Tuesday 8 November 2011

Are you Part of the 'Dependency Culture'?

I read an interesting article in today's Financial Times. I am probably one of the few social workers who regularly reads this esteemed publication. My interest probably stems from two factors. Firstly, my background in accountancy and economics in a former existence. Secondly, I don't like reading newspapers that tell me what I ought to be thinking even if I might generally agree with what they are saying. This is the main reason why I don't tend to read the Guardian unless I have to.The FT sticks to the facts and when it does give an opinion it is based on logical analysis- not prejudice, preconceived ideas, or a desire to please a particular crowd.
Please read it sometime-you might be surpised.
Anyway the piece today is 'Benefit cuts set to carve a divisive path.' The article concerns the potential damage to local economies in the north by the Government's decision to cut back on incapacity benefit. It look at the system of medical testing, cuts to benefit and also the meagre chances of people whom have been on benefits for years of actually getting a job in hard pressed northern cities.The article is reasonably sympathetic and addresses some important elements of the incapacity benefit issue.
What I want to draw attention to specifically in this post is a comment by the Leader of Barnsley council in the article. He is paraphrased as saying that it is vital that the town 'moves away from a dependency culture where half the working population rely on the state, either as public sector workers or benfits claimants.'
Since the article uses parapharasing rather than direct quotes I can't be sure exactly how this was expressed by the council leader. However, the sentiment- that working for the public sector is equivalent to claiming benefits and that both are a form of dependency is one which I hear increasingly and one which makes me very angry. I don't just hear it from conservative politicians- I even hear people from the north who work for the public sector saying that we are too 'dependent' on the public sector for employment. Taking up a public sector job ought to be seen as a way of serving one's community- and indeed many people in public service very much see it that way. However, within this particular discourse it is seen as sign of fecklessness at best and moral turpitude at worst. The reason there are/were a lot of public sector jobs in the north partly came as a result of the previous Government deciding to relocate jobs out of London to save money and to provide employment in areas devastated by the loss of traditional industries at the hands of previous Tory governments. People who took up these posts did so in good faith and with an intention of doing a worthwhile job well. Working long hours as a nurse, a social worker or a civil servant is not a form of dependency.
We curently have a form of rhetoric which suggests that only people who work in the private sector represent the real economy. This is a distortion of the truth. From this point of view a barman is doing a worthwhile job whereas a nurse is a drain on the economy. The discourse which suggests that public sector employment is a form of dependency serves the political purpose of greasing the wheels for attacking people's pensions and conditions of employment. Advocates of discourse analysis regard speech as a form of action- it has a purpose beyond the actual surface meaning of the words.
With regard to benefit claimants- many people on incapacity benefit ended up on this benefit as a result of attempts by earlier governments to reduce unemployment figures by having them declared unfit for work. Having them now declared fit for work fits the new political purpose of reducing spending on benefits. Many very vulnerable people will experience a great deal of distress as they are treated as political footballs.
We can't control the messages that politicians send out in their rhetoric. We might want to challenge them, however, through letters pages and social media. What we certainly should not do is swallow the rhetoric and start using it ourselves.
Serving the public is something to be proud of and people who claim beneiofts ought ot be the subject of persecution. Neither deserve to be labelled as part of a 'dependency culture'.

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