Thursday, November 18, 2010

You've got to be cruel to be kind

The Government plans to make the long-term unemployed get up in the mornings and go to work. And if Archbishop of Canterbury condemns it then common sense tells us it must be a good idea.

He thinks making the work-shy get off their backsides will drive them to despair. But whenever Governments come up with a sensible plan you can be sure Establishment figures will be rushing for the barricades.

As if Archbishop Rowan Williams didn’t have enough trouble in his own vestry, he’s set himself up as the champion of unemployed.

Caring for the poor and dispossessed is, of course, what the Church of England is supposed to do. The Archbishop may think he’s being true to his calling.

But if he really wants to help the needy then giving them money to stay at home watching daytime TV is not the way to do it.

We have the deserving poor. For them, a life on benefits is a daily humiliation. They desperately want to work and they should be given every help to succeed.

We also have the undeserving poor – people think a life on benefits is theirs by right.

Why should they give up “Bargain Hunt” in exchange for some grotty job which doesn’t leave them any better off than they are sitting around doing nothing?

And we all know there are some people on benefits who actually manage to do very nicely thank you – because they claim benefits and work in the black economy.

Sadly, our welfare system has been distorted by such people. It’s no longer a safety net to catch people when they fall, it’s a cosy blanket to wrap everyone up and keep them warm.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith is talking sense when he argues that a life in work must be made more attractive than a life on the dole.

It cannot make sense for the taxpayer – or to people on benefits – to discover a life of idleness pays better than a bit of hard graft.

The Archbishop says: “People who are struggling to find work and struggling to find a secure future are, I think, driven further into a sort of downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair, when the pressure’s on in that way.

“And quite often it can make people start feeling vulnerable – even more vulnerable as time goes on – and that’s the kind of unfairness that I feel.”

He is right to say the five million people on out-of-work benefits are not “wicked, stupid or lazy” but he’s wrong to claim they are being penalised simply to save money.

Actually, those suffering from uncertainty and despair must do so from having no hope, nothing to look forward to and nothing to do.

Being stuck at home all day with no money and nobody to talk to isn’t much of a life.

Getting out and about, working with other people and re-learning some self-discipline must be a good first step on the road back to real work.

That’s not a punishment, that’s a benefit. For most people, it would restore some of their pride, give them a new purpose in life or, at the very least, a reason to get up in the morning.

Ambitious young students give their services free to potential employers for weeks at a time just to get some experience and so they have something extra to offer when it comes to real job interviews.

The same must apply to people who are out of work for a long time. At least if they get their hands dirty doing something socially-useful, it shows they’re trying.

True, there is a shortage of jobs at the moment. But there is also a surplus of imported foreign labour because so many Brits can’t be bothered to take the work that is on offer.

Of course, if Iain Duncan-Smith’s plans succeed, it will save us all billions of pounds. But that’s not the only reason he’s right.

Living on benefits is hard and not much fun. But for some people it’s become a way of life. The Archbishop should recognise that sometimes it’s necessary to be cruel to be kind.

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