Thursday, 20 December 2012

The poor can't be trusted with money, can they?


Alec Massie is a pretty mild-mannered writer. So it is a shock to read this:

I  wonder how many poor people, far less people on welfare, Mr Shelbrooke encounters. Some, presumably. But, my, what a vile little authoritarian he is. It has evidently escaped his notice that the reason many poor people spend a disproportionate quantity of their meagre resources on gambling is that they have such limited resources in the first place. It may not be an advisable or profitable policy but it is at least an understandable one.

For that matter, cigarettes and alcohol are not necessarily luxuries. They might instead be considered small pleasures that make life a little less ghastly. Especially when you lack means.

I notice, mind you, that Mr Shelbrooke makes no comment on whether it is OK for middle-class mothers to spend their child benefit on gin.

It may well be that Mr Shelbrooke has some support in these proposals. They are just the sort of saloon bar policy – I can picture him, G+T in hand at some golf club do, holding court with ways to make the unemployed behave properly. And it is this image rather than the policy that causes the problem. It is the moralising, patronage of the ruling classes to those less fortunate. We kindly provide these indigents and unfortunates with the means to sustain themselves and they promptly toddle off and spend it on cheap lager and superkings.

I lose count of the times when I’ve described the circumstances of the poor and why this leads to – almost requires – the consumption of small pleasures: booze, fags, sex and TV are what sustains these folk in what is a crap life. But people like Mr Shelbrooke from their blazered comfort choose instead to try and order the choices of the poor since, in his view, they are unable to make such choices without his help and direction.

"When hard-working families up and down the country are forced to cut back on such non-essential, desirable, it is right that taxpayer benefits be only used for essential purposes."

This approach describes entirely the problem facing the Conservative Party. People support benefits reform – the objective of making working financially more attractive that a life on the dole is admirable and overdue. But this is not about condemning the lifestyles of the poor, it’s about the practicalities of allowing these people to live while they – hopefully – sort their lives out. Patronising and judgemental policies such as this “welfare card” idea (and other idiocies that include minimum pricing for booze) just get people’s backs up.

Put simply, it isn’t the government’s job to judge other people’s lifestyle. And when a wealthy MP does this, the ordinary person looks up, shakes his head and mutters obscenities under his breath. If people like Mr Shelbrooke want to get re-elected in their marginal Northern seats they’d do well to take heed of this and start talking instead about responsibility rather than about dictating the choices for people with the misfortune to need benefits.



asquith said...

I agree, it's too late at night to flesh out my thinking but suffice to say I think you're right. What about this? It looks to me like the usual clusterf**k we've come to expect.

Anonymous said...

'it isn’t the government’s job to judge other people’s lifestyle'

Unfortunately, that pretty much defines the current and preceding administrations.

asquith said...

BTW, interesting and depressing (especially since it's not a massive surprise) that although Worstall takes the correct stance, a lot of his commentors don't.

Leg-iron said...

Those dependent on benefits are susceptible to Government control in a way the rest of us aren't.

Most will vote Labour so Labour pander to them, every other party wants them eradicated. You are right - when there is nothing to do, a bit of smoking and drinking takes the edge off.

It's nasty. It's brutal. It's politics.

As a smoker and a tippler of the fine malts, even though I didn't fall into the benefits trap when skint I speak from some experience.

The government, of any rosette, no longer see us as people.

We are their money-generating cattle.

I can only hope they come to their senses before the people do.

Mark Griffiths said...

It's an unworkable policy for two reasons:

Firstly, whilst being ridiculously illiberal and authoritarian, it victimises and alienates the poor and is so politically inept the man should be dumped by his constituency party before the next election.

Secondly, it's unworkable- all that would happen in practice is a new system of bartering, where the cardholders would be ripped off as I doubt you'd get many cigs or much ale for a bag of sprouts.

Some idiot of a civil servant, probably a Common Purpose graduate, has had his ear bent by an IT snake oil merchant and Shelbrooke has been selected to lead the charge- "run it up the flagpole..." as they (thankfully) no longer say.