Welfare and its sudden removal

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has expressed support for the eviction of and withdrawal of social benefits from London rioters. The general viewpoint seems to be that these people have abused and disregarded the system that has supported them, and so that privilege should be removed.

I can see that point of view, and frankly to a certain extent I agree. However I cannot help but consider the consequences of such an act.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re a lazy, uneducated, apathetic person aged between 18 and 25. You’ve been supported by the state in the form of welfare payments, and given every expectation that said support will continue for the rest of your life. As such, you’ve never given much thought to education, qualifications, gathering work experiences, or in any way behaving like a responsible adult or even preparing to. Got it?

Now imagine your welfare is cut off overnight and you’re evicted from your government housing.

Holy shit. Your only means of existence is gone, and you hadn’t planned for anything else. What do you do?

You steal stuff. Even if you hadn’t exactly been a criminal before, you will be now! What other choice remains to you? Nobody will hire you as you are, and you don’t really have time to get your literacy skills up to scratch and get into university and study for a career now, do you?

In short, the sudden withdrawal of state support for people already shown to have criminal tendencies can only increase those tendencies and result in more and worse crime.

It is my long-held view that the very concept of long-term or permanently available welfare (for able-bodied, non-handicapped people) was a bad idea from the beginning. If, right from the start, you’d known that the state would only support you for a given timeframe – say, seven or eight years, enough to go to uni and/or raise a couple of babies – you’d have been less likely to take it for granted and you might have taken steps to ensure that you could provide for yourself after your welfare expires.

There was a time, in Australia at least, when being on the dole was an embarrassing thing, something you strove to avoid and didn’t really want to admit to. Working, holding a job, supporting a family, that was the proud and dignified thing to do. Somewhere along the line that attitude has changed, and now kids (and adults!) are proud of doing nothing and being paid for it. It’s become a lifestyle, or even a career choice. It can even be quite tactical: How can I convince the government that I’m actively looking for work this fortnight? 

The result, which can hardly have been unexpected, is a sub-culture entirely and permanently dependant on welfare. It is growing, and breeding, and it cannot be supported by the taxpayer forever.

David Cameron is right in one respect at least: it is time to impose far more limitations on welfare, and even penalties for the abuse of the system. But the limitations and penalties need to have been publicised in advance; you can’t just rip welfare away from people and expect them to reform overnight to become exemplary citizens.