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Monday, July 21, 2008

To ease the pain of idleness

The government girds its loins for another bash at changing the benefits system. There's talk of making sure that those claiming job seekers' allowance are actually seeking jobs and that those claiming incapacity benefit are actually incapable. It seems to be widely accepted among the political classes that since the carrot hasn't worked in reducing the number of people who are dependent on benefits then a little bit of stick might have to be tried.

I fear it won't actually work, not because it's wrong-headed but because there is nothing more draining than compelling the unwilling. I occasionally see some kids half-heartedly picking up litter on a roundabout or scraping graffiti from the park gates, presumably on some kind of punitive community service project. The person I feel most sorry for is the individual charged with supervising them. That person must be working twice as hard as any of us and for very little reward, financial or otherwise. Any teacher will tell you that the most difficult class to teach is neither the brightest one nor the thickest one. It's the one that is prepared to put most of its energies into avoiding doing anything.

Most people want to be active. They don't work just for money but for self-respect, companionship, stimulation or just getting out of the house. They would probably agree with the old biblical idea that idleness is a curse. They associate with people who are like them and probably have nothing to do with the others. "Forcing" people to work means somebody's got to do the forcing. Most of us would do anything rather than that.