The conservatives are aheadby Tim Leunig / February 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Conservatives are winning hands down on welfare. The bishops in the House of Lords led a successful rebellion against the totemic £26,000 benefits cap—their aim was to prevent child benefit from being limited along with other welfare payments. But the government may force the cap through the Lords anyway. Labour and the Lib Dems are quiescent. Jobless, and poor people more generally, rarely vote, making them politically, as well as economically, marginal. The recession has not made people in work feel more generous to those out of work.
The sense that people should “pull their socks up” has a long history. The Tudor Poor Law put the able-bodied poor to work. Those able but unwilling to work could be sent to a House of Correction or prison. The Christian concept of “stewardship,” a responsibility to work productively as best we can, meant that idleness and begging were seen as worthy of punishment.
The Victorians were harsher still. The able-bodied were put to work in circumstances so unpleasant only those without alternatives would seek support. The workhouse divided husbands from wives, parents from children. Supper at the Huddersfield Workhouse always consisted of flour or oatmeal, boiled in “old milk.”