Firstly, I am not condemning the benefits system in its entirety; please do not mistake this. I am criticizing the approach toward work Sallie Bruce purported to have in her article. I am compelled to post a response as I am concerned many think her argument is logical and valid. It is neither.
Secondly, I do not know the personal circumstance of Ms Bruce and make no comment upon them. Nevertheless, I inferred from her article and its title that she has been or is on benefits and has or would refuse a job if the pay was not a significant amount more than any benefits she may receive or has received. My response is a criticism of this thinking.
I read the article with some interest as the subject is so contentious. Although loathe to share my political leanings with the world, I feel bound to address Sallie Bruce and briefly offer my perspective on certain aspects of her article. It was a depressing insight into a struggling stratum of society.
If you haven’t read the article, please do. It certainly is compelling. It does contain unsupported allegations that the benefits system favours non-British citizens and follows this by comparing the United Kingdom to the third world, trivialising the plight of actual third world countries in a manner which is disturbingly careless. However, I attribute these fallacies to over-emphatic rhetoric and cannot believe Ms Bruce sincerely thinks this way.
The salient point within the article is summarised in a sentence close to the end:
‘…there is absolutely no reason to go out to work and pay transport costs to get to there, when by doing so you’re making yourself no better off financially than staying in and doing nothing all day.’
It was reading this that my interest was overrun by nausea. It may be one of the most abhorrent, selfish sentences I have read in some time; it suggests the only reason to work is to earn money and if the money earned is no better than government hand-outs, then there is no purpose to employment. I am writing to emphasize the selfish, self-serving offensiveness of this view: I cannot fathom that Ms Bruce believes it morally acceptable to refuse a job and rely entirely upon the obliged generosity of her fellow citizens. By doing so she changes her status from someone who contributes to society to someone who is simply taking from it. In short, it is greedy.
By working (and earning) a person becomes a member of the workforce and serves a purpose as a citizen. If a person is given the opportunity to earn £X working or can instead claim the same money from the government, it seems to me obvious the person should feel compelled to work in order to become someone useful and valued. If they choose not to, they act purely for themselves and without any consideration for others. The money which makes up unemployment and housing benefit does not materialize from nothing; it comes from all those pay tax and the large majority of tax is claimed from wages. By refusing work, a person becomes a burden on the rest of society. If a person is trying desperately to work but can’t make it on their own, I applaud our society for its kindness and willing to walk them forward. But should a person be able to accept a job and decides not to, they ask us to carry them because they just don’t feel like walking. It is lazy.
Consider it another way; A goes to his best friend, B. A explains he is currently out of work and needs help. B generously says to A, ‘I’ll give you £70 to get through the week, until you get a job.’ They meet the next week and B asks A; ‘Did you find a job?’ A has; ‘Yeah, in a café. But it’s only part time and it only pays £75 a week, so I’m not taking it. Then I’d lose the £70 from you. So I’d be working for a fiver.’ Doesn’t that seem unfair? Would a person treat their friend that way? It should be no different when considering benefits; it isn’t rationalized by thinking ‘it’s the Government’s money.’ There is no such thing as ‘government money’ – it’s all tax-payers money; the Government are simply responsible for handling it. So if a person is buying food from the supermarket using their benefit pay-out, they should remember the girl or boy on the till has effectively helped them pay a little part. To you directly, Ms Bruce: when you complain about the staff at the job centre, just know that if people like them weren’t paying taxes, there wouldn’t be any benefits to hand out. By refusing work offered, you are a burden upon the rest of us.
This means anyone who doesn’t consider anything but the fiscal advantages when they choose to work or not is inflicting selfishness upon the rest of us. If more people accepted the jobs offered to them then there would be a higher rate of employment. More people in employment could mean the budget wouldn’t need to be so large for unemployment and housing benefit. That money could be spent on other more useful projects, perhaps giving the NHS more cash to help them save lives, or giving more money back to businesses so they can expand and create more jobs, or simply helping the council support schemes to keep the young people occupied. I am not naïve enough to think this change would be instant but if we are to avoid a state where many are dependent and work-shy, change needs to occur now. That change isn’t simply the responsibility of the government—it is the responsibility of everyone who agrees to be a part of society by existing and engaging with our world.
Finally, I take issue with the simple slamming of our government policy and the way the benefits system works. Ms Bruce, you offer no alternative. If you want a change you should consider what exactly needs to be done and how it could be achieved. Otherwise, it is passing the blame; another person going ‘I wish things would change; oh well, not my problem!’
(N.B -Views expressed in content published are those of the individual writer and may not represent the opinions of MoonProject or any member of the MoonProject team. – Ed.)