Thoughts on the welfare state

What I think the welfare state exists to do: At its most basic, the welfare system is a safety net. It is meant to provide financially for those who find themselves in need of financial assistance. Additionally, it ensures equal access to essential services – the most obvious of which is healthcare. In providing financial support for parents, it recognises that bringing up children is expensive, and in making that support widely available, it avoids stigmatising the poor. (As an aside, this is a major reason for supporting universal benefits like free prescriptions – it is acknowledged that restricting access to services to only those who are poor enough to qualify dissuades many of those who need the support most from accessing it. Free school dinners are the best example – where the children most in need did not take up the opportunity because they were bullied and singled out by their peers.)

On another level, the welfare state brings about equality. Or at least it used to, and in my view ought to. Being able to buy better healthcare, improved pension provision and elite education is not new, but reducing the level of state provision to the extent that people are forced to supplement privately is, I think, not how the system should work.

We are told that benefits available through the welfare state must be restricted because of the expense. And then that perhaps more than two children per family should not be financially supported, or perhaps we should only be able to claim benefits proportionate to our contributions.

Frankly I don’t see the welfare system as being responsible for deciding how people spend the money they are allocated. That’s akin to the old system of donating a percentage of your income to the church, and being penalised if you didn’t.

But that’s a matter of principle, not of practicality. Practically, one could restrict what welfare benefits are spent on. Indeed some areas already try to do so by issuing vouchers rather than cash. Which is incredibly patronising and restricts people from exercising the freedom to choose which brand of milk they buy and where, and is essentially control freakery to the nth degree.

So here’s some ideas and suggestions I have – politicians can steal them if they wish to, I don’t mind.

  1. If you start to restrict benefits based on contributions you are essentially creating two classes of welfare recipients – those who have had the opportunity to be paid an amount that has resulted in decent contributions, and those who have not. Have nots I am thinking would include the young, women, immigrants, under-educated people, and people with disabilities. Haves would of course mostly be white, middle and upper class men. Don’t go down this road.
  2. A living wage would solve many of these problems. Work would, as is so beloved of the politicians, ‘pay’. And, contributions would increase as wages increased, thus ensuring there was more money in the system.
  3. Job Seeking needs to be reformed for the 21st century. There aren’t enough jobs to go around, so it can’t be assumed that everyone who isn’t working is lazy and feckless. Equally, helping people into work does not mean checking that they have accessed more than a set number of websites a week. It’s about confidence building, skills development, networking, and broadening interests. From the outset. This for me is a fundamental reform that would change the character of job seeking and would mean that the unemployed were still given chances to improve their situation whilst unemployed, rather than just applying for endless dead end jobs with 1000s of applicants for every vacancy.
  4. Volunteering is a good, and necessary part of the world of work. Many charities and not for profits rely on volunteers. And voluntary work should be beneficial to the worker as well, through skills development and experience gained. But voluntary work needs to be reclassified. Firstly, it isn’t just practical, care giving work (although of course that is a vital aspect of voluntary work). It is also intellectual, desk based contributions. Secondly, it isn’t always work that would go undone if the volunteer were not there. Sometimes it’s freeing up paid staff and providing interesting and valuable experience for the volunteer (rather than say stuffing envelopes or filing). Thirdly, and most importantly, it is work. Important, valuable, necessary work that should be seen to be just as important as paid work. And therefore, supported where appropriate by the state. There should be a minimum wage for volunteers, accessed by the employer, provided by the state, where the employer meets certain standards of income vs expenditure, work planned and provision of training and support for their voluntary staff. Is this subsidising charities? Quite probably, but in doing so it is also providing experience and training, and in the current environment I think it could be beneficial to both overworked non-profits and unemployed people.

I’m not going to go over the arguments about higher tax rates for six figure salaries, or banker’s bonuses, or tax avoidance. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I support high taxes, think bonuses are unnecessary, especially when your salary is already stupidly high, and when you get them whether you do a good job or not, and I think the law should be tightened to mean tax avoidance is impossible.

Oh, and what the welfare state isn’t: It isn’t responsible for the behaviour of sociopathic controling individuals. Being in receipt of benefits is no more an indicator of behaviour and character than being wealthy. 

And what it shouldn’t be: It shouldn’t be a means of distinguishing between ‘them’ and ‘us’. We are all who we are, and we are all just trying to make this trip around the sun. 


3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the welfare state

  1. Will you all just listen to yourselves and your repulsive patronising snotty assumptions for once. This nonsense has gone on for 40 years now. When, oh when will you all just stop with the patronising, ineffective guff?

    And this thing about voluntary work…. every person promoting voluntary work, unless they are living on the dole can hand over their income to the volunteers in exchange for the dole. Next time I am unemployed, I will be busy doing exactly what Bertrand Russell discussed in his essay. I will be lolling in the grass reading a book. most likely written by Banks, but perhaps some Socrates too after I have finished painting the elderly neighbours window frames… something that does not require some organisation to monitor, will never provide the necessary proof by way a reference from a paid volunteers supervisor, nor lead to tick in a box. Might even wait until I’ve walked over a hill or two before I sit down to open that book Why? Why not?

    I object to the incessant need of do-gooders to define for all of us, what volunteering is, to measure our participation in their blinding naive social engineering of our world to fit their little wet dreams of lots of lovely nice forms completed and filed, for which they are paid, unlike the other class of workers who are not paid in cash, but are instead expected to live on a reward of a twit patting who them on the back, holding them up as specimen revered as an *approved citizen* unlike the the auntie who keeps an eye on the nephews, waits in for that delivery package while you work and any of the millions of things the unworthy not-volunteering unemployed do. Vouchers at least, which conveniently flies past your little head, put milk in the porridge.

    For nearly 40 years the holy alter of the volunteer-and-feel-good-ignore-your-poverty-ignore-me-being-paid-while-you-are-not nonsense has gone on. Enough with this pressure to conform to your wet dream – that is not our idea of freedom, it is workfare in a different, jet just as vicious selfish guise. YOU do it if you want to, but keep your evangelizing to yourself. Why not? Not Calvinistic enough? Not unequal enough? Because this is absolutely about inequality – those with a job get cash, those with no job get a feel-good thing and your approval. Even tiny Rwanda has sussed this nonsense out. What’s your excuse? They have a day set aside where EVERYONE volunteers. Yes, everyone, even the President is out clearing roadside ditches. Oh, did you mean you would be evangelizing to those who have a paying job that they too would be able to prove their morals and ethics meets with your approval if they too provided 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with their unpaid labour? You know, in their evenings? Missed that bit did I?

    It is up to yourself, but my advice to you would be go for a walk, find somewhere scenic, read a nice book, perhaps written by Bertrand Russell, Orwell, or perhaps Steinbeck.Surely that is far more pleasant than cattle-herding the poor and only the poor who have no job into providing hundreds if not thousands of unpaid labour each?

    • Thanks for these thoughts.

      I maybe didn’t detail enough my, very nascent thoughts on how to make volunteering more valuable, financially & socially. The idea of minimum wage volunteering stems from problems friends of mine encountered trying to work for free whilst job seeking, and being penalised by the DSS for doing so.

      I thoroughly agree that we should all, workers and non, look to volunteer. In fact, I am 110% in favour of a 4 day working week, and that we could use the extra weekend day potentially to volunteer.

      Also, I’m not for one minute suggesting everyone who is unemployed should be forced to volunteer. If I became unemployed I would definitely be happy to do nothing for a while! That’s kind of the point I’m making when I say that how you spend benefits is your choice, not mine. But I do think that job seekers shouldn’t have to lie about work they are doing to gain new experiences, or be busy, or useful, because it apparently takes time away from job seeking, and is not seen as improving your prospects.

      It’s a tough paradox, I admit, and I don’t for one minute think I could fix it. But I certainly don’t think current political suggestions are going to come anywhere near to providing equality and sustainability of the system. And I don’t think simply voting Yes to independence is a panacea either.

  2. The point I am making here is there is more to life than being seen to do something to keep the do-gooders happy. As a student, I gave one of our professors a bit of a kicking because his lecturing staff loved to spend their time complaining a student would sit in the lab and do nothing,, They’d just sit there. It’s what grown up rational people call thinking. Yes, thinking in Scotland is being lazy, apparently.

    Good grief.I love to do nothing. I love it. Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t you or anyone else? When you are doing nothing… does that mean you are doing nothing. No, it doesn’t. Listen to your heart beat. Isn’t that amazing? Enjoy the beat of your heart. Why not? While doing nothing your pal cracked a joke and that made you do more nothing. It inspired you, made you see the world in a new way. Doing nothing. No. Don’t do that, get out there and volunteer.

    When you are doing nothing, absolutely nothing and offending the Western world by that look at that leaf on that tree right there in front of you. Touch it. Look at it closely. What does it feel like? Smell like? Sound like? What’s inside it? Look! That green stuff! Right under your feet. What is it? What does that feel like? Sharp is it? Why? What makes it sharp? What’s inside? Does it smell? What makes that smell? Do you recognise it? That is what we in the West call doing nothing. and that can not be allowed to go on for any length of time – the world will end, Shockaroonie!

    Quick herd them up! They were doing nothing and found themselves in a park. They were doing nothing. Couldn’t have been walking, that isn’t nothing. Must have been Dr Who’s Tardis. Get them busy! Get them doing some volunteering. Can’t have them doing that nothing thing. They might see. Things. Notice. Things. Realise what beauty is. No no no! better get doing something for somebody. Seeing things enjoying things; the most terrible sins of all – selfish and so so lazy! Volunteering that pays a minimum wage. No, that’s not a job. No. Definitely not!

    You might want to do nothing for a bit. When you’ve finished doing nothing you might find, all of a sudden you realise a minimum wage means you’re volunteering for less than a volunteer welder in Govan shipyards. And obviously the people in Govan shipyards are the volunteers, who are volunteering for cash in return right? I guess so. The likes of Blair, Balls and IDS seem to think volunteers in the supermarkets for benefits are volunteers. The word has been stolen and you didn’t notice? Weren’t you doing nothing often enough to notice that? I was doing nothing when I noticed it. Those who were busy appeasing the do-gooders by doing something on the other hand…..

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