yet some of our own people won’t move to the next town.

        I would support UKIP more if you tackled the causes of this issue, i.e. benefits/housing/health going to people who have not contributed to the UK economy and the evil of benefits dependency that discourages personal responsibility.

  7. Patryk says:

    Ok Roger. What I find about Ukippers is that they’re good on words but pretty bad on substance. Let’s check the figures:
    93.4 per cent of the working-age immigrant population are not claiming working-age benefits compared to 87.4 of UK Nationals.
    As for ‘putting strain on our public services’ line:
    An analysis by University of College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, published in July 2009, found that immigrants from the EU8 accession countries had been net contributors to the public purse in every year since May 2004.
    And finally another Ukip’s favourite line: “Crime and immigration’
    Total number of crimes in 2003/2004 was 11,642. This when the ‘floodgates’ opened. Guess what, Roger? Total number of crimes fell to 8872 in 2011/2012.

    So it turns out that immigrants claim less benefits that locals, added to the budget (despite the deficit!) possibly partly funding the welfare culture of the locals you described in the article above and the crime rates fell since the EU new members were allowed to freely migrate.

    Interesting, uh? You’ve got a reply?

    • I have been working with the immigrants here for several years now.
      When the Roma arrive, things may be a little different. Jobbik is the result in Hungary.

      • Patryk says:

        Mike, I am an immigrant myself and I was looking favourably on Ukip mainly because of their taxation and energy policy because I am an ‘Austrian school’ free market advocate. But I have stopped supporting them since Farage smelled that success is very close and decided to up his and the party’s anti-Eastern European rhetoric. Make no mistake, he never says anything about other migrants, possibly because we’re white Christian and therefore politically correct target. And all that despite the facts that I posted above.

        I hope you read and will find time to reply Roger. I appreciate your time.

    • rfhmep says:

      There have been repeated attempts to show that immigrants are net contributors — mostly by leftist organisations seeking to justify immigration. This is not my specialist subject, but I understand that unbiased studies show the opposite. And it is widely estimated that a substantial proportion of the additional houses we are told we need are for immigrants. You just can’t have hundreds of thousands of newcomers without an impact on health, education, housing and employment.

      • Patryk says:

        Well Roger, I’ll carry on reading your blog cause it’s interesting but I’ll definitely stop posting. If NUMBERS and FACTS are “leftist” than it’s a sad reflection of a Ukip politician. All you come up with is a generic reply without any substance.

      • So anyone who doesn’t agree with your frankly contradictory claims is a ” leftist organisations seeking to justify immigration” but It’s not your specialist subject and “unbiased studies show the opposite.” isn’t that just supporting your argument through wishful thinking?

  8. Dana Green says:

    Succinct and wonderfully apt. Thank you.

  9. Bill says:

    There was a young nurse on the TV recently whoes husband had died and was bringing up two kids. She said at one stage that she went on working even though she was worse off doing that financially.but that she did not want her children to be brought up to believe that was the way to live on the state. I really admired her for that plus her cheerfulness. She was inspiring.
    The salient point being that so many in her position would have taken the state sponsored option. Surel that cannot be right that someone who is prepared to work and a nurses job is no easy one is left worse off that someone in similar circumstances who takes handouts..

  10. Sue Marsh says:

    ”  The public understands that the welfare budget is out of control, and that we cannot solve the country’s fiscal and debt problems without dealing with the welfare issue.”

    That’s the problem. The public don’t understand at all. Just 3% of the ENTIRE welfare budget goes on out of work benefits and more money goes UNCLAIMED by sick & disabled ppl than is claimed.
    The VAST majority of the welfare bill is pensions and tax credits. And no-one wants those cut.

    • Patryk says:

      Well pension isn’t really a benefit, is it? It’s a deal (elbait a mandatory one) done by the government and the citizen. My idea is thus: abolish housing benefit, child benefit, working and child tax credits completely. To supplement for those cut taxed significantly (and I mean significantly, the 31% flat tax by Ukip is a step in the right direction but not radical enough). That would save money on bloated administration. Alsa JSA should be limited to 9 months. After that, sorry, go to McDonalds.

  11. DocHackenbush says:

    For the record, neilfutureboy, I am a cancer patient who is also an unpaid carer for my disabled wife and as such I save your beloved taxpayers a small fortune in social care costs every year. Before this I got my first job at fifteen and spent the next 20 years working and paying taxes. This involved many weeks working 60-70 hours plus. So perhaps I am a “taxpayer funded activist”, but the “taxpayer” was myself.
    By the way, quoting a quasi-fascist science-fiction writer doesn’t lend your arguments the credibility you seem to think it does. You may as well have been quoting L. Ron Hubbard.

  12. Ronen Ghose says:

    I agree with Roger’s findings on Welfare. We are not a bottomless pit. . It is shameful that the lady with 11 children cannot get the father of her children to bear all expenses. I cannot bear to imagine the state of our country from January 2014 onwards with the Bulgarian and Romanian invasion.

    Ronen Ghose

  13. rfhmep says:

    H. Walker: Thanks for your comment, but you couldn’t be more wrong. For years, the left has intimidated ordinary people by saying that any question about immigration is “racist”. Surely we’ve seen through that by now? The issue is (A) total numbers; and (B) ensuring that we admit the type of skills our economy needs, not mere welfare-seekers. The concern about Romania & Bulgaria is not about race (last time I checked, Romanians & Bulgarians were white Europeans) but about 30 million people who would be substantially better off on welfare in the UK than working at home. Can’t you see that that is a legitimate and very serious concern?

    • Patryk says:

      Roger – then solution is to reform welfare like I proposed, including no welfare at all for new arrivals. Is there a difference between welfare seeking migrant or a welfare seeking English 22 year old? Economically no. Second thing – no one here referred to Ukip being racist so why are you brining this up? You at Ukip are right that accusations about racism are BS but your comments here prove that you’re unable to engage in a serious discussion. So far my comments on figures and the fact that you bash Eastern Europeans more than immigrants from Asia and Somalia because we’re a politically correct target remained unanswered. Anyway, I’m looking forward to elections I will engage in long and serious discussions with ukip candidates. Should be fun. 🙂

    • H Walker says:

      Roger, I did not get my point over well. I have every concern about anyone taking benefits before they have paid into the state and think this unjustifiable. I think that was clear in my reply. My point is that by identifying two nations time and time again you are taking the focus of the discussion away from benefits and onto race. Like it or not the left HAS linked immigration to racism and UKIP linking immigration to Romania and Bulgaria may put off well meaning people to UKIP’s electoral disadvantage.

      UKIP should focus on their policy to fix this issue (which quickly leads to EU exit) without giving some the impression UKIP has a vendetta against two nations which I am sure is not the case.

      • Patryk says:

        H Walker – not sure if you watched Question Time last week when Diane James was on. Also have a look at comments on Ukip’s Facebook page. They are good when talking to each other and those who are sympathetic to their cause. They’re also good at brushing off ridiculous accusations from lefty types. Ask them some sensible questions though like you and I have done and all you get is some generic answers or nothing at all.

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