Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Workhouse Ethic

The Tory Social Policy Review Group’s 300 page report Breakdown Britain has been doing the rounds this week. Sadly, this will not give much needed advice about what to do if your car breaks down on the motorway. I can offer this from my own experience - you should move as quickly as possible over to the hard shoulder and scream very loudly. No one will hear you but you will feel considerably better.

No. I’m afraid Breakdown Britain is the last in a long production line of reports that attempt to provide a ‘road map’ for us to steer our way through the murky waters of social injustice and arrive finally in the promised land of equality. On present navigational form, we are more likely to fetch up in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Over the course of a year, the group’s Chairman Ian Duncan ‘Donut’ Smith lifted up a corner of the great tarpaulin concealing our ‘growing underclass’ to gather his revelations. On his great road trip around broken down Britain inspecting graffiti and broken windows, Donut should perhaps have followed the advice of the Welsh farmer who told him,

‘If I was you, I wouldn’t start from here.’

Donut has since been warming the nation’s spot-lit swivel chairs in a valiant attempt to promote this compendium of startling statistics which reaches the ultimate conclusion that family breakdown is responsible for poverty. Er.. no.. Donut. Lack of money is responsible for poverty. Every royal child of the current generation, except one, is the product of a broken home. None of them are poor. It’s true that they are all unemployed though so it does follow that there is a link between family breakdown and unemployment. If Zara Phillips’ acceptance speech for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award ceremony is anything to go by, they also mostly have an active vocabulary of around forty words, half of which are ‘amazing’. Trust fund chavs they may be but, apart from those on the civil list obviously, none are a drain on our economy.

The crux of Donut’s argument is that married parents are far less likely to split than those co-habiting, therefore the Government should be doing more to encourage people to get married. That comes from the same school of logic that says because unemployed people are more likely to suffer from depression, they should get themselves a job. Fortunately there are a few pundits that aren’t buying. Yesterday Dave Hill reported on a BBC Today Programme discussion where Ian Kearns of the IPPR spotted the obvious converse,

He agreed that the evidence shows that children from intact, two-parent families do better, but pointed out that it does not follow from this that the state supporting marriage is the answer to reducing family breakdown.

‘The key point here is the cause and effect relationship, and all of the evidence points to the quality of adult relationships of parents with each other and with the child as being the key to the outcome, rather than the institution of marriage itself. It may be, for example, that more of those with with stronger relationships and commitment to each other choose to get married and not that being married increases commitment to the relationship.’

Today in The Times, David Aaronovitch was on the ball too.

‘Is it not rather the case that those couples with greater commitment tend to get married, than that the act of getting married somewhat mystically creates the commitment?’

I don’t know which came first, chicken or egg, but shouldn’t somebody be doing something to find out? Do we not have any sociologists in this country any more? Is this indicative of the Conservatives’ new approach? Are we to replace ‘suck it and see’ with ‘dunc it in tea’?

Meanwhile, Tony ‘Blah Blah’ Blair today struck out on yet another mystery tour to work out what to do about the aging population. Blah Blah has reluctantly accepted that aging is kind of inevitable if people insist on staying alive – a consequence of following Government directives to be born in the first place. What has been slower to dawn is the realisation that if we eat five fruit and veg a day as instructed, we simply transfer our burden from the NHS to the DWP.

Blah Blah came up with another of his blinding visions to solve the problem – we need 80 per cent of the population in work. Brilliant, you’d think. Everyone happily beavering their way up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and getting an NVQ in self-actualisation, what could be more heartening? Well, you know how the Government hates maths and I always end up doing their homework for them? Presently, 19 per cent of the population are under 16 and 16 per cent are over 65. That means a total of 35 per cent of the population are either under or over working age. I know. Picky, picky, picky.

The bad news is that we will have to open up all those old coal mines and get building some chimneys if we expect to create suitable work for the under tens. Pity about all those eco-parks and museums but needs must. I will be very happy indeed to pull a shift selling matches if it will help make Britain great again, just tell me which workhouse I need to report to…

Cartoon from

1 comment:

Groucho said...

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.