Friday 22 October 2010

The undeserving poor

One of the more reprehensible features of the recent debate on cuts has been the emergence of those who believe that the poor deserve to suffer. That welfare is going to scroungers, and people just need to get off their bums and get work.

My recent lecture reminded members that not so long ago there many people believed there were the deserving and undeserving poor. And anyone listening to a recent Any Questions would have heard the revolting modern expression of this by David Starkey, a man of whom it is hard to think of anything favourable.

Let's be warned where this could lead. George Osborne is fond of talking about the hard working man who gets up in the morning for work and sees the blinds pulled down firmly at his neighbours, shirking work.

There are indeed such people. A small minority. And the cost of fraud is actually much smaller than the amount lost by DWP in administrative errors, or that lost to the country by tax avoidance.

The problem with this approach is that it stereotypes and ignores economic realities of recessionary times.

CRISIS have produced a fact sheet on so called housing benefit fraud. See it here.

And let's learn from history where this can lead.

The Charitable Organisation Society argued that there should be no welfare for the undeserving poor as it would just encourage mendacity.

A pamphlet by the COS in 1889 related to the feeding of school children. Hungry children of improvident or negligent parents receive no food because “to feed their children for them is to debase the moral standard by practically inviting parents to spend in idleness or drink the time and money which should have been given to provision for their family”.

They argued that State or public action demoralised private charity and so they opposed almost any State provision, including, for example, the provision of old age pensions, or national health insurance.

These attitudes persisted into the twentieth century. Bishop Chavasse of Liverpool deplored the “lack of response by the poor to the campaign for inducing habits of thrift, their preference for starvation in their familiar slums rather than migration under the auspices of the Charitable Organisation Society bears witness to deterioration in the moral stamina of the poor.”

Attlee recounts the story from his time at Toynbee Hall where one charity in the 1930s served burnt porridge to the children of the undeserving poor in order that they did not acquire habits of indolence or dependency!

Many ACEVO members are worried that the current cuts package will have serious and damaging impacts on the most vulnerable, the elderly as social care budgets are slashed, or the disabled. And it was good to see Campbell Robb, now CEO of Shelter, warning of growing homelessness, particularly among young people who will suffer from the housing benefit axe that has fallen drastically on the under 35s.

We now know from the IFS that the package has not met the fairness test and for all the huffing and puffing from Nick Clegg that is of great concern for our sector as we will work to mitigate the effects of the cuts on poorer communities at the same time as our own funding is cut.

Testing times indeed for our sector and for the leadership of ACEVO members. But we are up for the challenge.

My lecture used a marvellous quote from St Francis, which the Bishop of London also used at my decade bash,

"Where there is charity and wisdom there is neither fear nor ignorance".

1 comment:

Jason Crabtree said...

How quickly times have changed! Not so long ago, people were cursing MP's for pulling a fast one on their expenses. Now the MP's are cursing the poor for creating the budget deficit - a useful scapegoat.