The received wisdom is that benefits need to be cut/ capped/ people must work, either for their benefits (workfare) or in paid apprenticeships. So we have sanctions, where if you don’t comply with whatever hoops are set before you, your benefits are withheld.
This is just plain wrong.
We may deprive murderers of their freedom. We don’t deprive them of their food. We feed them, and clothe them and shelter them, whereas our current system of welfare withdraws all of those things.
I hope that the people who design this system are really ignorant of the effect that they are having. I hope that somehow they fool themselves into thinking that people have backup systems, safety nets, friends, family who will provide.
Sadly, that isn’t always the case. The welfare state is supposed to provide social security, to give people the shelter, the food, to cover the basic needs of day to day life. And when it is withdrawn, sanctioned, people suffer.
Practically, I believe that a welfare system based on punishment is counterproductive as well. I read a fascinating article last week in the Harvard Magazine on the Science of Scarcity. I’d urge you to pop through and read it for yourself but the quick take away is that poverty, anxiety, stress – they all go to affect people more than you could possibly expect,
scarcity steals mental capacity wherever it occurs—from the hungry, to the lonely, to the time-strapped, to the poor.
Steals mental capacity. So when you punish people and make them scared, you make them less able to make good decisions and work their way out of the situation.
I suspect anyone who has really been scared, poor, hungry, desperate knows this. Again, I really hope that the people making the policies and decisions that put people in these situations don’t. That they aren’t doing this on purpose.
So what it we, as a society, approached this a different way? What if, instead of making survival conditional on behaviour, we insisted on it being a right? What if we all received a basic income?
No workfare, no made up jobs. Power in the hands of employees to walk away from bad situations, exploitative zero hour contracts (is that a terminology redefinition along the lines of affordable housing?). A society where careers have an income, women have independence, students can afford to study. It sounds like a pretty good starting place to me.
So despite other faults in the Green’s manifesto/ policy aims, that’s the way I’m turning in this general election. I know I’m not the only one. If you want more reasons, there’s 10 on watching you grow. You can read more about the Green Party position on basic income via BIEN.
I’ve written more on basic income before. Please feel free to read: