Fare Well on Welfare by Trevor Plumbly

Welfare State Systems – The Original Concept

We don’t send young kids up chimneys anymore; the poorhouses are all gone along with the lunatic asylums and, to a large extent, hunger and extreme poverty have been eliminated. For all that progress, we owe an awful lot to the architects of the welfare state system, first put into practice in the UK and Germany, then copied in many other countries. Like Christianity and Communism, state welfare in its pure form made perfect sense, in both political and humanitarian terms. Improve the lot of the underclass and educate the kids and you reduce resentment along with the crime rate, and, of course, people are more inclined to vote for you if you’re feeding them. It can’t be doubted that those involved at street level in the early stages did so out of Christian charity rather than for personal profit. But, of course, good things grow, and growth always produces problems, especially in government agencies.

How the Old Welfare System “Worked” for Me

As the system extended its influence, its army needed more soldiers, and basic training must have been the order of the day. By the late 1940s, family welfare officers and truancy inspectors were pretty regular and unwelcome visitors in most poor neighbourhoods, including mine. They, like the police, never brought good news, just a bit more uncertainty into an already shaky household. My mother was a single parent raising three children, and like most on family assistance, probably accepted without question the decisions welfare workers made. Most of those seemed to me to involve shunting me from one school to another.

It wasn’t a happy few years and, looking back, I can’t help wondering how anybody could decide that bumping an extremely nervous and painfully thin boy into a foreign and often unfriendly environment would improve his educational prospects. In one ludicrous case, I was sent to a Catholic boarding school for a year despite being an Anglican; even the Nuns were unsure of what to do with me on Sundays so they just bundled me into Mass with the rest. The boarding schools were the worst by far with the incredible feeling of isolation they produced. It obviously never occurred to the wardens of my welfare that a single parent on National Assistance with two other school-age kids wouldn’t be able to afford the trip for visiting and open days, or provide my transport home for short holiday breaks. Then there were ‘treat days’ which involved visiting ‘normal’ kids’ houses and being practically force-fed food that was totally foreign to me whilst being constantly reminded to be grateful. Again, in hindsight, what on earth was the point of showing an underprivileged kid how the other half lived, then dumping him back in reality? As you’ve gathered, my early contacts with the social welfare system didn’t leave a happy impression.

A Few Thoughts on Today’s Welfare System

These days, of course, it seems that a whole industry has taken over the system and spawned an entirely separate culture for everybody on the gravy train, including the operators. They’ve even tailored the language to suit: those requiring child support have become “beneficiaries’, pensioners are ‘superannuitants’ while those less fortunate in health are described as having ‘special needs’. If you accept that every time some pensioned prat dreams up a new form of titular patronisation, they have to re-write the manuals, you’d have to wonder how much good they could do if they cut the paper crap and the dead weight from the staff role. The welfare state was a fine idea promoted by those who genuinely cared for the less fortunate, but sadly it’s become over-regulated and too top-heavy to be as effective as its originators intended. A bit like the law really and education and politics and, and … Shit! There I go again!

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