The Debate: Do we have a culture of entitlement?
Families with a large number of children, under-25s with housing-benefit payments, and the long-term unemployed will all be affected.
Conservative sources have suggested that some of the changes could be brought in ahead of the next election. But this has been disputed by the Liberal Democrats, who said that they would not allow measures penalising the vulnerable to pass during the lifetime of this Coalition Government.
The Prime Minister feels we have a “culture of entitlement” when it comes to welfare, and polling shows huge public support for a crackdown on benefit payments.
But do many young people leave school expecting to be sit at home and be looked after by the state? Do the wealthy elite discuss their future positions of power whist quaffing champagne?
Christina Patterson argues that we do have a culture of entitlement in the UK, seen across all levels of privilege. John Rentoul disagrees, holding that there is a clear problem benefit dependency, as opposed to expectancy.
Which do you agree with?
Christina Patterson: YES
Everyone feels entitled to something, and our sense of what we’re entitled to changes with the culture, and times. David Cameron, and many of his friends, were brought up to feel entitled not just to the best education money could buy, but to money, and power. Middle-class people have, at least until recently, felt entitled to a nice home, and nice work. And some working-class people have felt entitled to have as many children as they like and have the taxpayer pick up the bill.
They’ve felt entitled because they were told they were entitled. In attempting to tackle “child poverty”, New Labour made sure that people got more benefits, and often bigger homes, the more children they had. The result was hardly a lavish standard of living for anyone. Living on benefits is never a picnic. But it did lead to some pretty hefty bills for the taxpayer, and it also meant that for quite a few people in this country it paid not to work.
David Cameron is right to address this anomaly, and right to say that trying to help some of the poorest people in our society has had some unfortunate consequences. He’s wrong to imply that people who did what the system told them to do are feckless or lazy. If your children have a better standard of living if you don’t work than if you do, then not working doesn’t make you stupid. It makes you clever.
The welfare system in this country was ripe for reform. Finding ways to do this, in a country where rents, and property prices, are ridiculously high, and in areas where the available jobs are snapped up by immigrants who will do pretty much anything to get a job, is quite a task. It’s one thing to make changes for the future. It’s quite another to take away things people were encouraged to expect. David Cameron should ditch the lectures. He should also remember that the things he takes for granted are way beyond most people’s dreams.
John Rentoul: NO
Alastair Campbell reports that Libby Purves found the portrayal of the rich young men in Laura Wade’s play Posh “ridiculous. Over the top. Unrealistic. Silly.” Now, I am at a disadvantage in that I haven’t seen the play and so have to rely on the reviews of it, including Campbell’s. But from those accounts I am with Purves.
The Riot Club (the club featured in Posh, loosely inspired by the Bullingdon Club – of which Conservative trio Cameron, Osborne and Johnson were all members) does not sound true to life. I came across hoorays at university, and dining clubs, and loutish behaviour by public school boys (and grammar school boys in my own occasionally slightly loutish case). And I’ve read about the Bullingdon Club. But I simply do not believe that there are large numbers of young men who could be described as having a culture of entitlement: who think that they are born to rule and that they can behave as badly as they like because their own chequebook or father’s connections will get them out of trouble.
Just as I do not believe that poor people in this country generally believe that they are “entitled” to money or a house from the government or “the social”. I think there is a problem of benefit dependency, by which unsocial habits and attitudes are reinforced and passed from one generation to the next, although it is a response to perverse incentives and actually runs counter to the underlying instincts of the moral majority.
Undoubtedly, a tiny minority of people at both ends of the social spectrum are morally defective. But I do not believe that the caricature of Posh is any fairer or more representative than the caricature of benefit scroungers promoted by Campbell’s unfavourite newspaper, the Daily Mail.
That does not mean, of course, that David Cameron and George Osborne will not be tainted by unfair perceptions of them. Just as many of the poor are unfairly stigmatised by the powerful social idea of the scrounger, so are many of the rich unfairly depicted as regarding themselves as “entitled”.
Campbell is right – and he knows what he is talking about when it comes to politicians being unfairly stereotyped – that the “posh” label is utterly destructive. It is like dry rot in the Tory house. It is a short, headline word, like “spin” and before that “sleaze”, which attacks and weakens everything that the Government does.
Do you think we have a culture of entitlement? Leave your comments below.
Tagged in: benefits, child poverty, class, classdebate, david cameron, debate, entitlement, New Labour, welfare
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