Changing the Dependency Culture

Just under 30% of all spending is on the Social Security Budget. "Force the jobless to work for their benefits, says founder of 'Big Issue'.

"By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor, 23 December 2003

"The founder of the The Big Issue made a savage attack on Britain's "dependency culture" yesterday with a call for the jobless to be forced to work in return for state benefits.

John Bird, who started the magazine to help the homeless help themselves, said only radical action would solve the problem of the growing 'underclass'.

In a Christmas address for Politeia, a right-wing think-tank, Mr Bird also called for the Government to pay for the poorest children, particularly those in care, to attend the best public schools.

"A former homeless person himself, Mr Bird said tackling the myriad problems of those at the bottom of society was 'the most pressing requirement of our times', he added: 'The maintenance of the underclass costs big money.

"Its members fill up our prisons with their crimes; our hospitals and medical services with their poor health and poor nutrition; they make many of our so-called 'failing' schools unmanageable.

"Policing, monitoring and controlling them is a vast waste of public time and resources. They also represent a huge waste of human resources. Among them are many talented people.'

"Mr Bird's chief solution to the problem was to end the dependency created by well-intentioned but misguided social policy of governments, civil servants and councils.

"The payment of benefit without work began in the early 1970s when for the first time people who were able-bodied were allowed to live indefinitely on handouts, he said.

Instead, the state should demand work in return for benefits, with some unemployed forced to renovate housing estates, parks and other public places.

"By relating work to benefit, 'we get people up in the morning rather than spending their time watching daytime TV. Recognition that you can't be supported without making a contribution is paramount to challenging dependency and continuing the underclass'.

"To help the children of the most deprived, action would include spending the money now used on coping with truancy and other problems on sending them to public school. With the cost of keeping a child in care at 100,000 a year, the cash would be better used on giving them an education that would transform their life chances, he said.

"Mr Bird warned that unless action was taken soon, the 'yobification' of many British towns and cities would continue as the anti-social behaviour that characterised underclass life flowed into mainstream society." From The Independent, 23 December 2003. The Cost of the Underclass:

Fifty years ago Britain was a work-oriented society; now it is exists in 'entertainment mode', a world of instant gratifiaction where today is not surrendered in preparation for a better tomorrow.

Whether the 'underclass' is a victim of this change, or a cause, is difficult to say. But there seems to be a relationship.

If 'they' can get an easy life, why should I bother?

The threat to democracy in this situation is multi-stranded: As Pericles put it:

"To admit one's poverty is no disgrace with us; but we consider it disgraceful not to make an effort to avoid it."