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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.