I’ve always been a girl willing to defend the Welfare State in the UK. Possibly because, as a twenty-something, it is the only society I have ever known. To give myself a little credit, I also think it is because it is a society to be proud of: to create a social security net to support and help all people in our society who need it. For me, that is the right and fair thing to do.
Reading Harry’s Last Stand has made me think much more closely about what I already knew. Our society isn’t fair. The NHS, benefits and housing are being whittled away by people who can afford to buy their own counties. People who were lucky enough to be born into privilege or have found their way there. According to Oxfam, one in five people in the UK live below our official poverty line. 3.5 million children are living in poverty. Yet MPs are set to receive an 11% pay rise from 2015 to an average salary of £67,060, not including expenses.
I don’t feel good about writing that.
The gap between the rich and the poor is getting worse. I am in the privileged position of having never known poverty (or a hard life at all) and to be able to live a very comfortable position in society.
I want to use my good fortune to help others. But while I can volunteer and give money, how much can I really do on my own? It sits very uncomfortably with me to know that we are allowing all of this hardship to happen under the banner of a welfare state and a government that is supposed to care. Looking at a more local level for me, a Joseph Rowntree study suggests that, despite the government’s promise to “eradicate child poverty in Scotland by 2020”, one in seven working-age adults and children could still be living in poverty by 2025.
While reading in bed last night, I paused. Let’s just get rid of them, I thought. Get the ones with their hands around the necks of those less fortunate out and let someone who actually cares make the decisions for our country and for our people.
Would it help? After all, what is that old saying?
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I’m not sure there is a country in the world or a point in history you can look at and not see a definite gap between the rich and the poor. Surely every person who has ever been in a leader in history did not come from the exact same school of thought. It isn’t possible that they were and are all out to get those at the bottom of the food chain.
Human psychology may play into this, especially the Just World theory. According to this theory, we as people will tend to believe that those in horrible situations or who have experienced misfortune – take homelessness, addiction or poverty – have done something to deserve what is happening to them. We use this as a method of separating ourselves from these situations that we pray will never happen to us.
(I was originally going to embed a youtube video of John Green explaining the Just World Fallacy but that hasn’t worked so you can view it here instead. If you want to know more, David McRaney writes about it here).
They must have done something to get them in that situation.
Don’t believe me? Ever heard someone refuse to give money to a homeless person because “they will just spend it on alcohol or drugs”? Ever said it yourself?
On the other side of theory, if bad things happen to people who do bad things, then good things must happen to those that do good things. Good things happen to people who are smarter, work harder and deserve them more. Good things like an 11% pay rise added to an already hefty salary.
In actual fact, our fortune tends to be random. Bad things happen to good, hard-working people and good things happen to those who are fortunate rather than deserving. Just because someone earns less or is in a worse situation than you does not mean you worked harder or somehow did something to deserve your situation. As Harry puts it:
“every man, woman and child in the world is just one turn of the card, one spin of the roulette wheel away from ruin and suffering.”
You are lucky you aren’t one of the unlucky standing at a food bank.
Maybe if we got politicians who cared, it would start out great. They would have the best of intentions. But would having their hands on so much power change their perspective on the world? Would they start to see those who need a social security network as deserving of their suffering because they just aren’t working as hard as the politicians? I don’t know, but psychology might suggest it’s possible and even likely. It would seem history does too.
This leaves us at a bit of a hopeless junction. Where to turn next when every road leads to the same destination?
Maybe it is not as hopeless as I make it out to be. The Welfare State is less than 100 years old. After WW2, it was the coalition government under Prime Minister Attlee that created this state, including our National Health Service. They created it so no one would have to live through the hardships of the Great Depression or the 1930s austerity measures again. This wasn’t done to further push their own agendas and bank balances or help large corporations. This was done for society and for those people who needed support in a particularly trying period for our country.
So maybe, just maybe, if we can channel this kind of thinking, there is hope for us yet.
This is a much more deeper, political topic than I normally go into here but please let me know your thoughts on it, the post or on Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith – I definitely recommend this book!