A fortnight ago, under the title of What Trevor told me, we had some excellent contributions on thoughts which people have found valuable. But another occurred to me as I watched The Future State of Welfare led by John Humphrys, on BBC 2. It was from the American freethinker, Robert Ingersoll: “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences.”
My favourite character was a man who had neither worked nor intended to. He took the view that he not only would not profit from exchanging benefits for a wage but that he would miss the opportunity of watching his children grow up. You will be glad to know that your taxes are able to contribute to his paternal piety.
Another character was a lady, by no means unattractive, who had given birth to a number of illegitimate children as a substitute for paid work. Her eldest daughter had already had her first child out of wedlock. It’s encouraging to see such respect for family traditions, and a real boost for the value of human life.
But Ingersoll would say that the Welfare State, despite its intention to support the truly needy, has in fact created a something-for-nothing culture. People have been protected from the consequences of their decisions and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have taken advantage of society’s generosity.
But, as my wife and I discussed what our society should do, we came up against a number of difficulties. Since decisions for support cannot be made on a case by case basis you have to have rules. And once you have rules you come up against the need for exceptions.
How do you stigmatise people who do not work when they live in an area where there are few jobs for the unskilled?
If your local council has to pay £30,000 a year to cover your rent in a terraced house in Islington should you really be required to move out to a suburban slum away from your roots and your friends, and perhaps your job? You didn’t fix the rents in Islington, the newly-moneyed did. Isn’t it lucky that they are in fact the council taxpayers?
If you have had six children by several different fathers (all of whom, if known, are likely to be non-workers and so cannot contribute) you can hardly go out to work since the childcare costs would be several times your wage. But suggesting a more traditionally moral life would demonstrate a very old fashioned prejudice, and indeed religious bigotry. And we can scarcely champion artificial contraception, can we? (Not in fact that we could be confident that it would be used.) Would not the Church condemn involuntary (or, indeed, voluntary) sterilisation as directly against the natural law? So come as many as you wish, they are all God’s children. And they, themselves. are all innocent.
But perhaps you have the answers. We haven’t.