People Get the Government They Deserve: The Welfare Reform Bill

I’m not going to go into the policy detail of it now, this has been covered on this and many other blogs. Suffice to say last night’s result was good news for the government, landlords, DWP jobsworths and the public/private welfare reform industry; bad news if you happen to be sick or out of work.

Bloggers, activists, people with disabilities and members of the public joined forces in a spontaneous outbreak of opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill. They lobbied Parliament, blocked London traffic, hammered the government on every last detail: who would have thought, ministers must have said to themselves, watching thousands of demonstrators in Westminster, that the cripples could put up such a fight? In an act of creativity and persistence, the activists got hold of the responses to the DWP’s consultation through a freedom of information request, then published their own report showing that the DWP had suppressed and misrepresented responses to the consultation it had been obliged to run before legislating.

Still, we’re told that the public are with the government on this and I’m sure that’s true. But it’s not because this is long overdue reform. Similar experiments have been going on since at least 1994. And let’s not pretend it’s about fraud – as if mankind has ever designed a system that doesn’t have some possibility of abuse.

This is a democracy, and there are a lot of people out there with a chip on their shoulder about welfare benefits. It’s easy to draw distinctions between the deserving and undeserving, between good benefits and bad benefits, and to place oneself on the appropriate side. Easier still to blame a life of frustration on others, and moan and wail to the government and the papers, than to do the hard and necessary work of change. (And if you think that this legislation will stop the wailing and moaning, you do not understand the human capacity for self pity and cruelty without risk.)

Blogger Seaneen Molloy puts it simply:

People up and down the country will be rubbing their hands in glee due to the entirely unwarranted belief they themselves will never be ill, disabled or unemployed, and, should they be, they’re one of the, ‘worthy’.

That’s it. You may believe you will never be out of work or fall ill. Or if – heaven forbid – the worst should happen, then the state will take your virtue into account. They will see you are one of the hard working families, one of the decent people, and an exception will be made in your case. Dream on. They won’t and it won’t.

It strikes me that we have spent so many years trying to figure out how to solve the problem of poverty and yet the answer is so simple. Just do not be poor. The corrupt cop in Irvine Welsh’s Filth reflects that ‘the important thing is to be on the winning side.’ That is it. The thing is to be on the helicopter leaving Saigon and not to be trapped on the burning embassy roof down below. And that’s why we hate rich liberals. If you’re in the helicopter on your way to safety, the last thing you want is a fellow passenger fretting and wringing their hands about all the people left in the imploding city and war-strafed jungle.

So yeah, I’m looking at the government, the media and the welfare reform industry. But I’m also looking around at you. You happy now?

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