Everyone regarded as a citizen – the only domestic policy that matters
August 9, 2010 Leave a comment
Join the campaign today: that everyone irrespective of their status in society – whether they do or don’t have paid work, whether they are struggling as low income earners or are well-off, whether they are here legally or illegally, should be regarded as equal citizens. Many will argue that we do already treat – or try to treat - everyone as equal citizens – but the plain fact is that we don’t and we don’t because of all the prejudices people have about those at the margins of ‘mainstream’ society.
Take the employment minister, Chris Grayling’s comments yesterday linking the 250,000 households where ‘no one has ever worked [for pay]‘ (Sunday Times) with ‘a benefits culture that has gone badly badly wrong’. There are already three assumptions – or prejudices - here immediately. One is not having paid work. What – after all – is so great about that? There are many people – some earning millions – who society would be better off giving those millions to in benefits because of the detrimental effect on society of the ‘work’ they do – hedge fund managers, fo example, would be just the beginning of a very long list… Society may complain about bonuses being paid to certain people but it does not complain about them actually earning. Yet still there is this strict unreal cutoff, the product of a society that continues to be dominated by the ‘paid work ethic’ , between paid work (good) and unpaid work (bad). One only has to stop and think for a moment and realise how dogmatic and fundamentally stupid this idea is.
The second prejudice is therefore (and by association) against benefits themselves which, because of the paid work ethic, continue to be perceived as ill-gotten gains, often indeed unfortunately by those who receive them. There are certain exceptions to this – where people are clearly physically disabled, the public is sympathetic, and I understand also – at least up to now – that the authorities can go out of their way to ensure that people who need such state help will get that – and advice as well . Yet the subtext of David Cameron’s newly decared war against welfare benefit fraud is a war against all those at the margins of mainstream society, and a war against benefits themselves, for the simple reason that a war against benefit fraud is necessarily a war against everyone claiming benefits. Where, for example, are all the TV adverts asking people to claim all the benefits they are entitled to? New figures show that ‘dishonestly claimed benefits’ total £3.1 billion/year, yet people lose £16 billion/year in unclaimed benefits. David Cameron should either shut up about fraud, or pledge very publicly to advertise unclaimed benefits.
In the days when I was on income support I found that I could not live on it – it was beyond uncomfortable – it was impossible. If it was impossible – which it will be to those claiming today as well – then logically I must myself have been a benefit cheat. The currently quoted figure is of 70 graduates chasing one job. Those who do not have paid work will be allowed to do more or less with their lives according to how much they receive in ‘pay’ by the state. That amount should be as much as possible, since we – through the state – should make living without paid work as comfortable as possible (not the other way round) so that those who do not have paid work are given the maximum opportunity to explore all the avenues of life including the opportunity also of unpaid work, a work that the citizen should choose for themselves if they wish to do so. (Work is work whether it is paid or not, and there is no reason to say that unpaid work cannot often be better for society than paid work – and cultural effect should trump economic effect every time).
The third assumption is that somehow the people in each of these 250,000 households are under ‘house arrest’, and of course if people are not given enough money through benefits to travel (and travel is not just physical travel but a broader exploration of the world) then effectively most people will be confined for long periods to the same homes where often everyone else in the family is out of paid work too. This should be the true meaning of ‘social mobility’, which is that everyone is able to grow as a citizen and interact with the world, not the reactionary idea that people will get on in life by clambering up the ladder and over everyone else.
In the end what is required is a basic income for all citizens - it is something that will flow naturally out of the wider policy of respecting everyone as a citizen – a policy that will logically also ask those at the margins of mainstream society ‘Do they want the mainstream to join us?’ – rather than the other way round, a policy that therefore will legalise all drugs and therefore also destigmatise those who have drugs problems, a policy which will call immediately for an amnesty on asylum seekers allowing many of the worst treated and forgotten in society to be also regarded as equal citizens.