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Independent.ie

Thursday 19 January 2017

Call me prickly -- but people cannot be paid for doing nothing

Joe Barry

Published 04/01/2011 | 05:00

Hedgehogs, with their clever summer planning, know all about making the most of life's opportunities. Sadly, many humans don't. When it comes to human hardship, I do have sympathy, but we should learn to be happy with our lot and not be afraid of hard work
Hedgehogs, with their clever summer planning, know all about making the most of life's opportunities. Sadly, many humans don't. When it comes to human hardship, I do have sympathy, but we should learn to be happy with our lot and not be afraid of hard work

Hedgehogs certainly know a thing or two about making the most of life's opportunities. They work hard when times are good in summer and build up reserves of fat so their bodies are in top shape.

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Then, when autumn arrives and the going gets tough, they find a warm spot, curl up and go to sleep until the following spring brings fresh food and warmth.

Now wouldn't it be lovely to shred the bills and the letters from the bank, use them as bedding, lock all the doors and switch off the lights and wait for better times. No more listening to Joe Duffy or Brian Dobson. No tales of woe from economists and politicians. No awful newspaper headlines. Just blissful sleep and forgetfulness throughout the winter.

Unfortunately, unlike the hedgehog, we are rarely satisfied to sit back, relax and accept things as they are. Most of us are driven by that niggling feeling that there is always room to make things better. It's simply part of the human condition.

While battling with last month's ice and snow, I kept thinking of the hedgehog, curled up in its cosy bed of leaves, blissfully unaware of draconian budgets and the woes of the world.

Some of our most-renowned thinkers, saints and philosophers made the decision to shun the working world and lived lives of relative poverty, unencumbered by the worries of commerce. They spent their time meditating, writing, researching, and giving their minds full freedom to ponder on the mysteries of life and the endless human search for peace. Maybe this is all too deep and esoteric a thought for a cold January day and perhaps, in the end, it just comes back to the hedgehog and how some people manage to live full and inspirational lives without looking for much more for themselves than will meet their most basic needs.

The rest of us have to soldier on, otherwise there would be less tax paid and not enough income made to help those who cannot support themselves.

It was truly disturbing to see on TV before Christmas the hardship experienced by some of the people affected by welfare cuts. What the politicians ignore, however, and the media never seem to mention, is the thousands of fit and healthy young men and women who we pay weekly to do nothing. Surely they could have been out shoveling snow off footpaths and generally helping the elderly and infirm to get through the freeze.

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Every civilised country should have a safety net to ensure that no-one needs to go hungry or cold -- but no one should be paid to do nothing.

Beating a path each day from the pub to the bookies and back again is not work and I resent my taxes going to support that form of lifestyle, especially when so many genuine charities are short of funds. Teachers who are on welfare at present are complaining at being asked to also do a few days teaching each week. They say they should not "work for free" but if their welfare money is being paid by the taxpayers of Ireland, surely they should work for it.

Poor

I see also that the charity experts are at it again, enjoying telling us how poor we all are. Apparently, according to some study, if you earn less than €28,000 a year you are below the poverty line. What an insult to the hundreds of thousands of hard-working people who rear families and live well on less than that amount. These people who judge poverty levels should get out more and visit a few small farms for a lesson in how to make do on a breadline income.

I met an old friend recently and, while discussing that very subject of relative poverty, he told me how, when going to school each day, he would pass through an area of tenement buildings in one of the poorer parts of Dublin. This was around 65 years ago and he described how some of the houses had no doors or banisters as most had been burnt by the tenants in order to keep warm.

He now finds it remarkable that it never struck him as strange at the time that people could live in such conditions. As he walked to school, with his lunch in his satchel, he never wondered why some people were cold and hungry while others were not. Children are fortunate to be untroubled by these thoughts -- as indeed are hedgehogs.

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