Happy Friday, people. The links this week are quite serious…
1) John Green on Congress and why government generally is a good thing
Just before Christmas, the Tory backbench MP Alec Shelbrooke issued aprivate member’s bill proposing that all benefits aside from pensions and those covering disability be delivered via a “welfare cash card” that would only cover “priority purchases” and outlaw “luxury goods such as cigarettes, alcohol, Sky television and gambling”. He was echoing noises made by people at the top of government: in June 2012, in a speech on future welfare reform, David Cameron floated the idea of paying benefits “in kind”. Iain Duncan Smith is working on the same idea for “problem families“. This is nothing to do with practical policy: it is about grandstanding on the basis of crass stereotypes, and the Victorian idea that only the affluent should be allowed pleasure – not to mention a weird definition of “luxury”.
3) Northern Ireland and the flag protests. Got to admit, I find Belfast odd and find it hard to be sympathetic towards the loyalists. Ultimately though, it’s not religion, it’s class that’s the issue and the loyalist community that has been ascendant for so long isn’t anymore.
While it is hard to gauge the level of support for the flag protests, which may number hundreds rather than thousands, the alienation of the Protestant working class should not be doubted. If there is to be real progress towards the building of cross-community links in Northern Ireland, then unionist politicians have to find a way of re-engaging with the people who think the peace process is only good for republicans.
Welfare’s big decline came in the 1980s, as the Conservatives moved more benefits from available to all to on offer only to the poor. This was justified as making public spending more efficient.
But, according to a famous and much quoted study by Walter Korpi and Joakim Palme, such means-testing is far less effective and more expensive than universal benefits. In a study of 18 rich countries, the academics found that targetting benefits at the poorest usually generated resentment among those just above – and led to smaller entitlements.
5) What being unemployed is like. I’ve been here, I’ve written about how soul destroying visiting a job centre is and if anyone thinks that the unemployed would choose this, they really need to think again.
These tutors lead mandatory group workshops, covering material such as communication, motivation and personal hygiene. We are treated as though we have never been employed or lived in the outside world. In reality we are an educated bunch and many were previously highly paid professionals – a very different picture of the unemployed to the one most often projected.