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It has long been apparent that demeaning and demonising benefit recipients to provide a rationale for deep welfare cuts is part of the government's strategy. Given the distribution curve of human behaviours, it is inevitable that some who receive benefits will be feckless, lazy and scrounging, just as these defects will also be found in the more prosperous strata of society. Now, Lord Freud – the Welfare Reform Minister – has found a new slur to cast on poor people.
The former city banker has mounted his bully pulpit to tell the poor they “must take more risks” and "abandon the 'lifestyle' of welfare for the adventure of enterprise.” As some five million working households need to claim housing benefit and millions more are unable to find employment, it is hard to see how the need for benefits can be described as a 'lifestyle' in a context which implies choice.
Having never experienced the crippling effects of poverty, Lord Freud, who can claim £300 a day for the distinctly un-risky activity of putting his feet over the threshold of the House of Lords, says "people who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks" as they have "the least to lose”.
What he fails to understand or acknowledge is that the less you have to lose, the closer you stand to the precipitous edge of destitution. The meagre amounts which Freud urges struggling families or individuals to gamble, is the money which keeps their children fed and sheltered. It is not money which is backed by savings or underwritten by family wealth.
In the banking world with which Freud is familiar, people possessed of financial security and entrepreneurial self-confidence have 'taken risks' with the money, employment and futures of millions. The cost of their greed is now being borne by those who did nothing to cause the subsequent crisis.
That Lord Freud, himself a beneficiary of the once abundant rewards of a particular brand of risky enterprise, should display such callous ignorance towards its victims is an insult to reason and morality.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet