I haven’t written a new blog for a while (would love to say I’ve been incredibly productive elsewhere, but…) and technically I haven’t written one today. However, I did find myself getting a leetle bit annoyed by the tone of an article I read online about benefit ‘dependency’, to the point that I started typing a short, swift reply. That short swift reply turned into, hem hem, a bit of a soapbox rant, so for those who like – or at least have a passing interest in – soapbox rants, this is what I wrote:
I think the word ‘dependency’ being used here is disingenuous. It has many negative connotations (drug dependency, alcohol dependency, etc) that by implication stigmatise the ‘dependents’, and redesignate them architects of their own misfortune, which is simply not the case. Drug and alcohol dependency are not simply lifestyle choices and neither is poverty – the reasons they happen are complex and myriad, many of them being social and situational and having little to do with personal choice. Generalisations about the causes and effects are misleading and unhelpful…
That people in poverty are forced to rely on welfare – whether money or food parcels – is a growing reality of our times, but it’s not because they view the welfare state as “an entirely benign force for good in their lives and not something from which they should be parted” or because they have “divested responsibility for themselves.” They are in poverty because they have no jobs (or extremely badly paid jobs) and/or are unable to work for often very complex and insurmountable personal reasons. Those are the social and situational causes, and poverty and welfare reliance is the effect.
Once it is accepted (and it surely must be accepted?) that the number of people available for work in the UK far outnumbers the total of reasonably paid (let’s not aim as high as ‘well paid’ in these austere times – we’ll stick to a living wage as the base line!) jobs available it becomes clear that ‘dependency’ isn’t an issue; the individuals concerned are merely statistics: victims of a mathematical equation over which they – and our political leaders, despite all the rhetoric – have no control. And should we really be stigmatising victims?
In the simplest terms, save for a global disaster of biblical proportions, the UK will never see full employment again. Neither will most (all?) other countries. Looked at in that light, then, the welfare of those in poverty becomes a social/societal issue, and while many societies abdicate responsibility for their poor and needy that is not – despite a political agenda for decades that has taken Margaret Thatcher’s ‘there is no such thing as society’ mantra to heart – a route that most people in the UK would admit to being comfortable with.
To come back to the original question posed, ‘Food Banks Bad, Welfare Good?’, the answer is yes. Welfare is – in theory at least – ‘good’: an ideology that redistributes part of the collective wealth, through taxes, of the most privileged in our society to ensure that the basic needs of the most underprivileged are met. It is reasonable, and, if out-and-out greed is removed from the equation, morally and socially ‘just’. Food banks are ‘bad’, because they are reliant solely on the goodwill of the wealthiest to self regulate their greed and donate according only to the dictates of their individual moral compass. To date, in every society, the goodwill of the rich to self regulate and contribute has pretty much universally proved lacking. While donation to food banks might be ‘trending’ among middle earners interest will almost certainly wane as new, more glamorous, worthy causes emerge and/or their own privileged circumstances come under increasing threat from the greediest piggies at the top end of the trough…
N.B: For balance, HERE is a link to the original online article, which I’m probably guilty of giving more attention than it deserves.