Monday, 15 December 2014

I saw a curious little chart

the other day. It indicated that the country which spends the most (per capita) on welfare is the United States, followed by Canada, Sweden and then Australia.
On the assumption that the chart was correct then I wonder what Australia has to show for this expenditure? And I do not wonder that the present government is trying to find ways of reducing the cost of welfare. I also do not wonder that a row has erupted over the suggestion that a card should be introduced.  The idea would be to ensure that welfare payments are spent on essentials and that at least some people should be required to work for their welfare payments.
I know people on welfare payments. I know people on disability support pensions. I know people on unemployment benefits. It would be fair to say that the majority of them don't want to be. They would prefer to be in work. As someone who has not had a regular income for years I can appreciate that desire to be in regular, paid employment.
I also know that, contrary to what others are saying, at least some of them would welcome a system which ensured that the rent and the utilities were paid before they received whatever money was coming to them. We have discussed this. The idea that, no matter what, the rent was paid so that they were not going to end up on the street appeals to them. The idea that, no matter what, there would still be water and electricity also appeals.
Then there are ideas about food vouchers and transport cards.
Those who argue against these ideas say it is demeaning and that it would be too expensive to implement. They also say that people should be free to spend their welfare money on whatever they choose.
Personally I like the idea of a system which ensures people have a roof over their heads and electricity to watch the telly with while drinking the tea made with the water available.  Apparently the problem with this system is that you can't have a beer instead. Is that really demeaning - or just a luxury you need to do without?
Our public transport system is such that nobody needs to know if you are on welfare when you swipe your card. I suspect that is true of any the many systems in the country. Apparently the problem with this is that you should still be able to drive your car (if you have one) whenever you please. I sympathise if you live in a rural area but if the bus goes past your door? Is it really demeaning to use public transport - or just inconvenient? 
I don't think we need food vouchers. If it isn't possible for the technical wizards to come up with a system which allows a normal debit card to be used to buy food but not alcohol or cigarettes then there is something wrong. It isn't going to stop the most determined people from finding a way around the system but why would anyone else need to know unless you try to buy either? If you have a bit of cash to hand then you can get those things if you want them.
It is of course easier to say "people should be able to spend their welfare money on whatever they want. They are adults and we shouldn't be telling them how to run their lives." The other side of the argument is that "people are being paid welfare out of the taxes of others - and what they may have earned in the past - so we need to be sure they spend it on essentials. That way they won't go to charities for more."
That is over simplifying the situation dreadfully. I have absolutely no idea what the answers are - or which side is right. I do sympathise with those who would genuinely like the system to step in and ensure the rent was paid and there was water and electricity so that they could make that cup of tea.
Is that wrong of me? Wouldn't it mean everyone was better off in the end? Or is it just demeaning? I wish I knew.


jeanfromcornwall said...

Some time ago, people who were on benefits would have rent paid as part of their benefits. Now they get a sum in lieu, and trusted to pay what they owe. It was supposed to make them feel responsible, and more in charge of their own destiny. The result is that, now, a lot of private landlords will not take tenants who are receiving state benefits.
Unintended consequences again.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the machine beeps once for a non-concession card and twice for a concession card here in Melbourne. (Some people do not trouble the machine with a card at all.)