Nice ‘work’ if you can get it
I left university in 2002 without a degree. I started working in a bar and, through a colleague there, I picked up some temp work in accounts. The following year, aged 23, I got my first proper full time job. I was paid £16,000 per year out of which I had to pay travel of £100 per month, Council Tax of £90 per month and rent of £520 per month. I didn’t qualify for Housing Benefit. Things were pretty tight but I remember how proud I was to be standing on my own two feet.
My career progressed. In 2005 I moved jobs and got a pay rise to £21,000 per year. I moved again in 2006 to a salary of £23,000 per year. The credit crunch hit and I was made redundant in 2008 but went straight to work at another role for £27,000 per year. I was finally earning the national average wage. It had taken me five years of hard work, study, and self-reliance.
It’s not like that for everyone though. Take Firuta Vasile. According to the Daily Mail this 27 year old Romanian single mother of three who arrived in the UK four years ago can now claim £2,600 per month in Housing Benefit. This is on top of the £25,547.60 per year she already gets in tax credits, child benefits, disability living allowance and carer’s allowance.
Ms Vasile, after just four years in this country during which time she has not had a job, now has an income it took me five years of full time work to achieve. If, like me, you stepped over the open money trench of Britain’s wildly generous welfare state and took the option of working for your money, you were a mug quite frankly.
Few people would oppose a welfare state which seeks to protect those who have fallen on hard times. We have a duty to look after those who cannot look after themselves. But we do not have a duty to look after those who won’t look after themselves. And we do not have a duty to pay them better than the people who pay for them.
Opponents of the coalition’s welfare reforms are defending a grossly unjust system. They defend a system so perverted that it pays Abu Qatada, described as “Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe” and wanted abroad for a string of bombings, £400 per week in benefits.
They celebrated when the House of Lords voted against the government’s proposed measures to limit Housing Benefit. They either did not know or did not care that the cost of this defeat would be borne by hard pressed hard working people who will now have to keep paying taxes for others to live in places they couldn’t afford.
It is at times like this that you realise how disconnected much of the left has become from its traditions. A museum near where I live in east London has a display of the Ten Commandments of The Socialist Sunday School on display. Among the exhortations to “Honour good people” and “Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions” are references to the value of work. “All the products of the earth are the result of labour; whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the worker” it says.
Somewhere along the way the left, or its leaders at any rate, forgot this. Instead they came to represent the non-worker. Whether it was those on benefits or underemployed workers in the public sector, the left sought to an ever greater degree to expropriate the wealth generated by workers in the private sector to lavish on those who weren’t working.
Opponents of welfare reform like to say that the welfare state initiated by William Beveridge is under attack. In fact the welfare state envisioned by Beveridge and other post war architects was killed decades ago when it was upgraded from the safety net described in the famous 1942 report to a luxurious hammock which currently holds nearly one in six households in the UK and two thirds more people on disability benefit than 20 years ago.
If Britain is to dig itself out of its economic hole it will need people to work. To encourage this it will need people to be rewarded for their work and not to see the fruits of their labour spirited away by the state and spent on the non-working section of the population.
But more than that, it is a matter of justice. Those who generate the wealth are entitled to keep it and, however imperfectly, the left used to have some understanding of this. If their rhetoric about social justice is to be anything other than a thin moral veneer for the maintenance of privilege they ought to rediscover it.
This article originally appeared at The Commentator