Monday, April 06, 2009

Lessons from America

Does anyone remember Iain Duncan Smith's "compassionate conservatism"? Or "welfare expert" Frank Field and his policies to "think the unthinkable"? Or David Cameron's suggestions that we should reform our welfare system to make it more like America's?

Recent statistics from America show quite clearly how its welfare system is failing those who need its help.

More than 3 million people lost their jobs in the past five months, and the unemployment rate is up to 15.6% (or nearly 1 in 6 adults). And yet in 2008, only 36% of unemployed Americans received unemployment benefits. That means 64% who were either using up their savings, living on handouts from charities, trying to cope without the essentials or turning to crime for survival (the growth sector of the American welfare state is in locking people up in prison). Some of the biggest new housing developments are 'tent cities', where people who can't afford anywhere permanent to live put up temporary dwellings along railway tracks and underneath freeway overpasses. Other families rely on the generosity of friends or family, moving in for a few days or weeks with others into grossly overcrowded housing.

It is one of the most basic functions of a welfare system that if someone loses a job, they get help to pay the bills and support to find another job. In the 1990s, the welfare support offered by states in America were re-designed by 'experts' who thought that the supply of jobs would always grow and that benefits caused people to become "dependent" and "idle". As a result, the help and support that people need is no longer there for millions of Americans.

I can't honestly see anything "compassionate" about the people who argued loudly that Britain should have introduced this wretched and failed system. And when its advocates claim to be "experts" in welfare policy, we should remember that they are "welfare experts" in the same way that Fred Goodwin is an "expert" in how to run a bank.


At 8:42 am , Blogger Mike said...

It is one of the most basic functions of a welfare system that if someone loses a job, they get help to pay the bills and support to find another job.

Our own welfare system is not too hot on either of those criteria. To qualify for the dole, you need to have paid NI for the four previous years. And the Labour Exchange has always been hopeless in helping with looking for work. Its function is to police the dole. Unfortunately, I write from experience.

At 1:14 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

"To qualify for the dole, you need to have paid NI for the four previous years."

I claimed it while looking for a job after being a student, and hadn't paid NI for four previous years, so that can't be true. Are you talking about the contributions-based element only?

Not meaning to claim our current system works well, though.

At 6:44 pm , Blogger Mike said...

Tim - NI is credited to full-time students and those signed on. Those out of work, but not signed on, fall through the cracks (Mental illness in my case.)

In the nineties, the requirements were two years, and I fell foul of the system back then. Now it's four years (acccording to the Dole Office), and I expect to fall foul of the system again.

At 12:12 pm , Blogger John Buckingham said...

But surely it's true that if we enact welfare reforms (in better economic times) which get everyone who can work into work, then we'll have more cash to make benefits more generous and qualifying requirements less strict? E.g. the increased disability benefits under the current proposals. It's not contradictory to have more measures to get people off welfare where there are suitable jobs, and at the same time to be more generous when there aren't any, surely?

At 1:18 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

John - compulsion isn't usually a particularly effective tool to get people off welfare and into jobs, though. There are all kinds of support which aren't being offered which'd be more effective.

Mike - thanks, didn't know that.

At 2:21 pm , Blogger John Buckingham said...

Tim, I'd agree - actually I think probably a bit of both is best, as many people probably don't believe in their ability to work, and might have to be given a gentle nudge to get them there. Thankfully, reducing the number of unemployed (by getting those with some skills/fewer personal issues into work) would free up our money to provide e.g. more CBT, more childcare, more skills training, more free literacy teaching, more substance abuse work, so you're tackling the problem at both ends.

At 3:12 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

I'd agree with that, actually - although I maintain that different geographical areas need different systems as there's a difference between an area where a culture of worklessness has been ingrained because there haven't been any jobs for 25 years, and an area with plenty of jobs where there are a few people who can't or won't get them - but do you really think the kind of compulsion in the current Welfare Reform Bill is that gentle nudge? Further, do you think it will actually work? (There don't seem to be enough safeguards built in to stop private companies skimming people who are easier to find work for and doing nothing for people who face serious structural barriers to employment, for example.)

At 10:42 am , Blogger Old Holborn said...

Abolish the welfare state before it becomes a totalitarian state

They ALWAYS do.

At 12:31 am , Anonymous Ben said...

How long would you say welfare states have been around for, Holborn?

A century, max? It just seems an impressively sweeping iron law of history you've come out with there on quite a short period of sampling.

And of the number of extant welfare states, how many would you say were totalitarian states? I think I'll give you Cuba. So that's you off to some sort of start. On the other hand, I can think of a few dozen off the top of my head that are democracies.

I really am quite impressed at the chutzpah that enables you to make a comment which is so obviously stupid as fuck in a manner which perhaps provides the dictionary definition of "condescending twat".

Do please have a lovely day. :)

At 1:34 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

Ah but Ben, Old Holborn's logic is incontrovertible, because faced with an example of a welfare state that isn't totalitarian, he can just claim that it is on it's way to being totalitarian. Logical crisis averted.

I think OH's observation is based on the favourite right-wing trope that Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were left wing, cause socialist is in the Nazis' name. Perhaps he ought to add Pinochet's Chile to his list of notable totalitarian societies based on the welfare state.


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