Two generations ago we would have agreed with Shakespeare’s description of the seventh age of man (he would probably have added ‘or woman’ if it had scanned). Old people became forgetful. We shook our heads indulgently and kept an eye on them to make sure they didn’t put the gas on and forget to light it. Now we know that they had an illness and we are clamouring for a cure.
The conventional wisdom is that if you stop paying welfare benefits you will force people to find jobs. It didn’t work in the past and human nature is the same as it always was. There was no welfare when Quasimodo was living in Notre Dame but there was a Court of Miracles full of men and women living on the fringe of mainstream society dipping their hands in to extract purses or alms according to their specialisation. They had their own king and guilds to keep order amongst the work shy.
If literature doesn’t satisfy you, there are records of medieval people rubbing dog shit into open wounds to make them fester since an infected wound brought in more money to the beggar. Two generations from now scrounging will be recognised as an illness and the government of the day will announce a huge research grant to find a cure. It will turn out to cost more to treat them than to keep paying benefits.
I can only offer anecdotal evidence but I have observed that determined non-workers believe they are working harder than the rest of us. There is the girl who can only just find time to cut the grass after cleaning her two-bedroomed bungalow; I have a lady comes in who takes two hours to clean my three-bedroom house – and she does my ironing as well.
There is a guy in the charity shop who, on Saturday between twelve and four, only took five donations upstairs and bagged the rubbish; as he told me, he can’t do everything on his own. I had it easy in the same period doing nothing but stand at the till and chat to customers. Another volunteer who normally works on a Tuesday is taking this week off; he does not work on a Monday so otherwise he would get no benefit from the Bank Holiday weekend.
By accepting benefits they accept restrictions to their freedom that I would find irksome. They are subject to assessment and inspection whereas I can choose what to do with my time and money once I have fulfilled my obligations to my boss. They live where they are put because they can’t afford to pay to live where they please. I am respected but the best they can hope for is to be tolerated as individuals accepting that they are collectively despised.
Of course, they are not the only group with problems. For every Muslim who slopes off to Syria there are a hundred who remain here working to improve their communities. It is hard to tell which group is most disliked. Muslims are expected to accept British society gladly and without criticism. The original inhabitants grumble all the time about change being too fast or too slow but Muslims are required to ignore the evidence and think themselves lucky to be here.
If I stand for election people will listen to my reasons even if they do not vote for me but if my Muslim neighbour offers himself for election he will be told to go back to where he came from. How dare he come here and start telling us how to run our country? No wonder it takes them time to settle! We are not racist, you understand, it’s just that everybody knows that white skin and a posh accent is the only sure proof of Britishness.
We always seem to select the most negative response to situations. Stop benefits, send immigrants home, kill IS fighters. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to find out what is so attractive about IS. Three young British girls went to Syria not long ago. They had been brought up in England where they did well in school. They enjoyed the freedom they had learned here. It allowed them to plan and execute a journey across Europe to the Turkish border with Syria.
Clever girls appreciating the freedom of Muslim women in Britain to determine their own lives, they consciously chose to cross the border into a life that will supress their individuality. They used their freedom to embrace what looks to us like slavery. If we could figure out why, then we would begin to understand the fascination IS has for young Muslims and, perhaps, counter it.