Monday, November 10, 2008

Class Act

There was a programme last week with John Prescott looking into class structure and whether it still exists in Britain. It made strange viewing. For someone who is so adamant about how bad class is he did a fine job of supporting the structure. A politician earning large amounts of money, with a lovely house and two Jags (he does have two now) and yet he still claims to be working class. Doesn't just claim it, is vehement about it. He fails to recognise, or refuses, that there is more mobility now, and that this is not a bad thing.

Even Prescott was confounded though when he was taken to meet a family living on benefits. They had 9 children but neither parent worked. Yet they could still by named gear for their children such as Nike. Prescott was asking the man of the family what he did? On the dole. But did he have a job when he left school? Yes he worked as a builder. How come he didn't still do that, the building industry had been doing well for years? Yes well he didn't like having to answer to other people, didn't like having a boss. So he wanted to have his own business? Yes but you need money for that. What about window cleaning? Oh yes I did that for a bit for a cleaning firm but wanted to be my own boss. So why didn't you set up yourself? You need money. What for? Ladders and the like. So, let me point out what I said a few lines up, they bought Nike clothing for their kids, and yet couldn't afford a ladder! The problem with the benefit system isn't that we help people, as a society we have a duty to look after each other, but we make it too easy for some people to kop out. It's self fulfilling. After you have been getting on quite comfortably on benefit why bother going back to work.

A seperate interview with a politician on the radio this week. He recounted a story about 18 years ago how a young pregnant girl had come to him asking for help. She thought that as the MP for the area he could get her a house. He did. Fast forward 18 years and a young pregnant girl comes in and asks for help getting a house. She tells him that she has come to him becuase he did so well in finding a house for her mother. What goes around comes around. We have to teach people responsibility. Saving them at the time isn't enough because then they will never break out of the mould. We have a duty to educate and to push people forward. And that duty is not served by giving people houses and money.


Caroline said...

I'll bear that in mind when i'm trying to support the families which aren't quite such provacative media playthings.

sorry, i'm not in the mood to give a reasoned response.

Merlin said...

Oh clearly the media are going to pick their examples carefully. But I grew up in Newport, I did know people with these belief systems, that would happily say why bother working when the state will give me what I want. So while I know the press will exagerrate where they can, I also know that they aren't completely distorting what is out there.

Sarah said...

I agree with you, but...

Housing benefit is known to be problematic. One issue is the taper - when you start earning money, the proportion of it you lose in paying rent is a significant disincentive to work.

People are more likely to claim benefits if they've grown up in a household on benefits - I think the expectation of working isn't there. Something needs doing but I'm not sure what. Incapacity benefit is changing to 'encourage' people back into work, which I think is a good idea in theory but (a) a bad idea in a recession and (b) reputedly not flexible enough.

Social mobility is lower, apparently, than it was 10 years ago - I think class is still alive and well but different to what it was. I think you could have a big house and two cars and still be working class - of sorts - I think a lot of it is to do with your culture and expectations.

Merlin said...

Wow, that might be the first time we have almost agreed! Expectation was my point about the young girl with a baby. We have to find a way to make benefits a less acceptable way of life without stigmatising people, and find incentives to work rather than disincentives.