Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Whacking the Barometer

Statistics show that the number of people on welfare benefits is increasing. Some people see this as a problem and want to roll back entitlements. Unfortunately, the statistics only tell part of the story. They do not describe the changes that have taken place in the way that our society functions.

When I was growing up, a man called Alex lived in our neighbourhood. He had lung problems and could not do physical work. He was also a bit simple. Although he was in his late forties, he still lived with his parents. People in the neighbourhood would give him odd jobs to do. He would not have earned much, but it gave him pocket money. Someone had given an old car that they did not need, so he was able to get around a bit. He took responsibility for keeping and area of garden in the neighbourhood tidy.

Alex had quite a good life. By living simply, he had enough to get by. He would have felt that he made a contribution to the community that he lived in. These days, Alex would be on an invalids benefit. I don't know where he would live. He would be ostracised by society, because he related best to teenage boys, so would be considered to be a pervert. (He was not a pervert. It was just that he talked a lot of rubbish, and any person over the age of sixteen soon got tired of listening to him).

I also think of Jack Kleim. He was a very capable man, who could turn his hand to anything. However, most of his business ventures had collapsed, so he had lost his confidence. He had also been affected by hostile treatment as a boy, for having a German name and he drunk too much. Most people would say he was a "no hoper".

A few men who had known his father made sure that he had work, often taking turns to employ him. One man gave Jack a small cottage to live in, in return in for some work. He had a portable record player and would visit people and play music in return for an evening meal. This made him feel accepted in the community.

Unfortunately, in the late seventies, most of the people who watched out for him had moved away or died, so he got forgotten. He eventually committed suicide. These days, Jack Kleim would be on the unemployment benefit. I doubt that he would have any better life.

Behind the welfare statistics, there is a story about the way our society has changed. We no longer have communities that can care for people who do not cope or do not fit, so the state has had to step into the breach. That is not ideal, but it is better than what happened to Jack Kleim once the community that protected him collapsed.

Rolling back benefit entitlements is not the solution. If we do not like the way our society works now, we have to work towards creating something better. If we do not have a vision and commitment to changing society from the bottom up, we are irrelevant, and should just stop complaining and pay our taxes.

Welfare statistics are a useful barometers of the changes that are occurring in our society. Unfortunately, some people think that whacking the barometer changes the weather.

The more important barometer for me is the fact that in my parents world, there were lots of Alexs and Jacks, whereas in my world, they are all segmented away, where they can be ignored.

1 comment:

Steve Scott said...

"...whereas in my world, they are all segmented away, where they can be ignored."

And politicians can claim that they've cleaned up the city.