Social Assistance is Fraud?

I have often blogged about perceptions of poverty, particularly around the move to criminalize homelessness.  How we perceive poverty is incredibly important, because it drives decisions made around our social support systems.  And, our social support systems are an incredibly important determinant of the overall health of our society.  Those with strong social safety nets, such as Sweden and Norway, do best on most international rankings of societal well-being.

The riots in London of the past couple of days have inevitably brought forward questions and discussions around poverty.  Although I generally avoid reading comments on news sites, for my overall well-being, the following comment caught my eye:

“I was in Tottenham on Saturday, the police had petrol bombs and bricks and concrete thrown at them all night however they were still really polite with people who weren’t involved. They were chiefly concerned with trying to protect the fire brigade who were rescuing families from flats that were on fire in the High Road.

This has nothing to do with a local gang member criminal who was shot while shooting at police, this is sadly just the typical sort of excuse adopted to try and add some shred of credibility to the actions of the unemployed lawless criminal low-lifes who, when they’re not stealing — and now apparently looting — are swindling honest hard working people out of their taxes through the benefits system.”

Swindling, according to the Webster dictionary, means to obtain money fraudulently.  The implication by the author of this comment is that all social assistance is fraud, that people could work if they chose, but are pretending they are unable to in order to take ‘our’ money.  Now, it takes very little to pick apart such a statement, but I think it is noteworthy that such an opinion exists.  And, although this commentor might represent an extreme, I believe this opinion is reflective of how many feel about social assistance in general.

In the Harris days in Ontario in the 90s, many of the voting public were happy to see vast cost-savings on social assistance by lowering rates and cutting many people off.  There was a general sense that those in need are undeserving of public funds.  However, many of those same people who were happy at the cuts are frustrated by the inevitable outcomes, such as the higher healthcare costs related to those living in poverty.  We need to be very, very careful in understanding the value of social assistance for society as a whole, but also for the individual tax-payer.  Whenever we circle the wagons and start thinking only of individual or familial financial growth, we put all of society at risk.

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