In the post last week I looked at the report issued jointly by four churches aimed at showing some myths about poverty in the UK. I would like to look again at some of the issues relating to poverty and benefits and the effects of social policy on the recipients of those benefits.
One of the problems of universal benefits is that the benefits are dispensed according to bureaucratic rules and thus people who understand the rules generally know the answers they need to give to ensure that they continue to receive the benefits for which they are applying.
There is a general perception that benefits are paid to the deserving and undeserving poor. Frequently, there is a complaint that persons who have been careful with their money are denied benefits while the profligate are given every benefit going.
I know that in the case of my own mother, after she had been widowed, the family had to keep her spending money on herself to keep her under the limits for benefits like home help so that someone could visit her on a daily basis when he offspring were living around 200 miles away from her.
One of the major areas of concern relates to the provision of social housing. The rules for the allocation of the houses require that this is on the basis of need when one becomes available. There has been no differential based on moral values. A cohabiting couple with a child gets the same priority as a married couple with a child. There is a perception that many teenage girls get pregnant because they do not want to continue living with their mothers. When one hears of the serial polygamy that passes for committed relationships these days, and realises that most predictive indicator of child abuse, both sexual and physical, is that mum is living with a man who is not the child’s biological father, it is not very difficult to understand why some girls think that single motherhood is preferable to remaining with their mothers.
The question remains that while the rules need to be applied fairly, we need to ask whether there is some manner in which morality can be introduced into the rules so that benefits can be prioritised to the deserving and morally upright rather than to the spendthrift and immoral.