30 September 2010

A strange remedy

In a recent Daily Mail editorial, under the title ‘The cheats who give welfare a bad name’, there is a reference to the case of an elderly couple, married for almost 50 years, who were found dead in their unheated home during the winter. Their death is ascribed to their having been ‘too proud and independent to accept offers of help from the social services.’

A fictitious pride and independence seems to be the only motivation that subscribers to the modern ideology can consider. It is at least as plausible to suppose that it was a thoroughly sensible sense of self-preservation. The couple could not accept offers of help without exposing themselves to the scrutiny of social workers, and at the age which they had reached they must have been aware of the possibility that they might be considered no longer fit to retain their independence, and might be incarcerated in ‘care’ homes. Very likely, if this had happened, they would have been separated. They may have quite deliberately decided that they would prefer to die together, and at liberty.

I do not mean to suggest that it is only the possibility of separation for married couples which makes the final loss of independence appear to some people as a fate worse than death.

The only realistic way to make situations of this kind significantly less likely is to return to an un-means-tested State pension, at a level that is likely to be adequate both for heating and for domestic help of a non-interfering kind. The cost of adequate pensions could surely be easily met by significantly reducing the army of social workers who now poke and pry into people’s lives, or even eliminating this army altogether.

The Daily Mail would like us to believe that the reluctance of old people to apply for help from the social services has been increased by the ‘rapidly growing army of benefit cheats’. So, the Daily Mail suggests, we must have ‘much tougher and more rigorous assessment of those who seek benefits’.

This will mean insisting on the same standards of efficiency from civil servants as those expected of employees in every well run private company.

It will mean far more rigorous checks on claims – handled with sensitivity so as not to deter those in genuine need.

The only real solution is to abolish the system of benefits completely. Such a system is sure to lead (as it has done) to an ever increasing population of dependents, and an increasing prevalence of dishonesty. (The dishonesty is inevitable, and not necessarily conscious.) Tougher rules are more likely to increase the level of dishonesty than to decrease the number of applicants. As it is, for example, many must apply for unemployment benefit who realise, at least subconsciously, that they have no intention of remaining in a job for more than a few days.