Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Welfare state

Straight Talking

“We talk about people being “at risk of obesity” instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it’s as if these things – obesity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction – are purely external events like a plague or bad weather.

“Of course, circumstances – where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school, and the choices your parents make – have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make.

David Cameron’s remarks on reintroducing some moral judgement into how we regard the poor, overweight, and so on, have exposed some real nastiness in the Left. Old chestnuts are being dusted off, including comparing Cameron’s comments to Margaret Thatcher’s oft-truncated “there is no such thing as society” quote.

It is ironic that the Left accuse Conservatives of being the nasty party, then launch into a vicious vitriolic attack on David Cameron because he was born into an affluent background and went to Eton. After all, they wouldn’t dream of criticising someone because they were born into, say, a poor Afro-Caribbean family and went to the “bog standard” comp.

What Cameron has done is to open up a debate that has been brushed under the carpet for too long. There are two broad types of poor/disadvantaged in the world, which as a shorthand I will refer to as the “deserving” poor, and the “undeserving”. The latter are the subject of David Cameron’s comments: those who would rather wallow in self-pity, weighed down by the burden of the chip on their shoulder, blaming society and the government for their situation while equally (and, I suppose, logically) expecting the same to compensate them.

It’s vital that we do have this debate, for it is the undeserving poor that are causing the deserving to be tarred with the same brush, by countless hard working individuals who have been waiting for leading politicians to say what they have been thinking for a long time.

The reaction of the Left has been utterly predictable and indicative of why we find ourselves with the problems that we have today.

It has included the inevitable “it’s alright for an old Etonian to lecture the poor, what does he know?” to finding some genuinely deserving cases to be held up as being the alleged subject of the nasty Tories’ attacks. Finally, of course, they blame Mrs Thatcher for why we are where we are.

It is too easy, though, to put this off again, fearful of upsetting someone or having our remarks twisted, taken out of context and thrown back at us, as the “no society” quote was. As Cameron has said,

“… I have not found the words to say it sensitively. And then I realised, that is the whole point.

“We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people’s feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said.

“Instead we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgements about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more.

Immigration used to be avoided by many politicians for fear of being labelled racist, but now it is being rationally discussed in terms of the burden on public services. Equally, we have previously failed to address effectively the issue of “deserving” vs “undeserving” state dependency, lest we should be accused of wanting to kick away crutches. Yet it must be addressed, for until such “moral” judgements start to inform any overhaul of the welfare state, it will continue to lose credibility and support from those who have to pay for it.

(And, yes, that’s something that those of us in local government need to think about as much as anyone else.)