The True Welfare Myth

I have just been reading an opinion piece by ‘left-wing writer’ Brendan O’Neill (I’ve no idea who he actually is, but he sees himself as an expert on the welfare-ridden poor). In it, he addresses the way in which the liberal middle classes are bemused at the failure of the poor to rise up and march on Whitehall to demand that their benefits be protected. His case is that the poor, victims of the welfare state, are quite happy to see the system reformed. Now, in a sense, this is true – most people who have experience benefits will agree that the system is a mess, overgenerous in the wrong areas and punitive in the others, inefficient and costly. I for one would support the welfare state being drastically rolled back to what it was supposed to be, a safety net for the desperate – but, such reforms have to be done sensibly, honestly and fairly, rather than the panicked, knee-jerk, blame-riddled approach of the moment; and, they must be accompanied by wider reforms to make working pay and reduce state interference in our lives. This is where the Tories fail – they want to reform the benefit system without sorting out the wider mess. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are more honest – they are ideologically wedded to ‘big government’, so is not inclined to make any of the changes. A half-hearted, poorly-thought-out reform is no better than none at all.

But, a general agreement with the need for reform is not the reason why people on benefits haven’t been marching on Whitehall, raising the barricades and ushering in the proletarian utopia. That one bunch of elitists are bemused that we have not stormed the palaces of the mighty and the other lot are certain it’s because we have nothing to complain about amply demonstrates the very crux of the issue. It is the foolish elitists, with too much money and time on their hands, who are bleating the loudest and most constantly about the welfare issue. The people who are on welfare do not have that luxury! If you remove the small minority of actual skivers and fraudsters from the equation, those of us who receive benefits fall into three categories – the working poor, the unemployed and those with health problems. We don’t have much money, so, excepting those actually living in the inner parts of London, we cannot afford to make the journey to Whitehall and protest. Then, there is the fact that we simply do not have the time! The working poor have to work hard to make ends meet, putting in as many hours as possible, working two or more jobs, just to make ends meet; they do not have the luxury of free time. The unemployed might seem to have a lot of time on their hands – no job, obviously – but that is to ignore the fact that much of their copious ‘free time’ is actually spent on jobsearch – both because they want a job and because it is a mandatory requirement of receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance; put in insufficient effort and your benefit will be stopped, and nobody wants to risk that. I could easily be on this blog all day and all night ‘putting the world to rights’, but the main reason I am not is that my primary task when I am online, the one that consumes most of my internet time each day, is looking and applying for jobs. As for those with health problems, assuming that the various tests and treatments facing them do not leave them with a similar lack of spare time for overthrowing the government, they generally do not have the requisite levels of energy to march, storm officers or effect regime change.

No, the true welfare myth is that people on benefits are somehow blessed with plentiful free time and ready cash with which to pursue much in the way of hobbies, whether for entertainment or the changing of the world. The idea that everyone on benefits is being subsidised to sit at home, drink beer, take drugs and watch Jeremy Kyle is a myth based on the stereotype of a minority of skivers coupled with the need of the metropolitan elite to feel superior to the poor that they purport to champion. In reality, we are spending much of our time either working or looking for work and have little money set aside for little luxuries, let alone the sort of hard-drinking, drug-addled hedonism that is supposedly our favoured lifestyle choice! The vast majority of people on benefits are hardworking people who can only dream of the sort of lazy, retire-early-on-a-fat-pension lifestyle granted to the various elitists who love to lecture upon the pros or cons of the welfare system.

Until those in power understand this, the underlying problems will never be resolved. There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see, and the chattering classes don’t desire to open their eyes, lest it for them to shut their mouths and actually do something worthwhile!

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