THE notion that a "hard-core culture of worklessness" exists in
the UK has been challenged by the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the
Rt Revd John Packer.
The Bishop was responding to comments from Hazel Blears, the
Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, at a debate on welfare organised
by the St Paul's Institute on 29 June.
Ms Blears referred to 1.5 million people who have not worked for
nine of the past ten years, and suggested that "not every single
person there is going to be disabled to the extent that they can't
do any work. . . There is then a hard-core culture that you do not
go to work; and that is the biggest thing that winds up other
working people [and] that starts to erode confidence in the Welfare
She gave examples from her constituency, including "pyjama
mums", who laughed at her when she suggested that they look for
work, and a woman seven-and-a-half months pregnant, with another
four children at home and a partner who also did not work. "My
heart sinks, because I think: what is the future for that
Ms Blears said that she had begun to "hate" the word "welfare",
which "has got connotations around handouts, scroungers, and the
undeserving poor"; she preferred "the ideas of social security,
insurance against hard times, and solidarity between rich and
poor". The "erosion of the contributory principle" had led to a
"crisis of confidence among working-class people in the Welfare
State", which had first been created by politicians such as Clement
Attlee, who was "no soft touch". He had once said that "a socialist
state cannot afford men to remain idle."
Bishop Packer, who opposed the Government's welfare reforms in
the House of Lords, including the inclusion of child benefit in the
cap on benefits (
News, 25 January), said that a "lack of concern" for the
welfare of children existed within the present political
establishment. Those who could "afford to bear the burden of the
economic pressure" should do so in the current straitened times, he
said, while everybody should regard tax not as something "taken
from us by an unfair government", but as "part of a just society,
and something we should be pleased and delighted to pay".
He challenged Ms Blears's comments. "I don't for one moment
dispute that there are those who can't bring themselves, or can't
be brought, into a way of thinking which is looking for work, but
there are many, many people who do want to work, and who actually
can't find work."
Ms Blears conceded this, and noted that the creation of the
Welfare State, in the 1940s, had been based on the premise of full
employment. It was "our fault" that a culture of worklessness
existed in some areas: "We've left them too long without saying
'There is a way back.'"
Today, almost £1 in every £3 spent by the Government goes on
welfare - most of it on benefits for the elderly including
pensions. In a YouGov poll conducted in February, 74 per cent of
respondents agreed that "the Government pays out too much in
benefits: welfare levels overall should be reduced."