“Putting nothing back into the community”

We cannot go on adding over five million people and growing in number, trapped on welfare dependency, putting nothing back into the community, sitting on benefits in many cases, 1.5 million people sat for ten years under the last government, without any work, written off, forgotten about, never seen by anybody, this is not right.” Ian Duncan Smith, Newsnight, 9th June 2011. (Emphasis mine)

“The big difference between him and me is that I would much prefer the person with the learning disability to be given the opportunity to get a job, do something worth while and contribute in a way that they want to, whereas he would prefer them to be sat at home, unable to get a job in the first place. He may think that he is taking the moral high ground by believing that it is far better for these people to be sat at home unemployed without any opportunity, but I do not” Philip Davies MP, House of Commons, 17th June 2011 (Emphasis mine)

The impression I get from many Conservative MPs is that they believe a person only has any worth if they are in paid (or self) employment, an employer, or rich. They seem to believe that if a person does not fit one of these roles that they are not contributing in any way.

This is a massively blinkered viewpoint. For a start, it is common for a parent, usually the mother, not to work in paid employment when raising children. Although maternity leave is not very long, parents put years of their lives into looking after their children. Apart from parents, plenty of other people are not “working.” The sick, the disabled, the retired and the unemployed.  I think all of these people put plenty back into the community. We have the people that help others around them, babysitting, helping sick or disabled neighbours with housework, food, transport or more. There are the ones running local events, volunteering for charitable causes or to help run services. (Don’t forget, David Cameron wants everyone to do precisely this type of volunteering as part of the big society.) These people usually care about the community around them and many work to improve their area.

There is a term that I saw used recently by the office of national statistics in their report on unemployment. It is a term that I don’t like. That term is “economically active”. It is used to describe people that are in employment as opposed to those not employed and not looking for employment. I hate it because it again implies that those people are not part of the economy and therefore don’t matter. I think it is wrong because  for a start, unemployed people buy things, supporting shops and paying VAT. That’s not inactive, that is keeping the economy going. A parent that chooses to stay at home to look after their children is not economically inactive, they spend money to keep their home and family going, whether that money is from government benefits, savings or their partners earnings.

In the quote that I opened with, Ian Duncan-Smith said – in passing – that people on benefits were sat at home and putting nothing back in to the community. Philip Davies expressed a similar sentiment that people with learning disabilities should “get a job, do something worth while and contribute in a way that they want to” again with an implication that they were contributing nothing if they did not work in paid employment. Philip Davies said a lot more than this in the House of Commons this morning, going as far as to suggest that the disabled should work for less than the current minimum wage rather than “be sat at home unemployed without any opportunity.”

This suggestion misses two points. The first is that even now the minimum wage is not enough to live on. A living wage would be more like £7 – £8.30 per hour, not the £5.93 that is the legal minimum at the moment. Someone earning less than the current legal minimum would still be utterly reliant on state benefits to provide for their needs. The second point that he missed is that, as I described above, a person will not contribute nothing simply because they are not in paid employment.  It is also insulting to people with disabilities to say that they are worth less than those around them. Of course employers should take on more disabled people; they are missing out on a vast pool of untapped talent, knowledge and training by ignoring them. Devaluing the disabled as people and treating them as worth less than others is not the way to do this.

Davies also expresses the opinion that “I am sure that there are a lot of myths out there and that many of these people would be just as productive as those without a disability—they might well move up the pay rates much more quickly.” This idea is absurd. Since when are employers some kind of altruistic charity that pays people more than they have to? Most employers pay the minimum wage that they can get away with. If they could hire a disabled person for less money than anyone else, they might do so, but I doubt that they would raise that wage unless they were forced to.

I doubt that the Tories are going to learn the value of other people any time soon, but we must make sure that others do not fall for their rhetoric. As @rattlecans said on twitter, “Anyone who sees a fellow human being as a ‘productivity unit’, as a ‘cost’ has no place in the House of Commons or a boardroom in my view.”

Related Links


Disabled ‘should accept lower wage’

Video: Tony Judt on present society

Disagreeable Weasel – Worth less or worthless, Mr Davies?

Employment Opportunities Bill Second Reading


Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

7 thoughts on ““Putting nothing back into the community””

  1. Thats terrible, another insult on us women and male lone parents. When I was on income support I had to attend these wfis but the training was voluntary. we were given no incentives to work and instead we are now on the scrapheap.

  2. I watched the Newsnight programme.My immediately thought was I wished he would stay sitting at home and not cause further damage.The trouble is such terms as “economically inactive”and the even worse phrase “out of work benefits” (many people on these do work of course) have become to signify meanings which have little or no regard to the actuality.The generic term “disability benefit” which has never existed is applied to various benefits/allowances paid to people with disabilities .IB/ESA is forever conflated with DLA by Ministers,who have the nerve to suggest it is the disabled who are confused.The fact that many people on DLA work,indeed some on IB work is too complicated for their small minds.They know the public are generally ignorant ,encourage this ignorance and create shorthand for the populace.People with disabilities are “vulnerable” or “trying it on”.All people on benefits are thick,from broken homes,addicted,ill-educated.Fraud is rife.Anybody that has their curtains/blinds closed after 08.00 is a scrounger.Simplistic trite for simpletons and it stinks.

  3. This is appalling. these statements make the implication that all those on benefits are idle scroungers. I am on benefits. I worked from the age of 12, paying into the system. I ceased to work when my children were small and struggled financially as raising my sons with love, interest and laughter was more important than cash. I learned why mum’s often say they are not hungry. I then worked full time until my late partner could no longer cope with the cancer that killed him, and cared for him through that final time. Alone. With no help. 24/7/365. I worked again until my son, aged 25, was stabbed through the brain in a random attack two years ago, leaving him paralysed, in a coma, brain injured. Now, I am his carer, living on benefits ( well, I would be if they didn’t keep stopping them). So is he. So is my partner who had a breakdown because of it. We have all worked, always. Now we are less than nothing, it seems.  This is supposed to be ‘Carer’s Week’.. the government cannot, on one hand, say they need to take more note of the contribution made by carers to the economy, saving it billions every year by doing unpaid what the country could not afford to pay for, and then, on the other,  accuse us of being ‘economically inactve’, making no contribution to society.

    When public sector worker strike about pay and conditions, the public, on the whole, support their need for better pay for risking life and limb, working long, unsociable hours, doing the jobs none of us want to do. If the unpaid carers scraping a meagre existence on benefit went on strike, people would die, the welfare state could not cope with their needs, and the economy would collapse. No contribution?

    My son, valiantly fighting to regain a modicum of normality, fighting to learn to crawl, to stand, to see, to speak, inspiring others with his courage, and living on benefits.. he is economically inactive and makes no contribution to society?

    Government wants to get off its perch and dip their toes in reality occasionally. These are people lives they are playing with.

    1. i just wanted to thank you for your comment, your story is heartbreaking.  how crude and horrible it is to call someone such as yourself and your family as ‘economically inactive’ and think that you are not contributing to society.

      people like you contribute more in terms of community than the people at the top with the massive salaries. just because you don’t have the clout of money behind you, doesnt mean you dont do amazing things to help people around you.

  4. although i try not to, i am becoming more and more upset with the way this inhumane governement is treating/wanting to treat us.
    i spent many years working for social services and local charities before i became too bad with my m.e to continue working and since my diagnosis with fibromyalgia i have little hope of returning to any form of work in the near future.

     yet the media and our government continue to lump us all under the name of benefit scroungers and i am becoming more and more ashamed of having to say i am on benefits because of how i will be perceived, especially with an ‘invisible’ illness

  5. You need to make a small correction: stay-at-home
    parents do not do paid work. They most certainly do work very hard, for far
    longer hours than in most jobs. I can attest to the fact that unpaid childcare
    and maintaining a home and family unit carries no status, something in common
    with the disabled and unemployed,  who
    get no recognition for the often substantial contributions they make to the
    local community.

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