The Welfare State was conceived as a cushion to protect those affected by disability, poverty and misfortune. It is not coincidental that it was introduced in the aftermath of World War II, as it became recognised that disability and illness as a result of the war effort were not necessarily anyone’s particular “fault”; and to compensate returning servicemen and women for disadvantage in the job market.
That compassionate understanding has been gradually eroded and lost as the old world of privilege and opinionated politics has reasserted itself. The wealthy have always punished the poor, justifying in harsh policies and political rhetoric the belief that poverty is punishment for fecklessness, feeble character or moral defectiveness. And so we see a move towards increasingly punitive and divisive assessments in terms of which its claimants are required to justify their claims – and highlight their suffering – rather than having their needs assessed objectively according to enlightened benchmarks that signal poverty or incapacity. The old-world view in which the rich punish the poor and reward themselves is being reasserted.
A retrogressive tax system is revealed. The bedroom tax is cruel and falls most sharply upon the poor and disabled; PIP introduces tests for mobility and personal care that are almost meaningless; and yet, our MP’s can claim the most exorbitant “expenses” and take umbrage when legitimate public scrutiny suggests their self-awarded compensation schemes are excessive or dishonest.
Different rules now apply in dishonesty. If you wish to be excused, make dishonesty glaring. If you want to get caught, filch fish fingers for the kids’ tea. Righteous indignation sounds loudest from those upstanding members of the establishment who themselves enjoy the most lavish privileges and exemptions. That was the state of play that Welfare reforms were intended to mitigate. Instead, we have a situation in which the most abject poverty is not only tolerated but, in a deliberate policy to divide and conquer, is now blamed on those who live in substandard housing and eke out a living on the minimum wage.