The Welfare State

The Welfare State

In our book club we’ve been reading Theodore Dalrymple “If Symptoms Persist”.  The author is a medical doctor whose territory includes the local penitentiary and public health department.  The author relates stories about some of his patients.  One of his gripes is how some of his patients have come to have a sense of entitlement to live off the public purse.  He sides with the long-suffering tax-payer.  It’s wonderful to be living in a country that subscribes to the ethos of a ‘welfare state’ where people can be taken care of by the government from the cradle to the grave.  But the reality is that at the end of the day someone has to pay for it.  Dalrymple’s wit and cynicism is especially levelled at those who have learnt how to rort the system.

Of course rorting the system is not limited to the underprivileged.  Here in Australia we’ve just had a round or recriminations from both sides of politics at the way the public purse has been used by politicians for personal perks and privileges.  The speaker of the house has even lost her job over it.

Recently a relative sent me a news item from The Netherlands about some of the massive rorts that are taking place there.  For example, amongst migrants there are some who come without much information and, although married, identify themselves as single people.  The couple are separately admitted into the public housing program.  But he moves in with his (undeclared) wife and rents out (on the quiet) his own house to a fellow migrant – the income of which is sent back to his home country somewhere in North Africa.

Presently Europe has a huge problem with asylum seekers.  They cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe in their thousands.  It makes our own illegal immigrant problem here in Australia insignificant in comparison.  Some are genuine refugees while others are economic refugees.  The difficulty is that the countries where they land (Italy and Greece) are countries that are least able to offer care for those huge numbers of refugees – particularly Greece is well known for its economic crisis.  The goal of many of these refugees is to move on to the western and northern European countries (such as the Netherlands) and benefit from the very generous handouts of the welfare state.  The opening of the borders between the countries of Europe has made it relatively easy to move on from Italy and Greece to other European countries.

All of this led to an announcement by the Dutch king recently (at the opening of the new parliament) that the welfare state may be over.  Even in The Netherlands they are finding that it is no longer sustainable.

What should we think of this as Christians?

On the one hand we would want to see the needy cared for.  I don’t mind some of my taxes going towards unemployment benefits and housing allowances, or to pay for carers of the sick and to retrain the unemployed.  Being part of a community obligates us to care for those less fortunate than ourselves.  The commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves requires at least that from us.  And our neighbours are not only Aussies – some of them are also on the boats that arrive on our shores.

At the same time I resent those who rort the system.  A man I knew had been on unemployment benefit.  When he eventually found some work he didn’t report it but continued to claim his welfare benefits.  They caught up with him and he finished up in jail.  When I visited him there I was totally unsympathetic.  He reaped what he sowed.  The problem is that many don’t get caught.  How many people manage to live in Byron Bay on a “Tony Abbot surfing scholarship” and get away with it for years?  The government also has a difficult job distinguishing the genuine refugees from those who come to rort the system.

I despair of a solution to these huge issues our society faces.  Well, of course there is a solution.  Hearts needs to be changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Dutch king, in his speech, said that it was time for people to take responsibility for themselves.  The problem is that the depraved heart of man will try as much as possible to avoid doing that.  It’s so much easier to live with a sense of entitlement to the public purse.  Only as God takes out our heart of stone are we willing once again to take responsibility  for ourselves – at least to the extent that we are able to do that.