What Americans Think about Poverty and How to Reduce It

The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty attracted little attention in 2015, and the 20th anniversary of welfare reform was barely noticed the following year. Although poverty tends to be overlooked by elected officials, policy experts, and the media, it remains a large and chronic social problem. According to the U.S, Census Bureau, 43 million Americans are officially poor, and millions more live just above the poverty line. Poverty has a big impact on health care, education, criminal justice, and other social realms and policy domains.

Given the relative silence at the elite level, I worked with three undergraduate students to review a variety of U.S. national opinion polls concerning poverty. We wanted to know what ordinary Americans think about poverty and efforts to ameliorate it – and whether their views had changed much over the last two decades. Our research was recently published in the Public Opinion Quarterly and includes suggestions for better questions researchers should ask in the future.

Current Public Opinion

The American public is generally sympathetic to the poor and supportive of greater government efforts to fight poverty. On the standard feeling thermometer questions – where people are asked to indicate degrees of warmth about various groups – scores for the poor are unusually high. Americans say they feel more warmly toward the poor than toward liberals, conservatives, the Tea Party, big business, or unions. When it comes to explaining poverty, Americans are more likely to blame it on forces beyond people’s control than on lack of effort. They recognize that many of the poor work but earn too little to escape poverty.

What should be done about poverty?

  • Most Americans agree that government should “take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” That responsibility includes guaranteeing every citizen “enough to eat and a place to sleep.”
  • In 2016, over half of respondents to a Pew poll said that dealing with the problems of the poor should be a top priority for the President and Congress; an additional one-third said it should be an important priority. Poverty was a higher priority than climate change, tax reform, or criminal justice, but ranked somewhat lower than education or jobs.
  • Most Americans think the country is spending too little on assistance to the poor. Only a small fraction, 10 to 12 percent, thinks too much is spent, while almost half believe that the poor lead hard lives in part because government benefits are inadequate.
  • On the other hand, public support drops when questions refer to “welfare” or “people on welfare” – and the gap is especially large when spending is at issue. Few Americans think we should spend more on welfare.

An important additional point: Although our project was designed to describe public opinion more than explain it, we did see evidence that racial attitudes and welfare attitudes could be linked. Many whites feel that blacks on welfare could get along without it if they tried and that blacks as a group are not as hard-working as whites.

Most Americans are frustrated with past efforts to reduce poverty. A 2016 Gallup survey, for example, found dissatisfaction among 81 percent of respondents with how the federal government handles poverty. Similar results were found when questions were worded more broadly – to encompass efforts by the entire nation and not just government.

What Has Changed and What Has Not

Over the last two decades, Americans seem to have become more aware of the working poor, and more willing to believe that those living in poverty are having a difficult time even with government assistance. Also, blacks are somewhat less likely to be viewed as lazy.

But for most poll questions that have been asked repeatedly, the answers have been fairly consistent. It still matters, a lot, whether questions refer to welfare or to poverty. In that sense, the historic 1996 reforms – with their caps on spending for public welfare assistance, greater work requirements, tougher sanctions, limited eligibility for legal immigrants, and time limits – do not appear to have changed the public’s mind very much. “Welfare” and “welfare recipients” still have negative connotations.

Implications for the Future

Overall, Americans continue to have mixed views about poverty, and policymakers can use polls to justify either more efforts by government to ameliorate poverty or fewer efforts.  Policymakers and citizens who want to do more will need to focus on the poor overall, not just welfare recipients. And it might also help to highlight success stories – where government efforts have helped people climb out of poverty – to counter the public’s pessimism.

As we reviewed the survey data, we were struck by the need for polling organizations to ask new and better questions. “Welfare” and “assistance to the poor” could refer to many things, and it would help to know much more about how the public feels about specific programs. In addition, asking questions about blacks and whites but no other important social groups seems outdated.

Finally, pollsters and researchers should try to learn much more about the public’s dissatisfaction with efforts to fight poverty. Do people consider all anti-poverty programs to be equally ineffective? Do they believe the national government has been less successful than state governments, charities, and churches in fighting poverty? Answers to these kinds of questions could help policymakers decide how best to help millions of poor Americans who remain vulnerable and need assistance. Americans sympathize, our data show, but remain conflicted about what can and should be done.

Study Finds Trump Supporters Believe U.S. Society Is Fair

Voters who supported Donald Trump are more likely than other Americans—even other conservatives—to oppose social justice efforts, a new University of Michigan study shows.

Specifically, this segment thinks the nation spends too much money promoting equality for the poor, women and minorities; agrees that disadvantaged groups have received more than they deserve economically; and believes that disadvantaged individuals’ claims of discrimination are invalid.

Erin Cech, U-M assistant professor of sociology, described Trump supporters as “rugged meritocratists” because they believe society is already meritocratic—already fair and just.

It is this belief—not Trump supporters’ greater likelihood of expressing social bias—that helps explain their resistance to social justice issues, she says.

Cech conducted an online survey of 1,151 people three weeks after the 2016 presidential election. The sample is proportionally representative of U.S. adults. They answered questions about bias and beliefs about inequality, and were asked about the candidates they voted for.

Trump supporters, the study indicates, do express more bias: they have more negative assessments of the competence (e.g., intelligence, motivation) and warmth (e.g., humble, happy) of the poor, African Americans, Hispanics and women compared with the views of nonsupporters.

Trump supporters are also more likely to agree that too much money has been spent on welfare, homeless shelters and improving conditions for disadvantaged groups. About 60 percent of Trump supporters believe the poor, racial/ethnic minorities and women have been too demanding in their push for equal rights, Cech says.

“Resistance to social justice efforts appears to be based less in overt social bias than in a particular framing of the social world, one that denies structural inequality and blames victims of that inequality for their own circumstances,” she said.

This has consequences for social justice advocates: rugged meritocratists, regardless of their political affiliation, will likely resist social justice efforts because such efforts do not match how they see society, she says. If equality advocates are to foster support for social justice efforts, they must first convince rugged meritocratists that inequality exists in the first place.

What About a Welfare Challenge?

In recent years, to draw attention to the plight of food insecurity in America, advocacy groups and community organizations have promoted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or “food stamp” challenges.  Aimed at highlighting the difficulties in living on a “food stamp budget,” (about $4-$5 per day) these challenges encourage participants to better understand the realities faced by those who rely on food assistance to meet nutritional needs.

Over the past decade, policy makers, journalists, celebrities, and regular folks across the country have participated in these challenges and shared their stories, which generally share a common refrain: It’s hard. Purchasing sufficient quantities of quality food for a family on such a budget is near impossible.

Moreover, a considerable number of SNAP families report zero income, meaning that there are no additional funds to act as a buffer when the food stamps run out. These types of challenges are important in drawing attention to the very real problem of hunger in our country, and have the potential to raise needed funds for food pantries and anti-hunger advocacy groups.

While recently reading about a SNAP challenge experience, I got to thinking: why not a welfare challenge? Much like food stamps, today’s cash assistance program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) is a widely-misunderstood government benefit, and stereotypes about recipients abound. Why not challenge celebrities, politicians, and community members to live on a “welfare budget” for a month?

The guidelines for my proposed challenge would look something like this:

  • Welcome to the welfare challenge! Imagine your family has fallen on hard times. Before you get started, freeze all of your assets. No access to savings, credit cards, or investments for a full month. Remember, millions of poor families lack access to a formal bank account, and most lack any financial safety net. For this month, you have nothing to fall back on.
  • Now, live on a budget of $400 for the next 30 days. This is about the average monthly cash assistance benefit in the U.S. (though you could be living on as little as $200 per month if you live in certain states). This $400 should cover all of your non-food expenses, including utilities, toiletries, cleaning products, clothes, transportation costs, school fees, and anything else you and your family may need for survival. Hope for no parking tickets, car repairs, or other unforeseen expenses!

Don’t forget that due to overwhelming need, federal housing assistance doesn’t reach many low-income families. In fact, in many areas, public housing applicants face excessive waiting lists or must participate in lotteries to obtain access. So you’d better plan to budget for your housing this month too.

  • Try to avoid accepting other forms of assistance to help meet your family’s needs, as these aren’t always available to every family.
  • Set aside 30 hours per week for your required work assignment, which is required through the program. This may include volunteer work, job search assistance, or another type of work activity, though be aware that data suggest this will not likely prepare you for a living wage job in the future. However, without participating, you can set your budget back to $0 as families receiving cash assistance can be sanctioned (i.e. thrown off the program) for failing to comply. In many states, this means that the whole family loses their cash benefit, including children. Don’t be late!
  • Next, experience the struggle of living in poverty and relying on welfare benefits to support your family. Be prepared for the inevitable fallout, which may include losing your home, your car, and running out of diapers, tampons, or toilet paper (which can’t be purchased through food stamp benefits). Be prepared to tell your kids “no” a lot. Fear every bill that lands in your mailbox. Expect your physical and emotional health to suffer.  You may even struggle to think clearly and problem solve.

Ready to sign up?

Rest easy, do-gooders.  Promoting such a challenge would be irresponsible, even reckless.  To expect families to live on $400 per month is ludicrous, yet across the country, we expect just that from hundreds of thousands of households. Children suffer tremendously as a result.

Speculation about such a challenge is already largely inconsequential, as cash assistance itself is a dying concept. It’s been well documented that welfare is dead. Across the country, the rolls are dropping precipitously, as sanction policies become stricter and more punitive while funds continue to be supplanted to plug state budget holes. In my state of Ohio, with a population of over 11 million, only about 100,000 recipients remain (mostly children), despite the fact that nearly 1.8 million people and 340,000 Ohio families live in poverty.

Fighting hunger in America is an area of shared commitment. While people have a range of opinions on the best approach, those on both sides of the aisle generally agree: hunger is bad. This is especially evident around the holidays. We collect cans, serve meals to the homeless, and write checks making donations to pantries. However, poverty is more complicated, and too often we allow personal judgements and stereotypes to cloud our ability to feel empathy to the poor.

All too often, we cease to remember that being poor means more than not getting enough to eat. Poverty is pain, shame, and struggle. Hunger may be easier to put a Band-Aid on, but it won’t end altogether unless we tackle the source.

My welfare challenge is, for good reason, a nonstarter. Asking others to demonstrate compassion for those in poverty is not. Supporting policies that allow families to live with dignity is not. Let us all try to do better.

Who Really Receives Food Stamps?

white-people-grocery-shopping-548x330

As with other groups, there is a stereotype of food stamp, or SNAP benefit, recipients. Many people believe that most food stamp recipients resemble President Ronald Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen”; women of color who would rather collect money from the government than go to work, poor families who have more kids than they can afford, or some combination of the two. However, the actual demographics of SNAP benefit users are quite different from this stereotype.

Perhaps the most important demographical fact about food stamp recipients is that around 40% are white. However, many politicians continue reinforce the idea that welfare programs are used almost exclusively by minority populations. For example, in 2012, former Senator Rick Santorum said, “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money, I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Data from the USDA released in 2013 showed the breakdown of SNAP recipients: 40.2 percent are white, 25.7 percent are Black, 10.3 percent of recipients are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian, and 1.2 percent of SNAP recipients are Native American. Read more

This kind of rhetoric is problematic for several reasons. First, it perpetuates the incorrect stereotype of minority populations especially with African-American’s being portrayed as the only group on any kind of social benefit programs. Additionally, it explicitly implies that people who receive benefits are doing so to avoid working, and if they were willing to look for and accept work, they would no longer need the benefits. Finally, it perpetuates the negative stigma associated with being on a social assistance program, which could make people less likely to seek assistance if needed.

If food stamp beneficiaries are not able-bodied, black, and unwilling to work, who are they? Around 80% of SNAP benefit users either have children (40%), are disabled (20%), or are over the age of sixty-five (17%). While there are able-bodied, young, single people who receive food stamps, they are by no means the majority. Additionally, many states are in the process of purging the program of these individuals with approximately half a million users set to lose their benefits in the next year. This means that it will be even less common for young, healthy, single individuals to receive SNAP which will overwhelming affect foster children who age of the system with no to low support systems.

Many food stamp users belong to a demographic known as the working poor. These are individuals and families who are working, but they are in jobs that do not offer enough hours or enough money to truly remove them from poverty. Approximately 30% of food stamp recipients are working in some capacity. However, due to their income and/or family size, they still qualify for food stamps and other means-tested programs such as Medicaid.

Unfortunately, despite evidence to the contrary, the negative stereotype of the food stamp user persists. One way to combat negative stereotypes is to speak up about the reality, However, it is understandable that many benefit recipients are hesitant to do so. It is imperative for social workers and other service providers to help combat this stigma by speaking out on behalf of our clients.

The Employment Paradox with Technology

bury-your-head-in-the-sand

I attended a workshop on accessible employment recently and was reminded, as I’ve written about before, what a fraught topic employment is these days — for anyone, let alone those with access needs.

As welfare states come crashing down around the (western) world, the demand for employment and requirement to be employed increase. New Zealand’s welfare lexicon has changed from “beneficiary” to the default “jobseeker”.

Meanwhile industry and technology improves, meaning more machines, computers and robots do more and more jobs for us. I mean, that has been the whole idea of industrial and technological revolutions, hasn’t it? To decrease the need for humans to do stuff.

But, it’s like the world hasn’t quite caught up with itself. There are fewer things to do, but more pressure than ever for us to be gainfully employed. It’s all a bit Stupid, with a capital S, as Bernard Keane and Helen Razer might ubiquitously insist.

UK Research exploring “the future of work and how jobs, and the skills needed in the workplace, will change by 2030”, gives the following key messages:

  1. Technological growth and expansion: As digitalisation grows, we can expect a significant impact on employment and skills in the decades ahead, at all levels and in all sectors.
  2. Interconnectivity and collaboration: Work in the future will be more interconnected and network oriented.
  3. Convergence of innovation: We can expect more and more innovations to take place at the borders of disciplines and sectors.
  4. Increased individual responsibility: International competition and technological development is likely to continue to increase the flexibility that employers demand from their employees.
  5. The shrinking middle: The shrinking middle will challenge the workforce. The high-skilled minority (characterised by their creativity, analytical and problem solving capabilities and communication skills) will have strong bargaining power in the labour market, whilst the low-skilled will bear the brunt of the drive for flexibility and cost reduction, resulting in growing inequality.
  6. The four-generational (4G) workplace: The future workplace will be multi-generational, with four generations working side-by-side. Traditional notions of hierarchy and seniority will become less important.

(Key findings, The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030, UK Commission for Employment and Skills, p24-25)

If the world’s idea of employment were an ostrich, its entirety is well buried in sand, not just its head. We’re hardly thinking about these things — and we are far from conversing about them. Things like:

  • What happens when up-to-the-moment digital literacy is a pre-requisite for employment, given its exponential speed of development?
  • What factors influence who has access to interconnectivity and network orientation?
  • How are we encouraging innovations between disciplines and sectors?
  • What does increased employee responsibility look like?
  • If the high-skilled minority out-bargains the low-skilled majority, what becomes of “jobseekers”, who are out-bid before their seeking begins? After all, to seek successfully, one must also be sought.
  • How is the education system preparing school leavers to manage and lead people of their parents’ and grandparents’ ages? And how are employers preparing for this somersault?

These questions are fascinating to me, but I’m fairly sure they terrify many. But we’ve got to start using them to lead our conversations about employment in the future.

Quite simply the question, “How do more people become employed?” is not an adequate level of inquiry anymore. To meet the huge diversity, complexity and change that is ‘careering’ towards us in the next 15 years, we need to be asking, “What is employment becoming?” and “Who are the employees and employers of the future?”

But, most importantly, we need to grapple with this one: “What will become the valued, dignified alternatives to employment?” Because there will be more and more people, with and without access needs, seeking them out.

Social Work and the Welfare State

As a social worker on the Hill, I have had a front row seat during battles over the welfare state. Usually, the main combatants are Republican conservatives who continue their relentless quest to reduce government’s involvement in providing for indigent Americans and Democratic progressives who believe government must be involved to ensure an adequate safety net. Conservatives want relief for the poor and disabled left to private charity. They believe citizens should not be taxed to provide welfare and other social services and should be allowed to willfully give a portion of their earnings and resources to private caregiving entities. They view the welfare state as an unlawful transfer of wealth—taking from those who worked hard to be successful and giving to people who lack the motivation and drive to do for themselves. They believe providing unemployment insurance to laid-off workers reduces their incentive to go out and find another job. They believe individual effort—personal responsibility—should be the driving force of a healthy economy.

Progressives on the other hand believe society is strongest when people work together to achieve common purposes. Jared Bernstein characterizes this debate as YOYO vs. WITT—“you’re on your own” vs. “we’re in this together”. Somehow, I believe there is more to that phrase in the Constitution’s preamble—promote the general welfare—than just providing security and an orderly society. I believe the founders had to believe in a “we’re in this together” philosophy because they knew cooperation was needed as much as competition to ensure progress. You only need to look at Congress today to understand how dysfunctional competition is without compromise.

After centuries of leaving poverty to private charity, we got the English Poor Laws. The economic crash of 1929 and the Great Depression forced the federal government to intervene in order to keep many Americans from starving. Since then we have been in this endless battle to define the parameters of the welfare state. Conservatives have been working nonstop to rollback New Deal policies. They would like to see the privatization of Social Security and the elimination of unions and other collective bargaining efforts. Progressives have been hard at work protecting safety net programs—preventing the block granting of social welfare programs, fighting against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. All the while the economy is spiraling out of control in the favor of the wealthiest Americans. The top 0.1 percent of American families now own as much as the bottom 90 percent.

 

Inequality-Chart

Economic inequality is the mother of the modern day welfare state. Even conservatives are beginning to understand this. Arthur Brooks, president of the free enterprise promoting think tank the American Enterprise Institute, recently declared that it was time for conservatives to make peace with the welfare state—a startling comment from a hard line conservative. My guess is that he understands it is the price that must be paid for such a high level of economic inequality. In a society where income is distributed more equally, there would be a larger middle class which existed in the middle of the last century. There would be more people working because we would have more consumers with more disposable income. We would have less people needing food stamps and less people would be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So, where should social workers stand on the welfare state? We should of course fight to ensure there is an adequate social safety net, but at the same time we should be looking for ways to reduce the number of people who depend on a social safety net which requires a more fair and equitable society—concepts that are foreign to conservatives. Those of us—social workers—who take seriously the profession’s commitment to social justice are the best hope for the poor and middle class. However, if we are not able to present a compelling vision about how we become a more just society then we will spend all of our energy trying to protect a burgeoning social welfare safety net.

Democrats lost big time in the midterm elections not because of the low voter turnout. They should not expect better results in 2016 because the composition of the electorate will be more in their favor. Democrats lost because they failed to present ideas to the American people about how progressive policies would make their lives and their children’s lives better. Had they been able to articulate a path to a more just and equitable society, voter turnout would not have been a problem.

Welfare: The Business of Misfortune

Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare
Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare

I’ve dreamed of one day moving home again to have my future children surrounded by their family, but I also fear living with those who constantly reject my deepest held values with the continued disinterest in my chosen career as a social worker.

The fact that many people receiving public assistance work harder in a day to keep their families safe than some work in a lifetime has been turned into a misleading truth equating most welfare recipients to lazy blacks or people who don’t pay into the system.

It’s not the abandonment of the sense of patriotism and responsibility towards our fellow Americans that has me up at night writing about these concerns. However, it might be the fact that most of our tax monies don’t even go toward welfare programs, yet this tends to be the only focus from conservative leaders to control federal spending.

“The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched news clips about a “lazy welfare recipient” named Rhonda. Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare.

White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White. This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well-entrenched in the White American psyche. The majority of welfare recipients are non-urban and White. The majority of food stamp recipients have jobs or are children, so comparing paychecks to food stampsmakes no sense.” Read More

When I see anti-welfare and anti-government memes being shared by my loved ones, I wonder do they know what I do for a living and what I’ve committed my life to? Do they understand how I’ve sacrificed, at times, my own financial and mental well-being to be a social worker?

Social workers are consistently ranked among the lowest paid and most depressed professionals in our community. Do they care? Posted and re-posted on Facebook by my parents and others who love me, I think how disconnected it is from my reality.

When I was in school pursuing my MSW, it was made possible by welfare and a Stafford Loan which helped me obtain my bachelors degree. I often had professors who talked about working ourselves out of a job, and the idea that our goal as social workers is to cure the ails of society. No children abused, no family hungry, no woman raped, only then would our profession no longer be needed.

Until that time comes, there will be a collection of inspired hearts whose basic promise is to fight to the end for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. I guess you could say we’re in the business of misfortune. Sounds like a dirty job, but it’s not. I have no shame in saying that I make a career out of working for the lesser blessed.

As far as my family, I’d be honored if they tried to figure out why welfare jokes don’t make me laugh. Although I may not explain what I do at family dinners, my work as a social worker matters especially to the people you’d least expect walking into that clinic, hospital, advocacy agency, or human services office. We’re all grateful public services are there when it’s our time to ask for help. Anyone drawn any unemployment lately?

Until I come to terms with my family’s values, I live away with a supportive partner, sisters who try to understand, and supportive friends. Most importantly, I respect the communities that need our help whose needs give me purpose, whose resilience inspires me, and whose empowerment pays my salary.

The Human Cost of Welfare Cuts

The need for welfare cuts has been the mantra of the coalition Government for some time, it has routinely argued that the current UK benefits budget is insurmountable and must be curbed if it’s to cure the already ailing welfare system. Most notably, George Osborne, Chancellor, commented that the ‘benefits system is broken’.

To remedy this situation, we have seen the introduction of several measures, such as a benefits cap on the amount of benefits a family or individual can receive which is now limited to a maximum amount, for example, £500 per week for single parents and couples with children); the replacement of disability allowance; a reduction in council tax relief and cuts to housing benefit for social housing tenants of working age who’s property is assessed as being larger than their need, commonly known as ‘bedroom tax’.

Concerns about these cuts to the welfare system and the potential human costs have been dismissed by Iain Duncan Smith, Works, and Pension Secretary, who when challenged by a caller on the BBC today’s programme If he could live on £53 pounds a week, confirmed he could, if he had too!

The prevailing government view, which is widespread, suggests that welfare dependency is a direct consequence of the existing welfare system, which can degrade people. A stance no more apparent, when the Daily Mail newspaper articulated that Mick Philpott and his family were a ‘vile product of the welfare state.’

A large family of 17 children, on benefits, Mr. Philpott was not in regular employment.  For those that have not been following this case- Mick Philpott has been jailed for the manslaughter of his six children, tragically killed in a fire started by him, his wife Mairead, and friend Paul Mosley at the family home in Derby. It is believed that Philpott, devised a plot to set fire to his house after his mistress had walked out with their five children, resulting in him losing out on benefit payments.

It would be wrong to suggest that Mr. Philpott committed this crime because he was on benefits. Perhaps, as Ms. Robb Interim Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Work (BASW) reminds us the Phillpott case should ‘not be the focus for the debate of the welfare system.’ Thankfully, cases such as these are rare.  However, the current welfare debate and Philpott case begs the following questions, what are the real human costs of the proposed changes to the welfare state? How will the ideas and assumptions of welfare changes in the UK shape and influence the future of welfare provisions?  Why have these prevailing views gained credibility?

What are the real human costs of the proposed changes to the welfare state?

Let us not forget that the ‘bedroom tax’ will result in increased rent arrears, court costs, and more people facing evictions.  Some commentators suggest that as many as 660,000 people will be forced to move from their homes, allegedly saving the government £465m. For the disabled person, living in a secure home, with the support of a live in carer in a spare bedroom, they too will be subjected to the ‘bedroom tax.’ Many disabled people will be further stigmatised by the prospect of seeking financial support from their Local Authority to live in their homes, only made possible by the recent Gorry ruling in May 2012. It is unclear whether the funds available to Local Authorities will meet actual needs.

How will the current ideas and assumptions behind the welfare changes in the UK shape the future of welfare provisions? 

A dominant and worrying feature of the debate about the welfare system has been the erosion of the principle of entitlement for all those in need.  Ideas about welfare, start from the assumption that it has created a nation of dependent, workshy individuals, that fail to manage their income, care for their children and plan for their future. Indeed, you only need to consider the case of Mick Philpott. Perhaps an equally important question is, why have these prevailing views gained credibility? Well, in truth the Government and the media to some extent have fuelled the welfare debate with powerful language and perceptions of the poor and those in need, based on the premise that they are different in fundamental ways and are a principal cause for the ills of the welfare state.  In reality, the benefits bill is going up and the primary reason is state pensions.

Furthermore, it is now a commonly held belief that large families are a strain on the welfare state, living on benefits. However, what is the actual facts? According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in February 2012, it actually shows that the majority of large families work in semi-routine and routine occupations.

Perhaps, as the Guardian Commentator Polly Toynbee reminds us, benefit fraud cost less than 1 bn (approximately 1.5 billion US) or 0.7 percent of payments, tax avoiding costs, the Treasury at least £70bn a year (170 Billion US Dollars). It is time that the welfare debate adopts an informed and evidence based explanation of the welfare situation, moving the focus of attention from the disadvantaged and poor as the solution to the welfare system frustrations.  The human consequences of these cuts are emerging and my hope is that the Government will seek to promote a climate of equality and trust, in which the poor and those in need are not further stigmatised and pushed to the fringes of our society.

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