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Are Welfare Benefits Too Generous?

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The above will be a contentious question, not everyone who reads it will agree with me. I also meander somewhat.

I typed this after I came back from holiday in Tenerife six weeks ago, but only decided to put it on Yammer after reading Mick Kent’s letter about the current welfare reforms. My blog has a slightly different tangent, it’s more about welfare state generally.

When I came back from holiday one thing that struck me on my holiday was still on my mind.

Whilst holidaymakers such as me were having an enjoyable, relaxing and easy time, I saw numerous young African men who had come to the island to earn a living, selling cheap trinkets and souvenirs. They approached the holidaymakers literally every minute, offering their wares.

What was clear to me was these young men did not have an easy life, unlike myself, who was having an easy life, both during my holiday week, and overall in Britain. They were approaching everyone sitting in a bar or restaurant, trying to sell their goods, only to met with rejection at least 98% of the time. I imagined myself in that situation. I would have found it massively soul destroying. They did it, day in, day out. They had no choice; it was their only means to earn a living. No welfare state to support them.

I contrasted my life in Britain to these young men, who out of a desperate hope for a better life, left the security of their family, their support network and familiar way of life, to come to an uncertain life in Europe, hoping to earn a better living, and send some money home to improve the well-being of their loved ones.

Guilt was the main emotion I felt after my holiday. I moan about the frustrations of my own life, which are ridiculously petty compared to the hard lives I saw these young men endure.

Now to the title of my blog. In my time with Bromford Support, I’ve worked with a great variety of customers, from people who’ve have suffered incomparable hardship and trauma, to individuals who just expect, expect, expect -the welfare state has an obligation to look after them; it is their right, that is their perspective. We incorporate our own personal experiences into our outward expression of ourselves, and I’ve incorporated my experiences in Tenerife (my experiences of all my years before led me to want to be a support worker, and I’m glad I’ve helped vulnerable people because of it). But, when one of customers now tells me they “cannot manage without a washing machine” I would challenge this assertion before I automatically apply for a grant to obtain them a washing machine.

The overall point of my blog- I feel too many people (including myself in the past), see the welfare state as a right, a way of life. I’ve been out of work for long periods previously. The state gave me money for doing nothing when I did not have a job. I took it for granted. I wasn’t facing much pressure to seek work, nor put on work programmes. This situation, whilst easy for me, did me no good. I became socially isolated, unconsciously lost self confidence and self belief. Had I been placed on a work program, or pushed me into accepting a minimum wage job, psychologically this would have benefitted me – giving me structure to my day, social contact with other people, the well-being that comes from being mentally active, and if I felt frustrated by the job I found myself in, given me the spur to improve my situation.

In comparison to the young men in Tenerife, when I deal with some of my customers who are having their full rent paid by housing benefit, and on top of that, for example, a family of two parents with two children are receiving £250 in Income Support or JSA, and Child Tax Credit, and Child Benefits, I question whether they are genuinely financially vulnerable, and why they say they cannot manage financially. My personal view is successive governments have viewed poverty in relative terms, rather than absolute terms. I don’t for one moment feel that governments should look at poverty in absolute terms, but I do feel the balance should move away somewhat from their view of relative poverty.
The welfare state is in place to alleviate hardship, but hardship is relative, as I saw in Tenerife, and as we can all see when we watch the television news of people’s lives around the world. Most people are more resilient than they may realise, and more resilient than the nanny state gives them credit for. The Welfare State, whilst providing sustenance to people in the lower strata of society, also it seems to me, does little to spur people to utilise the hidden strengths within that can emerge in the face of adversity.
My answer to my question is yes, the welfare state is too generous.