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TUC Welfare Conference: Fight for a Decent Benefit System!

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TUC: Welfare Conference, called by the TUC Consultative Committee for Unemployed Workers’ Centres.

Up to a hundred activists came to the Welfare Conference, held on Friday in Congress House. As the introductory speakers made plain the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, assisted by large sections of the media, have launched a frontal assault ion the basic principles of an equitable benefit system.  Instead of helping people in need they have attacked the most vulnerable.

Eleanor Firman (Disabled People Against Cuts, DPAC and UNITE) illustrated what this has meant on the ground. As a result of cuts in housing benefit and the bedroom tax their group in Waltham Forest had had to defend those facing eviction.

She talked of how the Work Capability Assessment targeted disabled people. Those not meeting the government’s criteria – enforced through a flawed system run by private companies (ATOS and now Maximus), could expect to be treated with “harshness”, to the point of being left destitute. This was only one example of how welfare ‘reform’ was making people’s lives a misery. The answer was to challenge the DWP with the help of bodies like UNITE Community and, where they still exist, Law Centres.

Workshops covering benefit sanctions, the basis of the benefit system, unpaid work, and equality were held.

In the one I attended, on Sanctions, participants concentrated less on particular stories of injustice than on the nature of the arbitrary regime. We tried to bring together a rejection of all sanctions with proposals for real social security for all.  Disabled needed to be assessed not by private companies and computerised questionnaires, a source of many sanctions, but by clinical criteria, – the work of GPs. The power of ‘work coaches’ to decide to withdraw benefits – whether they should eat or have a home – should be removed.

There were fruitful discussions throughout the day. Groups talked through proposals for a universal minimum income, others investigated the socialisation of basic needs, “universal goods in kind’, proposed by the Greek party, Syriza. A group of us looked into the use of Blogging, Twitter and other social media to spread an alternative message to the media hate campaigns.

Others planned activities on Monday the 2nd of March Day of Action against Maximus and the 19th of March Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions. Further protests against benefit sanctions are planned to coincide with May Day.

Stop Sanctions: A Priority.

In the afternoon Richard Exell, the TUC’s senior Policy Officer on these issues, spoke. He cast aside his prepared notes. Instead he talked of how public opinion had been swayed behind the Coalition’s polices. Cautious about demanding an end to all sanctions Richard observed, however, that the way they had left hundreds of thousands destitute may help to alter popular attitudes. The children of claimants, through no ‘fault’ of their own, were left hungry and dependent on food banks and charity. Now they will affect those in low-paid work who received benefits. There was a need to develop alternatives to this and to Universal Credit.

Paula from DPAC stated that the introduction of the new system, with its new complicated ‘claimants’ commitment’ spelled ‘Armageddon’ for those reliant on benefits.

A set of principles and demands – drawing on the Centres’ Charter for the Unemployed is being drawn up. It will include demands for a decent level of benefits, an end to sanctions, and opposition to all forms of workfare – to make volunteering really ‘voluntary’ – a higher minimum wage, rent controls, and decent jobs for all.

These will be put into a coherent form at a further meeting on the 25th of March. The finished programme will be designed to take into union bodies and wider afield.

In a speech that touched on the way activists can change government and party (Labour) policy Lynne Groves drew on the way the Bedroom Tax had been challenged, and cuts in social services opposed. Activists and the wider public were urged to get involved in UNITE Community Branches, open to all.

At the end of the meeting Kevin Flynn noted the seriousness and richness of the debates that had taken placed. Amongst other points he welcomed the “historic formation of the National Union of Bloggers”.

The breadth and depth of the experiences of those attending this meeting – about 100 strong – were striking. The words ‘the labour movement’ really came to life. There was strong participation of the disabled, young people, women, and black people. Those attending came from a wide variety of work backgrounds: from heavy industry, clerical and service work, to the voluntary sector. Delegates attended from all over the country, from Newcastle, Liverpool to the West Country and even South London.

It was, as always, a real pleasure to hear Northern accents. The discussions were more than good-natured and creative. Everybody had something to contribute. It was, in short, bloody great!



Work Programme a “failure” at 3,5% Job Rate.

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Mr 3,5%, Ian Duncan Smith.

The BBC has just reported on the dismal failure of the Work Programme,

 Official figures showed only 3.53% of people found a job for six months or more – missing the 5.5% target.

Ministers said it was “early days” and the programme was succeeding in getting people off benefits and into work.

The figures, which cover the 13 months from June 2011 to July 2012, showed 3.53% of people were still in employment six months after joining the Work Programme.

The Department for Work and Pensions had told providers they should get 5.5% of people on the programme into sustained employment.

Faced with this poor result Employment minister Mark Hoban took a stand of stout denial.

He said: “It’s still early days, but already thousands of lives are being transformed.”

Indeed they have.

Hundreds and hundreds of posts and comments on Ipswich Unemployed Action have described the incompetence, the bullying, the downright cheating, used by companies operating the Work Programme.

For those on the Programme their  lives are have  changed – for the worse.

The New Statesman comments,

But by any measure (including the government’s), this is a bad start for what David Cameron hailed as “the biggest back-to-work programme since the 1930s”.

Meanwhile  the rats are leaving the sinking ship.

We learn that as  as from 31 October this year David Blunkett is no longer an adviser for A4E.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

Claimant Spending to be Surveilled to Stamp out Vice?

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The Virtuous Poor.

Demos, originally the child of Eurocommunist Martin Jacques, and New Labour Geoff Mulgan,is now promoting a ‘debate’ about how best to make the out-of-work and other benefit claimants ‘virtuous’.

Amongst their ideas, backed by the normal method of giving weight to hard-right schemes,  a ‘poll’, is to introduce the Charity inspired system of  ‘food vouchers’ in force in the United States.

Brian Wheeler of the BBC reports, (2nd October)

Should claimants be paid vouchers to stop spending on ‘vices’?

Should benefit claimants be prevented from spending the money given to them by the state on alcohol, gambling, cigarettes and other “vices”?

A poll commissioned by think tank Demos suggests most people would support such a move.

This has not met universal approval,

the findings have been met with horror by anti-poverty campaigners, who have questioned whether the British public really feel that way, or whether they have been denied the full facts on poverty by the government and certain newspapers.

Alison Garnham, director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said the poll, in which 59% agreed the government should control what people spend their benefits on, should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

“In the United States in the 1960s, welfare rights campaigners argued for food stamps for certain groups on the basis that some of them were alcohol abusers, but it’s not an argument that ever took traction in the UK because people would find that offensive.

“I think we have a very different culture. I just don’t think it would be acceptable in the same way,” she told a Demos fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference

Those who will gain financially from the idea are already lobbying hard.

‘Cool card’

In the United States, people on “food stamps” are given a pre-payment card that they can use to buy food and other essentials – but not luxuries such as alcohol and tobacco.

The introduction of the Universal Credit next year, which will see six work-related benefits rolled up into a single payment, potentially opens the door to a similar system in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron has not ruled out exercising more control over how claimants spend their money, although there is no suggestion, so far, that food stamps will be introduced in the UK.

Some, including Mastercard, which sent along a representative to the Demos fringe meeting, are pushing for the combined payment to be loaded on to a pre-paid card.f such a card were to be introduced, explained Matthew Mayo, Mastercard’s head of business development in the UK and Ireland, claimants could be blocked from using online gambling sites, for example, but not from buying booze at a supermarket.

Cards could also be used to incentivise healthy behaviour, he added, and some local authorities are already experimenting with such a policy.n the London borough of Camden, primary school children on free school meals can apply for a “Cool card”, which entitles them to £15 a month worth of activities such as drama tuition, climbing wall and martial arts.

The idea has its supporters in the Labour Party as well as opponents,

‘Feckless’ claimants

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, an aide to shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, said she backed the idea, in principle, of using pre-paid benefit cards to encourage people to make healthy eating choices by offering discounts on fruit and vegetables, for example.

But she rejected the “obnoxious” suggestion that “feckless” benefit claimants blew all their money on “fags and booze”, instead of feeding their children.

Like Alison Garnham, she feared controlling what benefits are spent on would rob the poor of control over their lives and add to the stigma of being on benefits.

What alarms Labour politicians is that voters appear to have stopped thinking of benefits as social security – something they pay into for use in hard times – but rather as a charity handout to the poor, and that this will fatally undermine the welfare state.

One of the most striking findings of the Demos survey was that 18-24-year-olds were one of the most likely age groups to call for government controls on how benefits are spent.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne agreed that a majority of people thought benefit recipients were lazy and did not really want to work.

There are most resolute opponents,

Campaigners like Alison Garnham argue that the public attitudes have been influenced by tabloid caricatures of benefit scroungers when, in fact, the amount paid to out-of-work people had gone down, in real terms, over the past 40 years.

“Six out of ten poor children live with a parent who is working. The reason they are poor is because their parent is a cleaner or a care assistant not because they are a drug addict or an alcoholic,” she told the Demos meeting.

“It’s generally desirable for claimants to have control over their own money, not paid on their behalf to somebody else. So I find myself asking why would the state want to have more power to interfere with how this money is being spent?”

“There will be a small group of people who have trouble budgeting or who are alcoholics, for example, but there is some really good evidence that poor families are very good at budgeting their incomes.”

Demos deputy director Claudia Wood said the think tank would be staging a similar debate in Birmingham next week at the Conservative Party conference, which, she added, might produce a very different response.

Article + comments here

The Daily Telegraph states that the Government says,

“”There are no current plans for the Coalition to introduce vouchers for welfare recipients, but the Prime Minister said there needs to be a public debate on the issue earlier this year.”

Demos poll

  • 59% agreed the government should control what people spend universal credit on
  • 77% said yes to monitoring people with a substance or gambling addiction and 69% for those with a criminal or anti-social history
  • 68% agreed the government should stop all recipients from spending their benefits on gambling
  • 54% agreed with the government stopping people spending their benefits on unhealthy items such as cigarettes or alcohol
  • 46% opposed benefits being spent on branded goods such as Nike trainers
  • 38% backed a ban on buying junk food and 35% on holidays
  • Poll was carried out by Populus Data Solutions, based on a survey of 2,052 adults

Comment: The Busy-Bodies behind this idea should be taken to the nearest public stocks.

Claimants will be supplied with rotten Supermarket vegetables and  invited to express their views on this proposal.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 3, 2012 at 10:37 am

DWP Can Introduce Forced Labour: Court Rules on Cait Reilly.

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Poundland Free to Exploit Unpaid Labour.

The government’s back-to-work schemes, which have been criticised as “forced labour”, are lawful, the High Court ruled on Monday.

The Honourable Mr Justice Foskett  saw fit to make this pompous comment,

the scheme is “a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation of labour that led to the formulation of Article 4″.

“Characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to “slavery” or “forced labour” seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking.”

The judgment was in response to unemployed graduate Cait Reilly’s challenge. The 22-year-old which claimed the scheme breached the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as it “forced” her to work for free.

The DWP also saw fit to make this sinister comment,

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said:

“We are delighted, although not surprised, that the Judge agrees our schemes are not forced labour. Comparing our initiatives to slave labour is not only ridiculous but insulting to people around the world facing real oppression.

Those who oppose this process are actually opposed to hard work and they are harming the life chances of unemployed young people who are trying to get on.”

Huffington Post.

In view of the fact that this will legitimise the government’s lans to introduce workfare – unpaid and forced – for around 1 million people under the “Support for the very long-term unemployed” scheme this is scant consolation:

The second challenge before the court involves Jamieson Wilson, a 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver from the Midlands who has been claiming benefits since 2008.

Ms Lieven said Mr Wilson was told last November he would be required to undertake 30 hours’ unpaid work a week for up to six months cleaning furniture, and further periods of required work could follow.

Ms Lieven said Mr Wilson had recently been subjected to sanctions after refusing to take part in the scheme and now apparently faced the loss of jobseeker’s allowance for six months.

Later law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who acted for both Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson, said the issuing of flawed warning letters meant that “tens of thousands of people stripped of their benefits.

Later law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who acted for both Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson, said the issuing of flawed warning letters meant that “tens of thousands of people stripped of their benefits must now be entitled to reimbursement by the DWP”.

PIL spokeswoman Tessa Gregory said: “As of January 2012, over 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the Work Programme alone.

“That figure must now have doubled. Today’s decision should mean that many of those subjected to benefit sanctions will be entitled to reimbursement by the Department of Work and Pensions.

“It is truly extraordinary that the Government has found itself in this position by failing to provide basic information to those affected.”

Evening Standard.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 6, 2012 at 11:37 am

The Workfare Controversy and What Grayling Holds in Store.

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Mrs Pardiggle: Mentor for the Unemployed.

“Snobs” is how Chris Grayling attacked those who criticise the  ‘Work Experience’ programme for the under-25s.

The Employment Minister now  says, ” “The idea that people are being press-ganged for long periods of time to work for nothing to provide cheap labour for big companies is totally untrue.”

It’s all a helping-hand for young people.

Grayling  promises, however, as if making a concession, to ‘review” the scheme.  (Here)

Protests have grown.

It’s grabbed people’s attention because big stores, like Tescos and Poundland, are involved. or, as he says, the left’s anti-big business veiws came into play.

The Cabinet’s Spin at the moment is to play on the fears that most of us have, righly, for the future of young people.

Who could condemn them, they seem to say, to a life without a job?

It’s no co-incidence that  today Ian Duncan Smith’s announced  plans to pay companies and Charities £2,000 (less than he’d charge for an after-dinner speech) if they find this group a job.

In reality this is a subsidy for the companies that take on the under-25s, and the sweetener is unpaid labour.

This undercuts normal employment rights, not to say the rights of those on Work Experience.

But ‘Work Experience is  just one of the Government’s many plans to for the unemployed.

For those 25 and over there is “Pathways to Work”. This is similar to Work Experience, but there is even greater room for exploitation.

It is less visible. But, as Work Programme has exposed on the Ipswich Unemployed Action Blog, government bodies, like the Police, and the DWP, are taking people on through this programme.

The Government says that these programmes are ‘voluntary’. This is far from the case. But it is true that they claim to lead, in theory, to work.

The Coalition has further plans.

They intend a very large number of people to work for their benefits.

This has already begun.

People on this site (who we consider contributors not just commentators) point out that Mandatory Work Activity is already clearly workfare. It is not voluntary. It is a kind of punishment.

As the DWP says (Here)

“From today Jobcentre Plus advisers can refer jobseekers that need additional support to get back to work onto mandatory work activity. Where advisers believe a jobseeker will benefit from experiencing the habits and routines of working life, they have the power to refer them to a four week placement.

This could be in a wide range of roles, including doing maintenance work for housing residents, renovating and recycling old furniture, working in a local sports club or supporting charitable organisations.

Participants will be expected to spend up to 30 hours a week, for 4 weeks, on their Work Activity placement and will be required to continue to look for work.

This kind of scheme is to be extended.

Chris Grayling said to the Sunday Times (8.1.12).

Claimants can expect to be involved in working in parks, helping in community centres, and picking up litter”.

From next year anybody who’s been unemployed for more than 2 years will be expected to undertake the Community Action Programme. Pilots are up and running.

This will be “Mandatory Work Activity” – for  six months.

Why is the government doing this?

They are building on New Labour’s ‘New Deal’ and ‘Flexible New Deal’.

These schemes made claimants do ‘placements’ for their benefits, though they claimed it would help make people more employable and update their skills.

Now work for your Dole is the aim.

What’s the Economics?

Many employers are now used to treating workers like their products.

They only hold the minimum in stock (‘just in time’) and want to get rid of anything they don’t want as easily as possible. They want employees whenever they need them, and to get rid of them as simply as possible. They want to pay them the least they can. In many cases they use Agencies, with Zero Hour Contracts.

Work Experience, or Pathways to Work, fits into this. It  reduces the of getting somebody new. The threat of benefit sanctions makes people do what they’re told. The main risk is taken by the state. People can also be sacked easily during the trial – and benefit sanctions will result.

Workfare is another angle. It  could replace the paid public sector workers Coalition austerity budgets  are cutting. It’s also another kind of discipline. It makes life hard for anyone on benefits. It gives an incentive to find a job, however badly paid at least you’d get something more than JSA. The work is an unpaid bonus for whoever runs the schemes.

Neither plan creates real work, or solves growing unemployment.

The effect is to combine the Elizabethan Speenhamland system – which subsidised agricultural wages when labourers were not needed – with the Poor Law principle of ‘least eligibility‘ – making life as unpleasant as possible for the unemployed.

In today’s terms this operates through wage subsidies (tax credits), supplying subsidised and coerced labour, or simply, through plans to use workfare to replace paid jobs, and the vast expansion of the ‘Unemployment Business’.

Expect of course for those private companies running the schemes that push the out-of-work around.

Eminent Victorians.

People sometimes talk of a return to Victorian values.

There’s a lot of  shouting at the ‘work-shy’ unemployed.

There’s also growing Charitable involvement in Welfare – from Food Banks onwards.

A Victorian writer, Dickens, wrote about the kind of people who had these values.

Mrs Pardiggle in Bleak House lectures the poor on their drinking and idleness.

Today there’s plenty of Mrs, and Mr Pardiggles, to hector the feckless out-of-work into Workfare.

A certain well-paid columnist in the Daily Telegraph says (Here),

“Critics argue that unemployed people, many of them youngsters, are made to work for nothing. But they aren’t: they are getting benefit. ”

We should be so lucky…

[From Ipswich Unemployed Action.]

Written by Andrew Coates

February 21, 2012 at 4:47 pm

A Response to the Sunday Times

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Under this picture of the Gallagher family “Ipswich Unemployment Action Spokesman” Andrew Coates is quoted in a Sunday Times article (8.1.12) titled, “End of the Something for Nothing Culture“.

With the byline of Jon Ungoed-Thomas there is a page about the Work Programme, “Mandatory Work Activity” and the coming  “Community Action Programme.”

What is the central problem about unemployment?

On a  brief venture to a Birmingham dole queue a reporter eventually  found someone saying what they wanted to hear, “why should I work for nothing when I can get money for nothing?”

That was not the only ‘investigation’ they undertook.

On Friday there was a brief trip to Ipswich.

Not the Sunday Times but a journalist for Anglia Press Agency visited the town. He also telephoned and interviewed  me – by phone.

During our conversation I told him of Boycott Workfare and the case of Cait Reilly in Birmingham who was made to work unpaid in Poundland.

These duly figure in the report.

The main plank of End of the Something for Nothing is the Work Programme.

Work Placements are there.

The investigators did not find time to trace the history of this – from the New Deal to the Flexible New Deal.

The  Liberal-Conservative Coalition’s  Work Programme is apparently different.

They might have asked about the drift – which we predicted – from genuine ‘work experience’ to filling in jobs in places like Poundland.

As part of this  people who are  under suspicion (or in fact those who refuse to obey instructions from Work Programme Advisers), can find themselves on Mandatory Work Activity. That is unpaid work for four weeks.

We learn of the chief Minster for Welfare  Ian Duncan Smith’s pre-election visit to a Job Centre. He heard of how tough measures had support.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling is cited saying that ‘work for welfare’ will be introduced. The article fails to mention the time, but it is said to apply for anyone unemployed for over two years.

“Claimants can expect to be involved in working in parks, helping in community centres, and picking up litter”.

I am cited as saying

“People sent out on the community action programme have said they are being made to feel like criminals – working alongside the people ordered to carry out community work by magistrates for breaking the law. It seems increasingly the government  wants to punish people who are not working.”

This is a fair summary – although I said programmes like the Community Action Programme.

I also described Placements and Courses I had been on and how doing this had failed to get me work.

A serious article would have investigated why this has happened, not just in one case, but in tens of thousands (and there is a Parliamentary Committee report last year which – ignored by Ian Duncan Smith and Grayling –  did just this)

In an Editorial, The Year to Tackle Welfare Reform The Sunday Times, concentrates on Mandatory Work Activity. Its says the DWP “appears” to have selected some of those it suspected of playing the system”. In reality people can only be sent on this because they fall in this category.

The Editorial  mentions “the problem of welfare and the claimant culture”.

It then says, “But the government must ensure that jobs exist”.

Its solution?

Get the economy moving, and “securing Britain’s borders”. There is, it notes, legal immigration and illegal immigration. In fact the sole concrete way the Sunday Times foresees creating a better job market is to crack down on illegal immigrants.

We have some questions for the Sunday Times.

No doubt it would give Grayling pleasure to see the assorted Gallaghers, Coateses and no doubt other ne’er-do-wells, picking up litter in the streets for the sum of just over sixty quid a week.

But to do so will cost more money than our Dole payment.

Assorted Gallaghars and Coateses will need some pretty tight supervision to make sure they keep the pavements spotless and the parks immaculate, not to mention the fact that Community Centres may not relish the prospect of our help.

Elsewhere in the paper Nicholas Hellen reports on Entrepreneurs make millions helping Jobless.

So we can get a  fair idea of who will organise this ‘Community Payback’ for the out-of-work.

But hold on.

Aren’t these tasks already carried out by paid employees?

The National Union of Litter Pickers, Rag Collectors, Community Workers, and Leaf Sweepers, may not like the idea of their members’ jobs being replaced by unpaid Benefit Claimants.

Those recently made redundant by public sector cuts may not enjoy the prospect of seeing their old employment transferred to the Community Action Programme.

Ian Duncan Smith attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He spent six years in the Scots Guards.  Chris  Grayling attended the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe. He then went on to Cambridge University. He has worked for the BBC and has been a ‘Management Consultant’.

Admirable qualifications no doubt for understanding unemployment.

(Cross Posted from Ipswich Unemployed Action)

Written by Andrew Coates

January 9, 2012 at 11:04 am

The Big Society and Charity: a Growing Dependence.

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Future Welfare State?

Last night Radio 4 broadcast a programme on changes to the Welfare State. It was called the “Deserving and Undeserving Poor”. You can listen to it via here.

A central theme was that the Beveridge, 1945, institutions of welfare were inevitably being changed. To an individual based system of social protection. That this would be supplemented by charity. Voice after voice welcomed greater individual responsibility.

Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit puts conditionality at the heart of the welfare state. People have to follow thick  rules of behaviour. To end ‘welfare dependency’ they have to follow a ‘new contract’.

That is making benefits dependent on complying with state and private-contracted advisers’ wishes. To job-search. To comply with anything they’re told. Or one will risk sanctions. Beginning with forced work. If that isn’t fulfilled they risk the street, penniless.

From free-market right Philip Booth to the formerly liberal Will Hutton, all considered it hardly worth a comment that this puts claimants in the position of suppliants – having to behave as they are instructed if they want basic (very basic) resources to live on.

On the programme it was said  that this was, in part, a  return to the mutualism of the 19th century trade unions and friendly societies. The message was: this worked. Tough moral codes should be applied to those who want aid. Beveridge was cited in a  similar vein – welfare was a result of insurance, not a right.  The giver (whether voluntary society or the obligatory state)  has rights over the claimant.

Charities are going to play a more important role.

Funded by public money they will be in charge of helping the badly off. They will also have a place in enforcing workfare, organising gangs of forced labourers.

A turn in public opinion towards a harsher system was registered. This, one would agree, has come about partly because New Labour, under both Blair and Brown, bought into the 19th Century ideology of British Christian socialism. This social-ism  abhorred class demands and individual rights. It wanted people to obey social rules. New Labour tied this to the idea that any rights we have should be linked to obligations. In practice it let open the space for the state to claim more rights over one category of people: those getting benefits.

The programme failed to mention a number of very important points.

  • 19th century trade unions that functioned as self-help associations were often described as part of the ‘labour aristocracy’. They were challenged by general unions – which rose in the early years of the 20th century – because of the exclusive conditions they laid down for membership.
  • Beveridge’s idea of the welfare state involved fighting want. Help to relieve this was not conditional on insurance.
  • Present day welfare reform is about the state, and its private proxies, making claims (rights) on individuals. That is, making people responsible to their demands. It removes the idea of a right and replaces it with it with obligations to become an agent responsible to the state’s demands.  

The core of the new ideology of welfare is to base it on voluntary decisions by all members of society. It is not to be a right. It will, instead, become a last resort for the needy.

Charity will play a more and more important part in the system.

It is  ‘voluntary’.

Welfare will therefore make more and more people dependent on the good will of others.

Many on the left admire charities. They are part of ‘civil society’. They are decentralised. They are often quasi-political NGOs. When the left  attacks charities it is usually for executives’ high salaries, waste, their (well-established) vulnerability to fraud, and their (frequent) poor staff conditions.

Giving them a bigger welfare role is largely considered a technical problem (their administrative structures) or a political one (they are without direct democratic accountability).

There are far more radical reasons to be wary of Charity.

Immanuel Kant’s ethical writings describe a system of charitable relief as the cause of dependence. Having to accept charity makes someone dependent on the good will of others. It is the opposite of a right: a universal claim that should be met. While acts of goodness are to be encouraged building a social system on them leads to arbitrary actions.

“Kindnesses (Gutigkeiten) occur only through inequalities”.

Instead of a truly ethical act, carried out for universal reasons, we have a very mixed bag of motives for charity.

A person overflowing with human kindness is likely to be ruffled when faced with a demand for aid as a right.

“Such a  person will do  great deal out of charity, but if someone came to him in great need to demand something as owed, speaking in the language of indebtedness, then would call this vulgar, and say the other wants everything by compulsion.”

(Both citations from Kant’s Ethical Thought. Allen W. Wood. 1999)


Charity become even more problematic when it is administered by religious groups. Their universality is undermined by their own faith. Christians, and not only fundamentalists,  often have strong opinions on other people’s lifestyles. As do Moslems, orthodox Jews, and the majority of believers.


They would certainly wish to influence the “lifestyle choice” of the out-of-work.

Putting people in a relation of dependence on such groups is profoundly wrong.

Kant’s universal rights by contrast autonomy and responsibility in the real sense: the ability to make our own choices.

By underlining this the Big Society and Welfare Reform are a massive step backwards: to moral and physical dependency.

Update (15th February) New BBC 4 Programme on the Big Society – Here.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2010 at 11:23 am