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WELFARE RECIPIENTS

"I think we need to defend what most people think basically needs defending and that is the provision of some form of welfare from the cradle to the grave"

Eric Hobsbawm

Politics is part of the air that we all live and breathe. It is about what we are allowed and not allowed to do. It permeates every pore of our bodies and makes assessments and judgements about our worth in society. It is about reward, freedom, punishment or confinement, marginalisation, (institutional) discrimination and criminalisation. But most of all it is about how we understand, embrace or oppose it. Policy typifies all of this and can be seen to be stereotypically judgemental about the most ‘visible’ recipients of welfare benefits. This is particularly true of the UK welfare system. And there lies the hypocrisy of powerful elites.

 

As Richard Titmuss pointed out in his Social Divisions of Welfare Thesis (1958), we are all recipients of welfare. Welfare, for Titmuss, is manifest in three different forms (four when you include the unpaid caring role of women conducted outside of the paid labour market). ‘Occupational Welfare’, he argued, conveys rewards for those who supposedly pay deference to social norms and behaviour. It does so, through the non-taxable or tax-privileged perks derived from advantageous employment in the labour market (i.e. through ‘golden handshakes’, employer pension contributions and fringe benefits such as meal vouchers and/or private healthcare schemes).

 

Likewise, ‘Fiscal Welfare’ rewards individuals by granting tax allowances on non-State pensions (estimated to cost the UK government, for instance, £14.3 billion in 2005/6) and mortgage relief for ‘responsible’ home-owners. Yet unlike ‘Occupational Welfare’ and ‘Fiscal Welfare’—which are rewards derived from the government curtailing its tax revenue and leaving more money for the so-called industrious or wealthy to keep—‘Social Welfare’ involves a direct payment to these recipients of welfare. ‘Social Welfare’, therefore, concerns the visible, publicly provided funds and services such as social security benefits, local authority housing, healthcare and personal social services.

 

But all of this has echoes beyond the UK. Australia and the US, to name but two, conceive of welfare in similar ways. For example, tied into the notion of benefit payments, as opposed to tax allowances, is the ‘Murrayesque’ concept of ‘workfare’ and the stigmatisation that claiming benefit payments entail. These claimants are not seen as role models but as ‘welfare scroungers’ not wanting to work, living a life of criminality and being irresponsible parents accountable for high rates of illegitimacy. To counter this perceived behaviour, there has been a proliferation of welfare cuts, benefit sanctions, tenancy probations for ‘unruly’ tenants, anti-social behaviour orders for alternative lifestyles or exclusionary practices and criminal convictions in excess of the original misdemeanour.

 

Put simply, this group of unemployed people—invariably through no fault of their own—are being criminalised or left overly reliant upon charity funded foodbanks because of the situation they find themselves in. And when this is compared to the financial and socio-economic damage of the 2008 financial crisis, one wonders why attention, punishment and poverty is enforced upon the poor rather than penalising the wealthy financiers who left their employment with handsome, minimally taxed ‘golden handshakes’ completely unstigmatised by their immoral if not criminal behaviour. These are the type of welfare issues that (In)Justice International wants everyone to comprehend, bring to the fore and publicly argue against or proffer possible solutions to (i.e. with the implementation of a universal basic income) through our blog, newsletters, articles, books, journals, workshops and conventions. For relevant videos click here.