New Orleans Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare. Finally! Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.
The biggest takeaway seems simple. If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.
In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits. Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches. This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.
In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist. After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015. But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now. Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years. More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives. That’s huge!
Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either. A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018. It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down. Praise, lord!
It’s not all cheery in old England of course. The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad. The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.” They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.
Sounds like magic, doesn’t it? Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.
Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.