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.