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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Good Governments do not Distribute Benefits

Thirty or forty years ago, the decline of traditional industries brought factory and mine closures across large parts of the UK. The safety net of Unemployment Benefits provided - rightly - for those affected.

Unfortunately, successive governments had no better strategy than to continue paying Benefits indefinitely. They became hereditary and created an underclass of unemployable individuals living in (largely white) ghettos. Unemployment Benefits turned into Disability Benefits though most of the disabilities were imaginary.

A good government would have avoided this outcome. It would have found ways to bring new industries to depressed areas and to motivate families to move to thriving areas. But we have had pretty clueless governments for decades. One has only to look at their housing "policies".

Not only did they leave communities to rot, they dealt with disquiet about Benefits Scrounging by bringing more and more people into the Benefits queue. Gordon Brown was probably the main architect of this move. We now have whole classes of people who think that they can have as many children as they like because there will be Benefits provided for them - not to mention the over 60s who now regard a Free Bus Pass as a Human Right.

All this is a terrible mistake. Instead of providing a social safety net, Benefits now create a dependency culture across virtually the whole population. Instead of linking them - as far as possible - to insurance schemes, people have been allowed to think that they are simply things for which someone else will pay.

Every child should have a National Insurance number from birth and thereby be enrolled into a scheme to which at some point they will be expected to contribute and from which they can draw benefits in sickness, unemployment and old age. Some people will never be able to contribute to the scheme - the severely handicapped - but no one will object to supporting them, from general taxation or from a premium on contributions to the insurance scheme. Most people will be able to contribute and willing to do so when the benefits are clear.

In this way, we could begin to break the cycle of Dependency Culture and restore dignity to everyone. Life is about living.


Added 24 July 2018: The arguments of this Blog post are expanded in my paperback The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers

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