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The state does not care about you

Doing the rounds on Facebook is a story about a cancer patient told by the Department of Work and Pensions that she contributed to her illness and therefore does not qualify for some amount of welfare payment. One commenter points out that she probably broke some rule, such as drinking too much or not going to some medical appointment or other. Debate ensues about whether such rules are fair.

There are more such stories on a blog called Benefit Tales, such as the the man who died in a freezing flat after the DWP stopped payments to him because he did not attend an assessment, because they sent the letter demanding that he attend the assessment to the wrong address.

The problem is centralisation. A government department can not know exactly how ill a certain individual feels today, and it will not visit you to find out why you did not attend an appointment. It certainly can not just pay money to anyone who asks for help because there are too many of those, so it must make rules, write letters and feed forms into computers. Letters go missing and no rigid set of rules will make sense for every single complicated human. But by demanding that the state looks after everyone, such centralisation is just what welfare state supporters are asking for.

It is much better to look not to the state for help, but to one’s friends and neighbours. They are the ones who know just how ill you are and can knock on your door and make sure you are all right. And if they were allowed to hold on to a little more of their money, they might be able to club together and pay your heating bill and bring you groceries. Similarly, private charities, because they can choose who they help, are better placed to more efficiently allocate their resources to the most deserving.

As usual, public debate misses alternatives to the state. A television programme about people on benefits recently aired, and the mainstream media helpfully divides people into those who think welfare recipients are undeserving and those who think they need more help. The result is that the state is asked to do more to help people, and do more to stop cheats, frauds and the undeserving. Few think to ask the state to do less.

But, as Perry’s quote of yesterday says, it makes no sense to ask the state to look after people. If you want to look after the poor and the chronically ill, be a libertarian: take the money and the power away from the heartless state and leave it in the hands of people who care.

20 comments to The state does not care about you

  • Sam Duncan

    “… the man who died in a freezing flat after the DWP stopped payments to him because he did not attend an assessment, because they sent the letter demanding that he attend the assessment to the wrong address.”

    That happened to me. Not dying in a freezing flat, obviously, but I did miss months of payments because of an almost identical DWP goof. Fortunately I had some savings to keep me going and a helpful family. In the end they paid out a lump sum, but there was no apology. I even had to restart the application process from scratch, because my original one had been closed, due to their error.

    Honestly, even though I have less money now, I’m glad to be off the bloody thing. I will cheerfully strangle the next person who claims that it’s “demeaning” for poor people to look for low-paid work, I really will. There is nothing in modern Britain as demeaning or soul-destroying as dealing with the welfare state. As you say, Rob, it doesn’t care a jot. The heardest-hearted cartoon capitalist from the wildest socialist nightmares couldn’t have designed a better system for keeping the poor in their place.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Quite. The last time I was fully unemployed, after 9 months on JSA I registered myself as self-employed just to get away from them. They seemed to get particularly upset when I suggested after a few months of unemployment that I should take on some voluntary work to build my skills. They said that made me “unavailable for work” and would stop my benefits. They got really upset when I called to reschedule my appointment because I was volunteering to man a stand at a Christian Coonference for a few days. They threatened to stop my benefits altogether that time. When family members offered to pay for a break for us, they job centre wouldn’t let us go on holiday for the same reason.

    As to my self employed business, I knew I would never make a go of it, but I just couldn’t take the contempt the idiots behind the desk treated me with any more. I had an idea, but no money and no prospect of a loan. Changing my status in this way did made me eligible for working tax credits, which did not impose the arduous fortnightly ritual humiliation although they were worth significantly less than JSA. Back then I was younger and more idealistic. I had just obtained a good Psychology degree and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get a job. The people behind the desk seemed to take a perverse pleasure in seeing me suffer – I used to think it was because I was better educated than them and they enjoyed seeing me brought down a peg or two. These days I suspect they were just bastards.

    The thing that really got me though was the way they treated the actual “wasters”. One day a guy shambled into the office, clearly a junkie, and they spoke to him like a pal. He skipped straight to the front of the queue, they signed his chit and off he went without a word of question and with a smile on his face. I, on the other hand, who tried very hard to make the bastards do their job and help me find work, was subject to all manner of insults. I concluded that they actually like the wasters and the no-hopers because they don’t require any real input of effort on their part, whereas the people who actually want to work, might, you know, expect the people at the Job Centre to help them in some way…..

    A few months trying to build a business with no prospect of success was much more fulfilling than subjecting myself to their treatment.

  • Alex

    I can sympathize with both Sam and Jaded Voluntaryist. Like JV, the last time I was on JSA I decided to become self-employed to escape having to deal with the welfare state. Nearly a decade on and I am still self-employed.

    While I was on JSA I had made seeking a job a full time occupation and was frustrated at the lack of any meaningful support. I was pushed into a “new deal” scheme which comprised of me having to work 3 days a week supposedly on an IT-related job placement, in actuality it was filing, and spending the other 2 days on a training scheme. The so-called training scheme consisted of being ‘taught’ how to write a CV and speculative letters to potential employers. I had virtually no chance of finding suitable employment or teaching myself genuinely useful skills while having to spend 5 days a week on the scheme. Being on the scheme was mandatory if I wanted to continue receiving JSA. Of course I had no desire whatsoever to continue receiving JSA, especially not under such conditions.

    I have worked for the Department of Work and Pensions in the past. I have observed the contempt some workers in the DWP have for claimants, an attitude which bothered me greatly. However there are those who work for JobCentres that really do want to help. Unfortunately for such well-meaning individuals the system is rotten, and irreformable, and can only serve to create dependency and cause harm to those who actually need help.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    I read somewhere that The Salvation Army is the most efficient charity in the world, and it wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe we should out-source asylums to them, as well!

  • Roue le Jour

    It certainly can not just pay money to anyone who asks for help because there are too many of those, so it must make rules, write letters and feed forms into computers.

    I suspect it would be cheaper to just give money to people who ask for it, (and punish them later if they lied) and sack three quarters of the benefit office staff.

    In other words, assume claimants are honest until proved otherwise, rather than assuming they’re all dishonest and punishing them all accordingly.

  • Jim

    “I suspect it would be cheaper to just give money to people who ask for it, (and punish them later if they lied) and sack three quarters of the benefit office staff.”

    I’ve always said that benefits should be freely available to anyone who wants them, and relatively generous, but getting them should be made as boring and tedious as possible. A sort of reverse Workhouse, instead of having to work for dole you have to literally do nothing for it. You have to show up at 9am, sit in a big warehouse for 3-4 hours then you get given your daily cash. Don’t show up, no cash. Get a days work or a part-time job, just turn up the days you want to. Lose your job on Monday, turn up Tuesday for some cash. Its a sort of citizens income really, for those who can be bothered to collect it, being bothered being the important bit – it takes more effort than signing on every few weeks. Got to be cheaper to administer than the current system. Basically puts the benefit seeker in the same spot as the worker who pays the taxes to fund the benefits – you want money, get up every day and go somewhere you don’t really want to go, and do something you don’t want to do, in order to get it.

  • SC

    >It is much better to look not to the state for help, but to one’s friends and neighbours.

    Interesting that you left out the word ‘family’.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    SC: I meant to include family, it’s just bad editing.

  • fake

    The idea of neighbers and family for welfare instead of the government is the biggest weakness of libertarian extremism.

    Plenty of people live in estates where their neighbours would rather stab them than loan them money.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Hear him! Hear him!

    Great post Rob, well said.

  • Andrew Duffin

    I have no direct experience of job centres, thank God, but one of my sons has. His conclusions were (1) there’s a formal system in place – never admitted of course – to prevent you seeing the same administrator twice, this is presumably to disorient people as much as possible and prevent any continuity or friendliness from arising; (2) they’re trying (his words) to catch you out, not help you out.

    On the inappropriateness of the JSA system: we recently advertised for a part-time cook and manager for a village community shop; we got dozens of applications from unemployed joiners and bricklayers – no, really – who were, I assume, made to apply by the Job Centre. Demeaning and pointless for them, and a waste of time for us.

    Truly the State is not your friend. But then, if you’re here and reading this, you knew that already.

  • The idea of neighbers and family for welfare instead of the government is the biggest weakness of libertarian extremism.

    Except that is actually not what most libertarians think… they think that charities (i.e. true non-state charities) also have a role.

    Plenty of people live in estates where their neighbours would rather stab them than loan them money.

    Yes, estates full of people on state welfare.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “Yes, estates full of people on state welfare.”

    Indeed.

    And who or what decided to build “estates” (or schemes as they say in Scotland) of enormous size, with housing all of one size and type, no leisure or retail facilities, miles from the town centres, with soul-destroying architecture and a general lack of care and maintenance?

    Why, The State, of course.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    fake: Yes, as Perry and Andrew Duffin said. Also I think the state has a way of capturing the market: people seem to think that it is the state’s role to help, so they are absolved of responsibility. Or they are poorer so able to donate less.

    And then Brian’s recent post had this:

    In general, a free society makes people nicer. It makes people (Randians: look away now) more altruistic. One of the most significant shortages that afflicted the Soviet Union, throughout its baleful history and especially when it collapsed, was a shortage of public spirit, that is to say, of the willingness of people to put themselves out for each other, and especially for strangers.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Plenty of people live in estates where their neighbours would rather stab them than loan them money.”

    “Yes, estates full of people on state welfare.”

    I might repeat my final sentence at this juncture.

  • Julie near Chicago

    See this:

    The Left’s Disdain for the Will to Live

    by Arnold Ahlert
    Jan. 17, 2014

    Lisa Bonchek Adams is a 43-year-old woman with three children and Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. In the seven years since she was first diagnosed, Adams has dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to chronicling her battle with the disease, via hundreds of thousands of tweets and a blog. In two columns that offer great insight into the progressive mindset, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, and his wife, Emma Gilbey Keller, have taken Adams to task for having the audacity to prolong her own life, and publicly write about her efforts to do so. As far as these two are concerned, Adams isn’t dying quickly enough, or privately enough, to suit their sensibilities.

    [...]

    It is precisely this kind of radical egalitarianism that forms the heart of ObamaCare. Millions of people have had their “inferior” insurance policies cancelled because they did not conform to the ten essential elements the new law requires every policy to have.

    [...]

  • Thanks, Julie, but I am not going to click on that. Too darn depressing.

  • […] The state does not care about you […]

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, believe me, I understand. Perfectly.

    . . .

    The accompanying photo of the young woman (and mom) is I think from before she got sick, since she looks quite happy and healthy. I’m glad to have it my mental gallery.

  • Elaine

    From Andrew Duffin: “..

    we got dozens of applications from unemployed joiners and bricklayers – no, really – who were, I assume, made to apply by the Job Centre. Demeaning and pointless for them, and a waste of time for us.

    I was recently made redundant from my job and have been claiming JSA. I signed on just after the New Year and my advisor told me I would now have to apply for 35 jobs a week or my money would be stopped. Since then I have applied for about 10 jobs a week that I know I have no chance of getting just to meet my target. I think that others are doing the same as we need the money and it seems as if the job centre staff are doing their best to grab any excuse to sanction people.