Writing ‘I heart NHS’ left me pondering on why the wonderful, socialist systems of which our country can be so proud are nowadays so readily and shamelessly exploited, and questioning my own political standpoint. While I consider myself a big old soft romantic leftie to the core, my journeys into human nature have singed me and turned purity of belief, naivity of youth, and blissful idealist indulgence, into pragmatic cynicism.
There is no part of me that feels the welfare state is a bad idea – I am glad to contribute to keeping those unable to work in a decent of standing of living. But then, in the words of someone wise, the welfare state was meant to be a trampoline but has become a net – and I scare myself sometimes these days when I sympathise with the Daily Mail, or nod when I hear Cameron speaking of welfare reforms. I mean, really scare myself.
It is an internal clash I face daily as a drugs worker. No, dear client, you are not unfit for work because you are taking methadone, lots of people hold down jobs whilst on medication. Yes, dear client, you will almost certainly be less depressed and feel better about yourself if you get off your arse and do something constructive with your time to evoke a sense of satisfaction and purpose. No, dear client, the benefits you choose to live off are probably not yours morally, even if you are entitled to them legally. Yes, dear client, you might start sleeping at night without Valium if you do something with your body and brain other than watching Jeremy Kyle.
Once, as I attempted to convince a client that losing his disability benefits might be a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to be grasped, a chance to evolve and progress, I was asked, “What mug would go to work when he can get paid to stay at home?”. I managed to hold myself back from flying-kicking him across the consultation room (I’m a professional, you know), or from screaming my true feelings of “One with a sense of morality / work ethic / conscience / anything other than HIMSELF, you egocentric sponger!”, or from leaping over the desk, ragging off his Nikes and touch-screen mobile phone (why do you think it was so cheap – because it’s STOLEN!), shoving them up my jumper, and running out, howling “They’re mine! I paid for them with my taxes!”. Like I said, I’m a professional – I just reduced his methadone by 10mls and booked him in for some unnecessary and painful capillary blood tests.
It’s a poignant question though. The father of the welfare state, William Beveridge, would have answered that it was each person’s aspirations “to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family”. I suggest he somewhat over-estimated a significant proportion of the present British public’s aspirations. Possibly a few days in my job, working with the third-generation unemployed, would have made him question his basic premise.
Back in his day, though, the working class sat cross-legged on the floor of the social stratosphere. Nowadays, although standards of living are higher for everyone and we all have chairs to sit on, I suppose the working class are the middle classes in that they are the ones who go to work, and an under-class has developed of people who are out of work. (I was tempted to put ‘an under-class of people who don’t want to work’ but freaked myself out that the Daily Mail within was starting to ooze out – but, in all honesty, many of the jobs that have been created locally are currently filled by Polish people because the local, English-speaking unemployed for whom they were created do not want them.) It could be labelled ‘dependency culture’, but ‘dependency’ for me conjures up images of vulnerability and need, which are the people who the welfare state should exist for – for me, it’s more an entitlement culture, represented by the right to choose not to work.
So, I find myself over-worked, though not under-paid, feeling down-trodden, and somewhat resentful (and jealous?) of the people who do get paid to sit at home all day, make a few extra quid from selling bent cigarettes (and therefore by-passing paying tax which would otherwise contribute towards their and their customers’ impending heart failure / lung cancer treatment), laughing at mugs like me running around like a blue-arsed fly trying to reduce their health inequities – which, largely, they create, and I / we / definitely not they, pay for. So, the question I ask myself, and put to you, oh readers who have pledged to be honest and true – am I a bigot?! Are my frustrations with the current systems justified and rational – or will I soon find myself agreeing with headlines that fail to differentiate between refugees and illegal immigrants facilitating sex trafficking? Will I next find my hand, on Election Day, quivering with pent-up anger and resentment, unconsciously drawn towards the box marked ‘BNP’? And if so, what next – all drug users are scum? All Muslims are suicide bombers? Premiership footballers are rightly the role models of future generations? Tits on Page 3 and Babestation are examples of equality in employment and, as such, good for women? I just don’t know anymore, readers, I am so confused and feel so compromised, having already strayed so far from my pure, true, clean socialist belief system and resenting the unemployed!