Good Deeds, Do-Gooding and the Benefits Cap

Today sees the roll-out across England, Scotland and Wales of the cap on benefits that people aged between 16 and 64 can receive. The arguments for and against have been gone over so many times I have nothing to add to them, but I notice that the language of the debate has become more and more polarised. I wonder whether that is because we are beginning to apply to State spending many of the ideas that are increasingly governing charitable giving in the private sphere.

The first word many people think of in relation to ‘benefit’ is ‘scrounger’, i.e. almost a contradiction in terms. A benefit is, of course, meant to be a good deed (Latin benefactum, from bene facere) but perhaps we have come to equate good deeds done by the State with an outmoded form of do-gooding in the private sphere. Donors to charitable causes nowadays tend to want to be personally involved in the causes they support and are highly selective about those they will favour. The bigger the amount of support given, the more likely they are to impose conditions (there are, of course, some honourable exceptions to this). Transpose that kind of thinking to the State, and it is easy to see why there is such a a storm of indignation about welfare payments funded by the taxpayer.

I know I have said this before, but I think it worth saying again. Being a taxpayer does not confer moral superiority on anyone. Paying tax is an obligation of citizenship. One is a citizen whether one pays tax or not; and one’s ability to pay tax, like one’s obligation to do so, may change at various times of life. A civilized society will always want to help those of its members who need the basic necessities of a decent existence. How it does so is for public debate. But I can’t help thinking that if the State does not make provision for those who are unable to provide for themselves, the private sector is not going to, either. Many people take their notions of right and wrong from what is legal/obligatory or not. ‘Public’ morality is increasingly the only form of morality accepted by many. The idea of the State setting an example is not one I personally am very comfortable with, but can you think of a better?

I am well aware of the huge contribution made by the churches and other religious and humanitarian bodies, but many people in the UK no longer subscribe to such.


7 thoughts on “Good Deeds, Do-Gooding and the Benefits Cap”

  1. The private sector will make provision for those unable to provide for themselves if so contracted by the State, but only for as long as it pays to do so, because its primary duty is to itself and its shareholders, not to the needy. At the point where the private sector finds making such provision no longer worthwhile in purely financial terms, it folds its tent and leaves, whether voluntarily or via bankruptcy. There may or may not be another private provider ready to step in at that point and, even if there is, a gap [a caesura even?] in the relevant provision will probably follow while arrangements are made, a gap with which those who need the service in question may very well not be able to cope. Hence in a genuinely civilised society there is no alternative to State provision. A society which privatises every State service in sight, as the current Govt.seems hell-bent (I use the term advisedly) on doing, is content for the devil to take the hindmost.

  2. Yesterday’s gospel reading (the good Samaritan) provided ideal complementary light on all this, didn’t it ?

    [ And we were able here to listen to a splendid homily on it from Bob Ombres OP, about *unbounded* love !

    ‘Parable’, said Bob as well, is something ‘thrown in’ — παρά (para, “beside”) + βάλλω (ballō, “I throw”) —, a fresh way of looking at something, a challenge to usual & more conventional ways of thinking. ]

  3. I cannot speak for institutions in the UK, but in the US, there are gaps in service that are filled by private or faith based organizations. For example, to receive the benefit of what we call “food stamps” it can take up to 6 weeks for processing, during which time a family could be starving. Private/faith based food banks usually provide for families during that time. Also, we have many “working poor” who though employed full-time, and these same organizations much needed provide support for them.

    The biggest issue that we have here is drug testing. I believe it comes from the fact that many, many jobs in the US require drug testing for employment yet the government benefit programs do not. So there is a strong resentment from those who are employed who believe that many on the benefit programs are also using drugs.

  4. They are those who are morally bankrupt without compassion!
    Can there be morality without compassion?
    You can give without loving,
    but you can never love without giving.
    – Robert Louis Stevenson
    For it is in giving that we receive.
    St. Francis of Assisi
    What are we without the compassion of Christ but sinners !!!

  5. I share the view that society founded on the teaching of Jesus Christ should be one where sharing resources equally among all, including the poor, vulnerable, unemployed, disabled and other groups who are not in a position to help themselves.

    Such a society pools it’s resources via taxation to use for the mutual benefit of the whole, not for a few select individuals. A fair distribution of tax income is to those groups who are for whatever reason, unable to provide for themselves. Labeling such groups as scroungers is a sign that society might have descended to a level of depravity worthy of the devil, not followers of Jesus Christ.

    As Christians in a secular world, we need to be the voice of the weak, vulnerable and persecuted, and not share their persecution.

    I don’t begrudge my tax being used for benefits, but I don’t particularly like it supporting nuclear weapons i.e. Trident and to support the industries that mass production of weapons for sale, indiscriminately to the highest bidder which contribute to much to war and crime in our world.

    There are real moral questions to ask ourselves if we pander to those who want to deprive the already deprived more than they already are.

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