This pissed me off today. A good old fashioned hatchet job on a couple of creditable people who dared have the nerve to stick their head above the parapet and speak out. But this is not a blog about Richard Littlejohn, a thoroughly despicable individual who reminds me a lot of Lewis Prothero from V for Vendetta. One of the subjects of Littlejohn’s outburst did a pretty good job of responding here, so there’s not much more to be said on the man himself.
What’s more interesting is what it says about the welfare debate in this country. Until now, I’ve been quite optimistic about people’s attitudes about the welfare state, but now I’m not so sure. It would be easy to dismiss Littlejohn’s article as trolling or ‘linkbait’, but I think people in general are very easily persuaded that there are millions of people out there taking the piss while they work hard. It’s a view I often hear from friends and colleagues, and no amount of facts and figures will change their minds. People resent the fact that benefit claimants seemingly don’t have to do very much for their benefits (not true, but that’s what they think).
So what’s the solution? Successive governments have tried to compete over who can be the toughest on welfare, introducing to fitness to work tests, more hoops to jump through and harsher sanctions. This government has taken this to demented and particularly cruel levels at a time when jobs and in short supply, and decent paid jobs are as rare as hens teeth. At the moment, the options for an unemployed person is get a job (if they are very lucky), fruitlessly look for a job, or go on a government punishment scheme. I think we need a 4th option – a guaranteed job paid for by the government.
This removes a lot of the resentment felt by working people towards those out of work. If anyone losing a job had the option of taking a guaranteed job, they will be seen as doing something for something. Most people would take that option I believe. I think the welfare system should be rebuilt around the idea of a full employment economy as we had when the welfare state was introduced, then we can get past this playing off one set of people against another, and ensure the welfare system does what it’s suppose to – pick people up who’ve been discarded by the system and keep them active and ready to get back in the game.