If you are even moderately well-off and suddenly fall on hard times, Britain’s universal welfare system isn’t like landing in a safety net – it’s more like smacking into a concrete floor from a fifty-foot drop.
People generally talk about the British welfare state as some kind of benign presence, maybe in need of a tweak here or there but basically something of which we can be justifiably proud – Britain’s post-war gift to humanity.
This story makes us feel good, so naturally most of us swallow it unquestioningly, nodding along when the NHS is worshipped in a theatrical Mass during the London Olympic Games opening ceremony, or when Just Another Identikit Politician drones on about the importance of “triple-locking” pensioner benefits.
Sadly, it’s all nonsense. The universal welfare state and its organising principle of non-contributory benefits has proven to be one of the greatest self-inflicted evils we have ever wrought in this country, a vast conveyor belt of human misery leading to an incessant grinding machine in which the lives and dreams of countless thousands of our fellow citizens are destroyed each year, while nearly everyone turns and looks the other way.
Usually it’s good when government does not discriminate. Justice, for example, should certainly be blind, as the old saying goes. But when it comes to social security, we choose to regard our welfare system as a “safety net”. Yet any fisherman knows that different nets are needed for different environments, and likewise a one-size-fits-all safety net for citizens experiencing unemployment or hard times simply won’t catch everybody. Some will slip through entirely and crash to the ground, while others will become ensnared and trapped forever. In other words, when it comes to welfare we should actually want the government to actively discriminate.