I remember being told from an early age ‘there’s no such thing as something for nothing’ or ‘life’s not fair’ and the classic ‘it’s a cruel world, son.’ Perhaps this is the reason why I spend my evenings in a dark corner rocking but it also may be the reason why I feel so suspicious of being told pretty incessantly, from several sides, that I live in a ‘something for nothing’ culture.
There have been a few examples recently in the media, such as the trial of Welsh sisters Andrea and Roberta Vaughan-Owen, who attempted to claim over one hundred million pounds in VAT fraud. I’m not sure that this really illustrates that we, as a nation, simply hand out free money. Apparently they were cheating a failing system, but they were caught and are facing prison. To get away with any large-scale fraud of our benefits systems it seems that you would have to be part of some sort of large crime syndicate. Now, I’m not defending the Vaughan-Owens, but anyone who has seen the Godfather films will know that no one works harder than the mafia.
My point is not really about this specific case, but about the context it has been applied to: as yet another example of a benefit culture where it’s easy to get by if you are lazy and morally corrupt. Look at any benefit payment in this country closely; from unemployment, disability benefit or tax credits to elderly buss passes. To characterize these benefits as undeserved or unearned is to hold an insultingly simplistic view of our culture. The picture is very complex and messy, but we are talking about millions of people in vastly differing circumstances who have one thing in common: they certainly do not receive this money for nothing. Benefits should not be held up as a sign of a morally corrupt society, and to do so would undermine the work they do in attempting to make Britain a slightly fairer place to live.