Thursday, January 12, 2006

Appearance and Reality.

I live in one of the richer and more developed nations in the world. Most people enjoy a level of affluence that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago.

I could invite visitors from America, Canada, and Japan and take them on a two week tour of ‘prime’ Scotland that would leave them with the impression that this country enjoyed a level of prosperity and quality of life comparable to Switzerland.

I wouldn’t be giving them a false impression, as most of Scotland stands comparison with most highly developed nations in terms of the indices of life expectancy, disposable income, and educational facilities.

That wouldn’t be telling the full story though. I could also take my visitors on a two week tour of benighted housing schemes, run down inner city districts, and despoiled landscapes. They would leave with the impression that Scotland was about as developed as Belarus or Romania.

Most of Scotland is wealthy. Salaries are at similar levels to the south east of England, but property (outside parts of Edinburgh) is a third of a price. Levels of disposable income are consequently high, a fact attested to by the slew of designer outlets in Glasgow and the Harvey Nichols store in Edinburgh. The streets are packed with BMW’s, Mercedes, and Jaguars. For most people life is, indeed, sweet.

Unfortunately, for all this prosperity, we have a stubborn 10% of the population completely dependent on welfare benefits for their subsistence. Glasgow has some of the starkest disparities of wealth of any city in Europe. Within ten minutes walk of the city centre it is possible to find yourself in the midst of run down districts where virtually nobody works. The pubs are no go areas for outsiders, and drugs and prostitution are rife.

The response of government to this malaise has been to throw money in the form of welfare at the problem. Housing isn’t bad, and the outward signs of what are in effect slums are not evident to the casual gaze.

The problem with welfare is that it just perpetuates the problem. Whole families lose the will to work, preferring to eke out an existence at the margins of society. In a way their behaviour is wholly rational. Why work for the minimum wage when you can get as much cash playing the welfare system?

This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away. Current policy is the equivalent of the Filipino government erecting fences to conceal the scavengers on the rubbish dumps from view whenever an important conference comes to town. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the prevailing attitude. If we chuck enough cash at the underclass to keep them quiet and corralled in their ghettoes we can pretend that they don’t exist.

I don’t see why we should condemn another generation to a life of state subsidised squalor. These people need to be brought into the productive sector of the economy. This requires hard decisions to be made regarding the provision of welfare. It can’t be done overnight, but unless we do something the sore will continue to suppurate, albeit out of public view.


S.I.D. said...

You have "poor people" in Scotland?? Ewww.

garfer said...

Yes. I suppose we could shoot them, but people might complain.

Sniffy said...

Can we eat them in any way? I'm sure they'd be OK in some form on a pizza or in a doner kebab. You'd sometimes like to just bulldoze the entire areas with the inhabitants in it. Voila! problem solved.

There's obviously a similar story being told in all the major cities of the UK. I think politicians need to talk to these people, not ignore them and throw money at them without consultation. Talk to people and ask them whether they have any ideas on how to change things.

I do fear that only very draconian measures will start to affect a change. We're talking a gradual withdrawal of benefits, not individually, but systematically. The benefits system is laughable. For people to be able to choose a life on benefits and receive in excess of £30,000 a year per household without a single person working is simply obscene. But while this system is in place, people will opt for it. It's a simple as that.

Unfortunately, with or without a change, it's always those who need help who never get it for some reason. This is the saddest fact of all.

garfer said...

The current welfare system prevents social mobility, condemns bright kids to crap schools, and destroys the incentive to work.

That wasn't the intention of the 1945 welfare state.

S.I.D. said...

Nice to see we have moved on then.

Happy 1946

Sniffy said...

The welfare state and National Health Service have been major contributors to the many failings of the Uk because they allow people to lose all aspect of responsibility.

garfer said...

Perhaps we could export them all to the Falls and Shankill Roads.

They're all bampot bigots anyway, so they should feel quite at home.

Kyahgirl said...

in Canada we just put them on ice floes and push them off shore.

no really, I agree with what you say. We also have 'the Indians' who have become accustomed to a cheque showing up in their mailbox for no other reason than their ancestors made a deal 160 years ago and we're stuck with it.

I would love to come to see Scotland and Ireland too.

S.I.D. said...

They are cleaning up the graffiti on the Falls and Shankill.

Terrible, I miss them.

Especially the one,More Semtex, Santa.

BiB said...

This is perhaps a touch off-topic, but as you mentioned Belarus, and education's come up in the comments somewhere, I thought I'd chime in.

Obviously you're right that throwing money at folk isn't going to change things. I think education is the key. Not just what is taught in schools, but the whole attitude to knowledge, to a respect for knowledge and how this all somehow comes together to make a more complete person.

Having lived in Russia and worked with some people who were pretty near the bottom of the heap, money-wise (or, rather, their children), I must say there was none of the sense at all amongst them of them being in worse schools than everyone else, of them not possibly being able to be as well educated as anyone else etc. In other words, although there was an understanding of the disadvantages, they didn't feel cut off in a them-and-us way, as seems to be the case with the underclass in Britain.

Which is not to say that Russia (or Belarus) is doing everything right and Scotland isn't, as that would patently be bollocks - am I allowed to swear? - but a respect and thirst for knowledge and education do take away a certain grimness from an already grim situation.

J.a.G. said...

It needs to be changed for sure but how does one go about it?

Some people play the system so well and spend years riding the taxpayers coat tails yet I know others who, for whatever reason (medical leaves or other legit things),needed some social assistance but had to jump through crazy hoops and still didn't qualify.

The system totally enables and yet? I don't know the answer.

(i'm de lurking today- hi.)

suburban wonder said...

As you may be awarey, we have the same problem here in the US. Once there's a welfare system in place, you can't get people off of it. Nor can you stop people from trying to scam it. It's one of the baser parts of human nature that drives some people to see just how much they can get without having to work.

Shame, really. There are people who legitimately benefit from these services.

frobisher said...

An interesting and thought provoking post. We are all becoming more polarized (rich getting richer and poor getting poorer)and the comments section shows a "us and them" mentality - whatever happened to society? or was Thatcher right? The welfare state is a great humanitarian invention but must be protected from abuse to ensure its survival.

MHN for short said...

Our poor are in full view of the public and it ain't pretty. Sounds like you and I have the same views on welfare.

Faltanus said...

yeah - this is definitely one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't situations. obviously we have the same problem here in the US....probably even worse. obviously the situation we find ourselves in today, is not what the creators of the system envisioned. but you're right Garf, it is self perpetuating. and politicians are frozen by fear of the consequences of a massive overhaul of the system. we've dug ourselves into a very deep hole and climbing out is going to be painful.

Sniffy said...

I think DWP would do well to introduce quarterly independent medical assessments for all those in receipt of incapacity benefit. It'd be a start, and it'd get away from a person's GP being too scared to stop signing somebody off as unfit for work. "Stress" should no longer be seen as a reasonable excuse for not going to work. We're all fucking stressed for one reason or another. I can't believe people who lounge about all day and have the freedom to do gardening (and time to enjoy their gardens) are too stressed to take up a job as a gardener for the council.

becca said...

It seems like the money is available, just not properly distributed. We pay quite a bit for council tax in the South side.
Is benefit pay indefinate in the UK?

I was on unemployment in the states for 6 months and then got another 6 month extension when Bush was forced to admit that too many people were out of work. The waiting lists for retraining and government funded assistance were 8-9 months long and there just weren't any jobs that paid as much as the unemployment cheques. Cost of living in Texas was low enough that I could get by..but once I moved to Scotland there were loads of jobs..even decent paying jobs...but the cost of living is insane.