Monday, 16 January 2012

Welfare must be local

Following on from the post below, I think this issue is the crux of the debate on where the whole right-of-centre is headed. Nick Drew is a wise old bird with much high-level real life experience in politics and local government, and I take his points below. Wherever local governance entities just distribute largesse from on high, there will be unfairness and corruption; the people attracted to such duties will include many seeking to gain from graft, peculation, sleaze and fraud. However, the same doesn't hold where Welfare costs are levied and borne locally. As James Bartholomew wrote in the Speccie;
So what happens if you are, say, a young mother in Switzerland with a little baby but no husband or similar on the scene and nowhere to live? There is no countrywide answer to this question because it is not dealt with on a national basis. It is not even dealt with by one of the 26 cantons. It is dealt with by your local commune. There are 2,900 of these and their population can be anything from 30 to 10,000 or more. 
Officials from this ultra-small local government will come and investigate your individual circumstances. The father will be expected to pay. The mother’s family, if it is in a position to, will be expected to house and pay for her. As a last resort, the young mother will be given assistance by the commune. But the people who pay the local commune taxes will be paying part of the cost. You can imagine that they will not be thrilled at paying for a birth or separation that need never have taken place. Putting yourself in the position of the mother — and perhaps the father — you can imagine that you will be embarrassed as you pass people in the street who are paying for your baby. Instead of feeling you have impersonal legal rights, as in Britain, you are taking money from people you might meet at your local cafĂ©. No wonder unmarried parenting is less common. 
A similar system applies if you need means-tested benefits. Those made redundant receive, for a while, generous unemployment insurance payments from the cantonal governments. But once these payments run out, people depend again on their local commune. You would be cautious of claiming fraudulently because, if you worked in the black economy, your chances of being spotted would be high. And so it is that Switzerland has the second highest rate of male employment in the OECD. Britain’s rate is about 50 per cent worse.
I simply don't believe the Swissies are any more moral, fair, equitable and uncorrupt than Brits, or that the fairness and probity exercised by the Swiss communes are beyond the capacity of local Welfare panels in the UK. 

IDS' great behemoth of a Welfare State is as doomed to failure as its predecessor. 


Edward Spalton said...

The Swiss system is, more or less, the old Elizabethan Poor Law which worked pretty well for a largely static, rural population. It varied quite a bit in its application but the problem was always what to do with "vagrants", people from outside the parish. They might be severely dealt with in some places - hence "the Beggars' Litany"

"From Hull, Hell and Halifax,
Good Lord deliver us".

In other places, they might be escorted over the parish boundary, sometimes even with a copper or two in their pocket. Such a practice was not unknown in more recent times in Glasgow where the more troublesome types might be cleaned up and put on a tram with the fare to the end of the line!(which was in somebody else's area).

I have read diaries of an early nineteenth century brewer and landowner in Hertfordshire who, in a time of unemployment, sacked all his men who did not come from his own parish so that he could employ local men and keep the rates down.

A parish/commune system would also depend on a sufficient local rateable income. This would not be available in the great "sink" areas of unemployment.

The local magistrates who, with the Churchwardens and parish constables, formed the local government in earlier times tried all sorts of different systems. The magistrates at Speenhamland even introduced a sort of minimum wage, calculated on the price of the quartern loaf. If a man's wages fell below that level, he could get the money made up on the rates. This had two unintended effects. Some employers would cut wages and tell their men to get the rest made up from the rates, other men would conceal income in trying to scrounge some extra. So there is nothing new under the sun!

The real rot started in the Sixties, a time of full employment, when Roy Jenkins praised the contribution to society which was made by "the voluntary unemployed". He really did!

I remember three things from that time.

Men being sent round by the Labour Exchange to enquire for work. If you tried to find out what previous work they had done to see if they might be suitable, you frequently got the answer "Just sign the bloody card, mister!"

In our office, one of the girls got pregnant. The directors, who were traditionally minded but kindly men, did not sack her, as many would then have done.

They did ask whether the father would live up to his responsibilities and were astonished at the reply "O no! If we got married, I'd lose £10 a week benefit". Ten pounds was then about two thirds of a labouring man's wage. Producing bastard children "on the parish" had become a career choice.

Again, I think Roy Jenkins and his "civilised society" was at fault. I got to read the social workers' trade magazine "New Society". The driving imperative was to destroy every remaining vestige of different treatment between the deserving and undeserving. They were all to be just "clients".

There was even a proposal that the workshy should be spared the indignity of looking for work by becoming "state registered ergophobiacs" and thus get a lifetime's income without the demeaning need to come round and get their cards signed as "genuinely seeking work".

From what I have seen since, things have got worse and the state has become a great deal more generous with our money. Uncontrolled immigration has multiplied this dramatically, as I know from acquaintances working in tax and benefit offices.

Nick Drew said...

a good response in the debate, R - and I always like learning how things are actually / successfully managed elsewhere

I could fairly easily accept that the Swiss system (a pretty homogeneous population in each canton, I'm guessing) might work well; it sits nicely with a long-established communo-morality system, and is attractive on a romantic (-but-wrong) basis

so perhaps we could focus on the transition that would be required to introduce it here

because in the urban areas you and I are familiar with, there is no such homogeneity

let's say the local government ward (10,000 people) or polling district (2,000) is the appropriate unit for distribution: imagine the rules for welfare eligibility that might be developed in an impoverished ward that was (say) 60% stern Muslim, with the imam calling all the shots, strongly favouring what you and I might consider 'commendable family values' (and running the gays out of town, as they do in Tower Hamlets)

and then an unmarried mother of 'another ethnic / moral tradition' presents, and is told to take a hike, nothing for you; mend your godless ways!

what next ? at very least she de-camps to wherever she can find a regime more sympathetic to the feckless: at worst, the 60% find themselves at war with a significant chunk of the 40% (this, incidentally, lay at the heart of the bigger of the 2 major arson attacks in Croydon during last year's riots): but how long before she and her cohort mend their ways ?

next, take the 'problem family' that wreaks havoc on the estate: everyone disapproves of them already as strongly as is possible, but the havoc includes prompt and brutal violence against anyone raising complaint, & even the police will only go in team-handed when they make their reluctant annual visit

these people get their way for years at a time even now, when borough-wide resources are being brought to bear: how will the ward or the polling-district fare ?

it takes several generations and/or the sort of ruthlessness that Henry VII brought to law-and-order to change the atrocious 'morals' of much of 2012 Britain

or, I suppose, the money running out altogether ...

English Pensioner said...

Similar to the old days of Parish Relief, when each parish was responsible for its poor and the magistrates could make an order sending you back to your own parish. The rule "No one on relief shall ever get more that the lowest paid working man in the parish" seems to be perfectly reasonable.

Dave_G said...

"you can imagine that you will be embarrassed as you pass people in the street".....

LOL - like fcuk...... the feckless of this country have no morals or standards - least of all a feeling of 'embarrassment'.

We're doomed!

David C said...

I've a pal who is an accountant in Switzerland. He was recently made redundant, and tells me that no-one who is reasonably employable goes back to work until their benefits are about to run out, as they are so generous.
So I'm not sure that's a great model to follow.

Edward Spalton said...

David C

I think that will be the benefits available for a time under the equivalent of National Insurance. I have been told (but not checked) that this is 70% of previous earnings and subject to a weekly interview to ensure that the beneficiary is "genuinely seeking work". Every known system has its weaknesses and you seem to have found one.

I just came across this quotation from Plutarch: "The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads amongst them bounties, donations and benefits"

As I wrote in my earlier response "Nothing new under the sun".

Greg Tingey said...

Ah, the "benefits" of the Poor law ...
Like the Andover and Huddersfield scandals I prsume.
Didn't Dickens tell us how wonderful the Poor law was, somewhere?
All down to local (and corrupt) administration.

Anonymous said...

Switzerland has a democracy that starts at the local level- almost the parish level. This can even extend to control of who does or does not get Swiss citizenship.

And just to stop any big shot getting ideas of BIG SOCIETY, each adult male is armed with a state of the art automatic weapon. We in the UK are disarmed, while the outlaws, that is criminals and the political elite, have a monopoly in deadly force.