A debate about benefits

Dear George,

I’ve received with interest news of your latest words of wisdom. But – and apologies if this seems at all irritating or inconvenient – I have found myself a little puzzled by their content and was hoping, if you have the time and the inclination, you might be able to help me.

“I think”, you said, “there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state – and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state – subsidising lifestyles like that, and I think that debate needs to be had.”

Now if you think something, George, then I’m quite sure it needs to be thought. And never let it be said that I have anything against debate. A good debate is the backbone of a healthy democracy, and the intellectual sparring between all you honourable gentlefolk in the House provides a daily lesson in reason and civility for simple souls like me, listening on the wireless in wonder and admiration.
But – and again, please accept my humblest apologies if I’ve missed something obvious here – but wasn’t the moment for this particular debate perhaps some time ago, indeed, if I might be bold, before the welfare reforms that have already been introduced? I wouldn’t presume to understand the workings of a mind as august as a Chancellor’s, but gosh, if one didn’t know better it would look rather like an attempt to justify an unpopular decision after it had been made.

The second point, George, the second point has me even more puzzled. “Lifestyles like that”, you say, and I’m at a loss as to what exactly you’re referring to. You see, there are a few candidates here and I don’t think my powers of interpretation are quite up to the task of unravelling the particular eternal truth which undoubtedly lies behind your words. So is it that you think we should think twice about giving money to people who burn down their houses and kill their children? If so, then you’ll be pleased to know you’ll be getting a hearty “hear hear” from this particular side of the (metaphorical) House. And I’d wager my own treasured personal income tax allowance that most of your potential voters would think much the same. So well done, sir, and well put. But all the same, and without wishing to offend or rise above my own humble station, all the same, George, perhaps a trifle obvious?

Of course you might mean something else entirely. You might mean that the fellow was just a lazy good-for-nothing layabout, but I hope not, because, you see, there are plenty of other lazy good-for-nothing layabouts you might have picked who don’t set fire to their houses and kill their children. And whatever people think about abusing the benefits system, it’s the fire thing and not the benefits thing that will come to mind when they think about the Philpotts. You wouldn’t, I’m sure, wish to colour the debate by suggesting, even by the faintest of associations, that lazy good-for-nothing layabouts are in general the type of people who are likely to set fire to their houses and kill their children.

So it’s probably not that either, is it, George? Perhaps it’s a clever allusion to your own changes to the child benefit system. Because under means-testing, where a single income is taken into account rather than a family’s entire income, Mick Philpott would have continued to get the full amount, despite having three separate incomes (his own, and those of both his wife and his mistress) to live off. Of course you know all this, George, and having defended this particular quirk of the means-test so valiantly against all the nay-sayers, I can’t quite understand why you’d now want to criticise it so publicly. But your mind does, of course, move in mysterious ways.

So, George, I’d be most grateful if you would lend me a hand with my interpretation. It would be a tragedy if your meaning got away. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, George, it’s that’s that there’s been more than enough tragedy in this business already.




  2. Moelwyn · · Reply

    Well said, sir.

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