Monday, 20 September 2010

What Your Country Can Do For You

The newspapers have been full of a story today about Britain's so-called worst dad. This may be unduly harsh criticism. Growing up as I did in one of Britain's most deprived areas, I can confirm first-hand that Keith Macdonald, the dad in question, is comparable to any number of my former classmates who have similar numbers of children to whose futures they do not positively contribute. But I digress. I mention this story not because of the sadly predictable social implications of this man's activities, but because there is a cold political wind blowing in the background of this story.

Suffice to say, those with an eye for the bigger picture will look at such stories and already be able to see the Tory organised middle-class backlash against benefit claimants gathering pace with each passing moment. Yes, there are benefit fraudsters out there who need to be identified and appropriately punished. But there are also vast numbers of unfortunates, people who would love to work but whose disabilities make this genuinely impossible, or whose skills are non-transferable following redundancy. Perhaps they are people with close home ties who are simply born into towns with little expectation of growth or possibility of finding work.

A blanket approach to dealing communities with a high level of benefit dependency (e.g. by reducing the amount of benefits paid, for example) risks hurting those most in need more than false claimants. Someone claiming incapacity benefit or income support while working on the side will obviously suffer less from a benefit reduction than a genuine claimant. We should be wary of applying a sledgehammer mentality to a problem which would benefit more from a scalpel in skilled hands. There are cultural issues amongst certain sections of our society which must be addressed, and we will all benefit from innovative solutions that tackle the underlying problems of dependency.

The real battle for a government interested in reducing benefit dependency in future generations is not in the minutae of doctors' letters or in the semantics of amounts. It is in education - showing people the positive benefits of a life well-lived and giving them genuine aspirations to achieve.

Whatever your opinion of benefits claimants, a government so ruthlessly committed to free-market service delivery at the expense of the public sector has to take responsibility for the welfare of citizens in areas where the private sector does not offer suitable employment. With that in mind, it becomes even more difficult to associate the government's intentions to charge progressively more for a university education with a genuine desire to offer a better future to Keith Macdonald's children.


  1. It would also be useful if there actually were jobs to be had in all areas of the country, there are many areas where work is not an option due to lack of investment and the foreclosure of small medium and large businesses.

    Education and investment are so badly needed but so unlikely to materialise.

  2. Hello Indy,

    You are of course absolutely correct in your assertion about jobs not being available in all areas of the country, and with so much of the politics in this country being constrained to the area inside the M25, you fear for smaller communities in outlying areas of the country.

    I read a report earlier today that suggested that the North of England was likely to suffer more from the economic crisis than the South. Is this honestly news in the sense that it surprises anybody? The fear that I have is that while the coalition talks about being pro-business and the importance of education, the policies that it is mooting are completely at odds with it's supposed goals.