Published on April 12th, 2013 |
by Jonah Werth
Image © Jonah Werth 2013
The right time to discuss benefits?
“VILE PRODUCT OF WELFARE BRITAIN”. So, read the front page of last Wednesday’s Daily Mail, referring to Mick Philpott’s sentencing to life in prison for the manslaughter of his six children. We can all agree that Philpott is a vile excuse for a human being, and deserves every last bit of the public hatred hurled in his direction. But are we right to connect an isolated tragedy on an estate in Derby with our welfare state’s redistributive ideals?
George Osborne seemed to think so, and in a cautiously worded response to an interviewer’s question about Philpott, he suggested that there was a serious “question for government and society” about the role of benefits. Philpott was an example of a welfare free-rider, who used his 17 children to accrue benefits to fuel a life style of sordid idleness. Any identification of a citizen cheating the tax payer of their money will automatically evoke questions about our benefits system, as these cases of benefit fraud make a mockery out of societies’ altruistic motivations.
But the debate over social welfare is not an issue that can be glanced over, it is a normative question underlining our societies’ fundamental ethics and values. Do we want to live in a state that respects our personal freedom and allows us to do what we want with property that is entitled to us? Or do we want to be part of a state that is actively concerned with inequalities, and feels morally obliged to help the less fortunate? Such questions have no right or wrong answer, and there are valid arguments for both sides.
Our answer to these ethical questions will therefore differ depending on the individual philosophies and value we each uphold.
As tax payers, it is our duty to engage in this debate, as if my philosophical plugging wasn’t enough. Do we not, after all, have a say on where the hell our hard earned money is going?
Such deliberations are essential to British politics, guiding us either to a more equal minded left or a more liberal right. However, there is a time and place to evoke such salient issues, and arousing them during the wake of a horrific tragedy where six children burned to death is neither.
Politics covers two distinct spheres: the current climate of news and opinion, which rapidly changes every second, and the innate philosophical issues of why we want to be together in a society that we carry around our whole lives. Don’t let the Daily Mail mix the two up for you. We should be free to think these issues through for ourselves, without having them lobbed in our faces by politicians and newspapers with the intention of grabbing attention. Where you choose to stand on societal values, such as welfare, should be your choice and your choice alone. Well, that’s just my opinion.
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