Monday, 14 November 2011

Labour's children; how welfare dependency caused the riots


Biting the hand that feeds
The turbulent events of last year's domestic riots have brought into sharp focus the issue of the client state and in particular, the actions of a generation of largely welfare dependent young Britons. Despite spending tens of billions of pounds more each year in benefits payments than were collected in taxation revenues over the preceding decade and a half, successive UK governments have thus far failed to stem the flow of disillusionment and disaffection bleeding from the once beating heart of the working class. Further, as Professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent said recently ‘none of the conventional sociological explanations—from the Left or the Right—can satisfactorily account for the present riots in England’. With the country barely recovering from last summer's socio-economic heart failure, this article offers a hitherto unexplored comparison between the international aid given to states in the international system and that of domestic welfare provided to families, in order to explain why benefit dependency is to blame for the civil disobedience of 2011.

“…a ‘parallel services’ scenario has created a system of state substitution or ‘state surrogacy’ which has left domestic governments side-lined and ineffectual”

If we up-scale the domestic benefit system to the next level of analysis, that of the international sphere, then the obvious direct equivalent is international aid. Just as the state is the extension of man, so too the international system is an extension of domestic society; each merely defers to the next level. Park this thought for a moment, we will come back to it shortly.

Surprisingly, among some of the largest providers of international aid such as the UN, there are the beginnings of concerns that some states are becoming aid dependent. At the same time as feeding the masses, emerging thinking considers that aid can actually undermine governments. The rationale is that the governments of countries which are major recipients of aid (e.g. Haiti or Somalia) have become so used to receiving these benefits
 that they have almost completely ceased to engage in any wealth generation or indeed self-preservation activities on behalf of the 
citizenry. In short, the necessity for the sovereign to look after its subjects as implicit in the social contract, has been removed. The direct result of which, in regards to the provision of food and public health services, is that the state itself is becoming largely irrelevant as  citizens look to international organisations like UNHCR to fulfil their requirements, rather than their own domestic government. What UNHCR refers to as a ‘parallel services’ scenario has created a system of state substitution or ‘state surrogacy’ which has left domestic governments side-lined and ineffectual by international aid givers with seemingly endless resources. The resultant governmental absenteeism and the abandonment of the citizenry usually leads to further corruption, violence and war which creates a cycle which is difficult to break. It is a self-perpetuating cycle which can only be broken by carefully weaning such states off aid and onto self-sustainability. Essentially, that long-term aid programmes are the very reason why the requirement for aid becomes permanent rather than temporary. To paraphrase an old Oxfam strap-line, the state forgets how to fish for itself which accordingly becomes a long-term cyclical situation which only serves to both compound and extenuate the original problem in the long term.

“A system of ‘domestic surrogacy’ is born, under which the family unit is undermined, side-lined and increasingly irrelevant”

Earlier in this article we drew parallels between aid to states and benefits to citizens in the developed world, particularly the UK.  If we now once-more down-scale our level of analysis from the international community/domestic state relationship to that of the domestic government/family relationship, then it becomes possible to draw some obvious parallels. At this level, the 'aid giver' becomes the domestic government through its welfare programme (i.e. UNHCR is substituted for the DWP), and the aid recipient thus becomes the citizenry rather than the government. Individual families are supported by the government rather than themselves. Just as in the international level of analysis, this model fosters a period of ‘parallel services’, during which the traditional family unit and the welfare state run side-by-side, seemingly in harmony. However, in this case, just as in the international model, the external aid provider has access to comparatively endless resources and expertise. Inevitably, these soon out-strip the abilities of the aid recipient (the parent/s) to provide for those in its care. On the domestic level, a system of ‘domestic surrogacy’ is thus born, under which the family unit is undermined by the very state which provides the home, the money and thus the food on the table. This is why the majority of rioting occured in almost exclusively 'safe' Labour seats, and at the end of a generation of Labour rule.  The addition of ‘community outreach workers’ and other morally and ethically targeted public sector jobs which focus on family values means that all of the significant roles of the traditional family have rivals or authority challengers employed by the ‘parallel services’ provider; the welfare state. In an ironic twist, it is the idealism of those who wish to help which has resulted in the most harm.  Under Socialist governments, like the years of the UK's Labour Party, this situation is perpetuated by generous state hand-outs which are designed to engender a sense of loyalty among the recipient electorate. The UK is currently approaching the end of such a 15 year cycle. Like any dependency, 'welfarism' has become an addiction, and like any addiction a period of violent and uncomfortable cold turkey must be endured during the rehabilitation period.

“the psychology of benefit expectancy becomes hardwired very quickly and is fatally corrosive to families, communities and society”

At the international level, the aid dependency paradigm leads to violence and disorder born of justified feelings of impotence and irrelevance felt on behalf of the state authorities which is caused, ironically, directly by the aid giver. This can manifest itself as political violence at both the intrastate and interstate level.  We know that so-called 'failed states' are those which demand the most aid.  These states are also more likely to become involved in civil or intra-state war.  These same feelings of anger and frustration are created by aid provision at the domestic level of analysis; with similarly violent results.

It is welfare dependency which has led to violence and disorder created by the genuine feelings of a lack of self-respect and self-worth caused, ironically enough, by the generosity of the welfare state. Drawing lessons from how aid dependency plays out internationally, we must realise that at the family-level, the psychology of benefit expectancy becomes hardwired very quickly and is fatally corrosive to families, communities and society in general. The resultant cycle of despair can only be broken by carefully weaning families off the welfare state and onto self-sustainability. Essentially, that short-term benefits of welfare cannot be allowed to become long-term surrogacy as this becomes permanent and carries with it a genuine and serious risk of frustration and violence.

Rather than help the poor, generous benefits undermine the individual, the family and ultimately the whole of society. They should be seen as a short term prop, a helping hand, not a long term alternative to work. The challenge now for David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith is to salami slice benefits so that only the bare minimum remains, without inflaming further disorder. 

As that old Oxfam advertisement used to say: “Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day, teach him how to fish and he can feed his family forever”. Let's not patronise those who felt angry and frustrated enough about their predicament to riot. Instead, we should recognise the long-term societal corrosion brought about by benefit dependency for what it is.  Rather than buy votes with benefits like the previous Labour administrations, the current ruling coalition should exercise responsible leadership and make benefits a short-term crutch for families, rather than a long-term addiction.

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  1. Excellent analysis. How to turn the tide back now, though? The expectancy is already there. The corrosive effect is pretty complete.

  2. Its roots lie here and unless we cut them out this will not be solved.

  3. “Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day, teach him how to fish and he can feed his family forever”. Not when greed has poisoned all the fish.

    Over all a cold and patronising piece.

  4. Good article. However I think rather than salami slicing benefits, slashing the tax rate for everyone would do the trick.