Sunday, January 30, 2011

punishing the poor. again.

With the massive demand for whatever council houses are left in the UK far outstripping supply, there has to be some method of prioritising those on the waiting lists.

Westminster Council is planning to shuffle unemployed people to the bottom of the deck and give first dibs to those with jobs. They say it is

designed to recognise positive contributions to society, reward those who are in jobs and to encourage those who are not currently employed to seek work

We've been here before on Bristling Badger, and I've no doubt we'll have to revisit it in future, but here we go again. The government's own figures show that unemployed people outnumber the available jobs 5:1.

Once we see the rise in unemployment that the government expects to be caused by George Osborne's first budget, and the ranks are futher swollen by the millions of people on Incapacity Benefit who the government has decided are suddenly magically fit to work, that ratio will be more like 11:1.

You cannot expect people to get jobs that don't exist. Penalising them for not getting these jobs is an exercise in cruelty.

Westminster cabinet member for housing, Councillor Philippa Roe, said: "We want to introduce a system which is fairer to local people and rewards those in employment."

This is an attack on the fundamental reasons for having social support such as council housing and the benefits system. It is not there as a set of incentives and penalties. It is there to ensure that, in our wealthy society, no person has to fear homelessness, destitution, hunger or illness simply because they have no money.

These are risks posed to us all, so it is a kind of insurance. Also, societies with the greater gaps between richest and poorest have the most crime, so a robust welfare system protects everyone, even those who will never be poor.

But more than that, it is organised compassion. Most of us - Tory councillors evidently excepted - do not want to live in a place where people suffer for lack of any simple and cheap remedy. This is why previous generations of workers agitated and voted for the welfare state to come into existence. It was working people actively saying they do not want the unemployed to be punished for their predicament.


Jim Bliss said...

Well said. But unfortunately I think we're witnessing a general trend in the "developed" world away from even paying lip-service to the notion of a welfare safety-net and towards a -- dare I say it -- kind of neo-feudalism.

There's an increasing belief (more by those at the top of the wealth heap than those at the bottom) that the consumer-capitalist society may be becoming unstable. In response there's an attempt to consolidate power and wealth, as well as to demoralise and divide those at the bottom.

Incidentally, I'm not suggesting this is a conscious plan. As you know, I tend to view social processes like this from the point of view of group psychodynamics and the collective unconscious. But that doesn't make them any less real, or any less effective.

Dunc said...

Good points both, but I'd like to throw something else into the mix: humans have an innate desire to seek status (power and wealth being status markers), and status is relative. If you can no longer effectively increase your status by becoming (eg) more wealthy (either because there are no decent investments out there, or because you're already so obscenely well-off that another zero on the end doesn't make any difference, even psychologically) then there's only one option left to increase your relative status: make other people worse off.

Like Jim, I'm not proposing that this is concious.