Thursday, 11 November 2010


Quite apart from how despicable Duncan-Smith's proposed "reforms" are, the thing that is sticking in my throat most, and has been for a while, is when did the dole start to be called "welfare"? That's what they call it in the U.S.

Over here it was always called Social Security, which is what it is meant to be. As a claimant over many years, i can remember the names for the actual benefit changing - being variously Supplementary Benefit, Unemployment Benefit (maybe these names containing the word "benefit" were considered to sound to positive) Income Support, then Jobseekers' Allowance...The shift from "Benefit" - a right- to "Support" - assistance- to "Allowance" - something grudgingly given; speaks volumes. 

This present government has gone out of its way to demonise claimants  (contrary to the writer of the linked piece, I would support the workshy and fraudsters myself). They make a conveniently soft target for the ideologically driven cuts. They were never going to get much sympathy from sanctimonious middle-Englanders who seem to see wage slavery as a badge of honor.

But anyway, my issue is also with the word: "Welfare". I do not know when the term became detached from the noun it qualified - "state", in order to denote benefits specifically. The welfare state is (or maybe, more accurately, was) a good thing. I owe my education, my still functioning teeth, my late mother's successful treatment for breast cancer, and other things too numerous to mention, to it. And so do most of those, Lib-Dems, Tories and Labour too, who are now attacking it with such ghoulish relish - but they seem to have forgotten that. An attack on the benefits system is an attack on the welfare state. An attack on universal benefits is an attack on the universalism that was part of the founding of the welfare state. To make benefits that were initially conceived as a right belonging to citizens conditional, is to make citizenship conditional. 

This is typical of the drivel we are subjected to. The approach adopted in Wisconsin that the article lauds sounds repulsive. One has to prove one's bona fides before receiving any assistance. One has to prove oneself worthy. This utterly inverts the idea behind benefits that we had in the UK; a right conferred by citizenship. Citizenship being a universal value and, most importantly, content-neutral. You did not have to prove that you were the right kind of person in order to enjoy your rights.

"One of Wisconsin's biggest successes was diverting people from claiming benefits in the first place. If you try to claim benefits, the first thing they do is offer you a job – rather than start filling in forms to process your application. In fact, you have to demonstrate that you are searching hard for a job for several weeks before you can even start to make a benefits claim. In contrast, our depressing "Job Centres" are really more like benefits offices." (that's because they are benefits offices, you prick.)

The most telling part of the article, which I quote because it illuminates the kind of thinking behind this proposed butchery - it's not just an isolated right wing rant, someone who fancies themselves as a Jeremiah or Ezekiel, howling the unpalatable truth at the desert- are these sentences:

"Perhaps we have come to think that it is normal to have a large part of our population without work, and cut adrift from the rest of society."

People who are in receipt of benefits are somehow not part of society. So membership of society, enjoyment of its benefits, is dependent upon work, and, apparently, work alone.

It is not "Welfare" - they might have that in America (or, rather, they don't), but here it is the benefits system, or the welfare state, and it does what it is meant to do. It seems to me that the use of that word, by politicians and journalists, has imported with it some really unpleasant ideological baggage. It is also sad and pathetic to base a political program and it's rhetoric on the sense of sanctimonious alertness to the idea that someone, somewhere, is having a better time than you, and that you're paying for them to have it!

If this image of the polity as a load of paranoid, grudging curtain-twitchers is the best that we can do, we may as well give up now.

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