Saturday 1 October 2016

Life on social welfare shouldn't be too comfortable

Lorraine Courtney

Published 21/04/2015 | 02:30

"You see, the genuine hardship here is strictly for minimum-wage suckers living on sliced pan and pasta and still forking out taxes to pay for those who don’t need to get out of bed"

TV3 showed a new documentary last night that followed four TDs trying to experience life on the dole. Each week, the show follows one TD who is paired up with people in their constituency who are dependent on social welfare payments. During the time they spend together, each TD gets to experience what it's like to try to make ends meet, plan a budget for the week, try to pay bills and keep food on the table, deal with below-standard housing and attempt to cut through the bureaucracy to access Government assistance. But life on the dole shouldn't ever be comfortable, right?

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We still have a significant problem of unemployment. And barriers to taking up work - such as our poor public transport infrastructure, limited access to affordable childcare, education disadvantage and the continuing lack of jobs in many areas - continue to exist. But it is next to impossible to persuade people to come off the dole to take regular employment if it doesn't pay substantially more than the sum of their benefits.

The long-term jobless - at least some of whom are terminally work-shy - have managed to take refuge from any questions about their lifestyles over the past few years, due to political correctness and lack of jobs. It might sound tough, but why should hard-working taxpayers have to work even harder to keep others in their idleness? The long-term unemployment rate in Ireland averaged 4pc from 1992 until 2014. Depending on the cohort, only six to 13 people out of every 100 people emerge from long-term unemployment without intervention. The proportion of people on the live register for more than three years is the fastest increasing grouping.

The problem is that our welfare state has become increasingly generous towards people, without actually digging most of them out of poverty. The original vision for the welfare state was that it would provide a safety net, a system that prevented people from falling into poverty when they were without a job, but that expected people to do all they could to find work again.

Sadly, this vision has been eroded over the past decades, as the welfare state has become increasingly bloated.

Dependency has become a problem, trapping in idleness the very people it was designed to help. And we now have two generations who have grown up with the belief that life on the dole is a right. But we won't solve their problems by throwing other people's money at them.

Not all countries have made quite the same mistake of creating State-sponsored sense of entitlement. Single mothers in Sweden do not get social housing and Sweden encourages all mothers to go to work with its generous childcare system. In countries with contributory systems, such as Denmark, people are not eligible for benefits if they haven't previously worked and "paid in". In Switzerland (where unemployment is less than 1 pc) benefits stop dead after eight months.

When Bill Clinton was president of the United States he said what no Irish TD would dare say: America would "end welfare as we know it". Instead of welfare, Americans would have "workfare". Instead of the state paying its citizens to be idle, the citizen would have to find work. If not, the state would find something for them to do. And if they didn't like what was on offer then that's just too bad. The first American state to raise the banner of revolution was Wisconsin. Others followed. The number of people on benefits fell by as much as 80pc.

A civilised nation should look after people who need support when they fall on hard times. But the welfare system is a safety net, not a way of life. It is important to have a fair system for both people looking for work and people who are paying for the welfare system through their hard-earned taxes. You see, the genuine hardship here is strictly for minimum-wage suckers living on sliced pan and pasta and still forking out taxes to pay for those who don't need to get out of bed.

Irish Independent

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