So today I have SOMETHING TO SAY. And it's about these horrible facebook photos I've been seeing, sadly posted by people in my very own family. They look like this:
Let me tell you something if you didn't know it already. I've been on social welfare for almost four years. And while I haven't bought cigarettes or gotten any manicures or tattoos in that time, I've travelled to three different countries, eaten out countless times, bought presents for people, bought myself new shoes, a new computer, and a bunch of other stuff. Feel free to judge me, but let me tell you why you're a fucking hypocrite if you subscribe to the above attitude about welfare recipients.
You think that only people who deserve food and a place to live are people who live puritanical lifestyles. Anyone who doesn't spend their money the way YOU think is acceptable should live on the streets. You act like welfare is "stealing" and target poor people as thieves for getting "handouts" from the state, but you aren't posting snarky .jpgs about how your employer and insurance companies are stealing from you in much greater amounts. You aren't posting about the fact that people who make millions of dollars/euros/pounds a year don't earn that money. No one got rich without exploiting other human beings, but I don't see you posting about the much, much larger sums of money that are being amassed from putting profit first and people last, no no! Those are just "smart business people."
Oh sorry if I'm not degrading myself enough for you by sitting in a room with no working television (we don't live in an analogue world anymore; you need cable TV to work a television), drinking water (since coca-cola costs as much as beer, don't you know!), wearing rags, saying the rosary and thinking about how great my life would be if I could JUST GET A JOB. I honestly can't get over how infinitely shitty and judgmental people must be to "like" and re-post such bullshit.
Let's see...a six pack of good beer is about a tenner. Let's say you drink two of those a week. I'm going to guess that a dimebag of weed is about 50 bucks. We'll give our hypothetical welfare scrounger one of those a month. Cigarettes (depends on where you live) let's estimate at 8, and say two packs a week, though it truth most people here roll their own, which is a lot cheaper. A manicure is about another 15. I don't personally know people who get them, but lets say once a week because our person is classy like that. Plus one tattoo a year, a good one, for 500 dollars. That's about 3,550 of a person's yearly income going to what you would call luxury items. That's about a third of what I get from social welfare a year.
Translated into plain English, these two statements that people are liking so much say this:
IF I SPEND A THIRD OF MY 11,000 ANNUAL INCOME ON THINGS YOU DON'T APPROVE OF, THEN I SHOULD HAVE NO HOME AND NO FOOD. You'd rather see poor people on the streets than commit the horrible crime of spending money on non-essentials like the rest of society because they don't deserve it -- they're poor! They need to concentrate more on being poor and the reality of their poverty! They should be constantly reminded that they can't do things that the middle classes and the rich do! They need to be kept in line!
We brand poor people as undeserving, yet rich people, well, they earned it! Sorry. A janitor earns money. A construction worker earns money. Nurses earn money. Teachers earn money. Bank Tellers earn money. But we don't say shit when Mark Zuckerburg becomes a billionaire. Good job, Mark! Enjoy those private jets! What a hero! Did you know that if Zuckerburg was walking down the street and saw a five dollar bill on the ground, it's actually not worth the five seconds it would take him to bend over and pick it up, because he makes more than that by doing nothing? But I don't see anybody creating .jpgs for facebook about the injustice of that, probably because it would take time away from the moral war being waged against the poor. Make no mistake about it: you and your moral judgements are engaging in social control.
And I'll tell you what else. This image of yours that the world is just crawling with welfare frauders who, if we could only just put an end to it, we'd lower taxes and we'd all be rich! rich, I say! is a complete fallacy. And it's an important smokescreen. You're meant to think that the problem with welfare is that it doesn't help those who want to help themselves -- namely people who turn around and spend it all on booze, drugs, manicures, cigarettes, and tattoos. Because while you're so busy buying into this false idea, the people who actually receive welfare are bearing the brunt of your misdirected prejudice.
If you posted or liked one of these statements on facebook, I challenge you to re-think your attitude. The problem isn't "welfare fraud." It's the fraud of wealth. You've been completely duped by capitalism. But I'll save that can of worms for another day. For now, allow me to point you to an essay from the publication "Social & Legal Studies," an international peer-reviewed journal, called Welfare Law, Welfare Fraud, and the Moral Regulation of the 'Never Deserving' Poor, written by two Canadian scholars. I don't expect you to read it (unless you're a wacko academic), but I read it in its entirety with great interest. They make this cautionary statement: "Recent experience of welfare law reform and preoccupation with welfare fraud – this redeﬁnition, restructuring, harassment and disentitlement, coupled with the ever present threat of criminal prosecution – suggests to us that the state and its coercive apparatus continue to play an important role, analysis of which is neglected at our peril (223)." In other words, think about why you think what you think. Trust me, it's not about taxes, because if it were, you'd be liking facebook posts about how millionaires and billionaires should pay higher tax rates or raging about wealthy tax exiles (people who pretend to live elsewhere so they don't have to pay taxes). But you aren't, are you? Because rich people are awesome! One day we'll all live the American dream and be rich! rich, I say!
But here's what your winging is actually doing: it's creating legislation that gives less to people who honestly need welfare, widening the poverty gap, making poor people poorer. So congrats on that! According to the essay, "The discourse and politics of welfare fraud have obscured the imprecision of what is considered to be fraud, and by whom." In other words, policies are created just to shut you people up. In Canada, when a committee was created to review social assistance, they made their recommendations NOT based on their findings, but rather to placate public opinion, saying, "We have no evidence to suggest that fraud in the social assistance system is greater than it is in the tax system or the unemployment insurance system. Nevertheless, because public conﬁdence in the social assistance system depends in large part on the belief that the funds are being well spent and that abuse is being kept to a minimum, we accept that some of the measures adopted to control social assistance fraud may need to be more extensive that they are in other systems (229)."
And here's the problem with the way we think today: we don't give a shit about poor people, and we think it's their own fucking problem. In our celebrity worship we have forgotten the systems at work which cause poverty. "The slight and grudging acknowledgement of social responsibility for the poor that marked the Keynesian state has been rescinded. Now, as in the nineteenth century, poverty is a problem of individuals in civil society and the solution to poverty is an individualized one to be found principally in the labour market and/or marriage (233)." Read: women get the shaft, yet again. The idea that some poor people deserve assistance and other poor people don't belies a complete lack of understanding of how and why poverty happens, and how the welfare system works. It shows an absence of compassion. It shows a dangerous naiveté and black/white thinking. And if that's how you think, you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.