With apologies to Mhairi Black and Labour:
The welfare state is neither compassionate
nor fair. Kill it with fire

The Labour Party is in uproar after acting leader Harriet Harman dared to point out what the rest of us already knew: that the public mood has turned against the welfare state.

Already Labour leadership candidates are lining up to attack her – with the honourable exception of Liz Kendall who is already suspected by party activists of harbouring dangerously sensible ideas.

Meanwhile baby-faced SNP darling Mhairi Black made a tub-thumping maiden speech attacking cuts to housing benefits and tax credits.

The left have made welfare reform the centrepiece of their anti-Tory hate campaign. Whilst such posturing might make them feel good about themselves, it also illustrates just how out of touch they are. The left used to stand up ‘for the workers’. Now they are the champions of those who don’t really feel much like working.

They simply do not get it. Welfare is not ‘your’ money to spend on whatever you fancy. You do not have a right to a spare bedroom in your taxpayer-subsidised council house. You do not have a ‘right’ to two cars and a big screen television. You do not have the right to receive more in benefits than you could earn in work. You do not have a right to force others to pay for children you cannot afford.

The public do get this. Welfare reform is incredibly popular because people instinctively know there is a problem. Public support for welfare spending has dramatically fallen.

For too long the welfare net has been less of a safety net and more of a five star hotel for the feckless, dishonest and irresponsible. Those in genuine need are trapped. Those who game the system are rewarded.

Working families are justifiably outraged when they see their neighbours on benefits enjoying a better lifestyle than them. There are plenty of people out there who see life on benefits as a perfectly valid lifestyle choice. This naturally enrages people who work hard and pay their bills.

Worse, the benefits culture destroys human beings and turns them into caged animals.

To live a happy, fulfilled life you need to be free to make your own decisions. People are healthier, happier and better motivated when they are in control of their own lives. Society works best when it is formed of responsible, independent-minded and  – above all – free individuals.

Welfare is forced on ‘vulnerable’ groups, dehumanising individuals and stripping their ability to make decisions for themselves. People cannot lead fully human lives if they are dependent on the state.

The sad thing is most actual benefits claimants know this. They know they have nothing of their own save what is taken from other people, and they are constantly assailed by a fear-mongering chorus of voices in politics and the media telling them they cannot survive without it.

There was a time when people supported themselves and each other through mutual aid and friendly societies. These spontaneous community organisations existed long before the welfare state. They were still expanding when the welfare state was created. State welfare all but wiped them out.

Seen in this light, the rise in the UK of food banks – which serve around half a million people a year – does not represent a failure of society. Local men and women helping those in genuine need in their communities are filling the gaps caused by the failure of the welfare state. They are living proof that individuals and communities do a better job of taking care of one another than the state ever could. Their emergence is truly revolutionary.

By contrast, the welfare state reduces people to passive automatons receiving state handouts. The web of connections between free individuals is replaced by a subservient relationship between the state and its supplicants.

Trapping people on benefits encourages long term unemployment. Life on benefits is the death of any independence. A trip to the job centre leaves you feeling like a parasite without a purpose. It is no mystery why the jobless are more likely to suffer from depression, or why so many resort to suicide in order to escape the whole purposeless merry-go-round.

Dependency wastes people’s potential. It undermines their sense of self worth. It makes getting up in the morning seem like a pointless chore.

Life on benefits also distorts morality and kills any sense of personal responsibility. It encourages a sense of victimhood. The Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street exposed this in all it’s hideous glory last year. The ‘anti-austerity’ crowd went predictably mental.

Generous benefits for single parents discourage marriage and encourage illegitimacy. Children grow up watching their parents go through a string of meaningless, sometimes abusive, sex partners. Many of them – convinced that this is a perfectly normal, healthy way to live your life – will repeat this act of cruelty on their own children. And so it goes on, from generation to generation.

Social housing has given birth to sink estates packed with idle, desperate, broken families – families full of angry young men who are all too easily tempted to a life of crime. It is on these estates that the children of the welfare state spend the formative years of their lives.

Encouraging dependency hurts children more than anyone. If you pay people to breed, then they will have more children. Already we have seen the emergence in recent years of a category of ‘welfare mums’. The children of these women are born into a world of low expectations, few opportunities and terrifying role models.

It is not right to encourage people to behave this way. We are quite literally paying people to behave like animals.

Aside from the behavioural effects on those trapped in the system, the cost of welfare is staggering. Total spending on benefits and tax credits is estimated at £217 billion, 29 percent of all public spending. Tax credits alone swallow £30 billion. In the last five decades, welfare spending has increased at twice the rate of economic growth.

To paraphrase the late great Mrs Thatcher, the problem with the welfare state is that sooner or later you run out of other peoples’ money.

There have been some positive changes recently. The benefits cap is encouraging people into work. The universal credit goes some way towards making work pay but does not completely eliminate bad incentives. Restricting child tax credit to the first two children is both sensible and fair.

Of course Labour have learned nothing. They opposed every one of these reforms. They will resist any further changes. They are no longer the party of the workers. They are the party of welfare scroungers.

The lives destroyed by the welfare state mean nothing to the left. Their only concern is to appear virtuous by promising to throw more money at ‘the poor’ whilst hammering ‘the rich’, as if the existence of the former were somehow the fault of the latter.

It is not compassionate to support a system that strips people of their dignity as human beings. It is not moral to campaign for the rights of poor, disabled and sick people to be kept out of the workplace and treated as though they will never be capable of living a normal life.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that we scrap the whole concept of the welfare safety net. The disabled, the elderly and the unemployed will always be with us. The unfortunate will always need a helping hand in order to get them back on their feet. But the centralised bureaucratic welfare state we have now is an expensive mess that kills responsibility and pushes claimants down. We need to take the state out of welfare as much as we can, and encourage individuals and communities to take more control over their lives.

The truth is that the welfare state as it currently stands is a failed project, albeit a well-intentioned one. It is not good enough to provide for all our needs. It kills personal responsibility and treats us like children in need of pocket money. It is shockingly expensive and the cost is only going to keep going up.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty

  • JM

    Absolutely no sense of balance here. There is such a thing as dependency culture, but there is no balance in this article that considers how much good the welfare state can do. You indulge yourself in a fantasy of civil society providing all the welfare we need, which it didn’t before the welfare state existed, and cannot if it were to killed “with fire”.

    You also seem to put down the moral malaise of vast swathes of society entirely down to the welfare state which is ludicrous and an extremely narrow perspective. The break down of the family unit, traditional moral values, religious belief, the sexual revolution, the permissive society, there is much to discuss in this area, bizarre to discuss such a huge topic as if it could be put down to the welfare state alone.

    You start the article saying you want to kill it fire and end it by saying that is exactly what you don’t want, because “the unemployed will always be with us”… okay, well obviously, we will have an increasing number of unemployed people in the future, and we will always have the disadvantaged and disabled. Okay, so what is your solution? You like cuts, fine, you praise Universal Credit (even though it hasn’t been rolled out), but you don’t have any solutions, nothing compelling to offer.

    I’d be interested to hear your direct experience of people who claim welfare, and the welfare state itself, because the language you use about them has all the sensitivity of a eugenicist scientist and your article is as nuanced as a Daily Mail throw away. Indeed, the lack of depth to this rant suggests you’re a tabloid researcher. From where does your overarching theory of the scourge of the welfare state come from?

    How will civil society replace the welfare state? How can this be facilitated?

    I see only sweeping statements here. There is NOTHING compassionate about welfare for the unemployed, the disabled, the mentally ill? Nothing at all? Right.

    “If you pay people to breed, they will have more children”

    “we are quite literally paying people to behave like animals”

    “scroungers”

    What a nice lad.