As the mother of a six-year-old, the phrase “it’s not fair” is bandied about with an alarming amount of alacrity in our household. It is usually translated to mean “I’m not getting my own way and I’m going to have a little tantrum about it”. A recent example included when we decided to have a rare take-away when someone was asleep, little ears overheard and declared “that’s not fair, you’re having a treat and I’m not”!
The OED defines fair as: treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination, or, just and appropriate in the circumstances.
So on the one hand, Isabella had a point, in that she didn’t feel that she was being included in said treat, (I think I need to point out here that she cannot be cajoled into even trying Chinese food) but using the second definition it was entirely fair given the circumstances – she’d had the last lamb chop, lack of food in the cupboards, tired parents who wanted a Saturday night to themselves with a take-away and film. Hardly the last word in decadence, albeit a pleasant evening. We also had to point out that she is hardly deprived when it comes to regular treats!
I heard echoes of this in one of David Cameron’s retorts during PMQ yesterday. In response to a question about Housing Benefit, he stated that one of the reasons that he wouldn’t back down was because it’s not fair that people who work pay for people on benefits who live in a house that they could never afford. Now, I’m not going to debate the Housing Benefit issue, but this left me feeling rather uncomfortable. I think probably, because the perception of the typical benefit “cheat or scrounger” portrayed in various sections of the media is very far removed from those people who I have encountered on benefits.
Whilst I don’t deny that such people do exist, I think the tendency to treat all benefit recipients as potential cheats or scroungers is most unfair, thereby discriminating against those without a job as being automatically work-shy. I also appreciate that any government has to achieve a difficult balance of ensuring that in general principles it is more advantageous that people do work.
It’s simply this subscribing to the basest aspects of human nature, namely jealousy and envy that makes me baulk. What people seem to be objecting to is the perception that others have more than them and an easier lifestyle. Numerous amounts of research has shown that we as humans are happiest or most content when it seems that we are doing better than our neighbours. It doesn’t matter what we have, just so long as it is more than the man next door. Perhaps this is why we are commanded not to covet thy neighbour’s ass, or to love thy neighbour as thyself? It is only by releasing ourselves from the constrictions of the acquisition of material goods that we can become spiritually free and able to love. True love, as Corinthians reminds us, is not jealous, envious or spiteful. Therefore a policy that is based upon these principles of envy is far from the Christian ideals, which many Conservatives may claim they espouse.
Besides, I am not convinced that the perception of those in receipt of benefits living a cushy and prosperous life is an accurate one. From what I have witnessed, recipients are hardly living in the lap of luxury, very often they are on minimum wage or temporary work, and every penny counts. If people are living in bigger houses than others, it is because of need, perhaps because of the amounts of children they have. Which is then another bone of contention. People see children as a “lifestyle choice”, another accessory, in the same way as a family car or the decision to have a certain number of holidays abroad. Couples who decide to have a certain amount of children in order that they maintain a certain standard of living, resent those who appear to have numerous children, for whom they perceive the state is paying.
The more children one has, the more difficult life is, financially, practically, emotionally and physically. Raising children is a supreme act of self-sacrifice. Given the rising number of elderly in our society and the declining birth-rate, instead of resenting those families who have multiple children, why not reward them, instead of treating them as social pariahs and outcasts? Why assume that those with several children are automatically scrounging undesirables?
This is for me, the main problem – treating those without work, for whatever reason, as morally deficient. There might be a multitude of reasons why people are without work, it doesn’t automatically follow that they are necessarily scroungers or attempting to fiddle the system, expecting the state to pick up the costs. I am sure examples can be found, but I am sure for every example, there are double the amount of genuine claimants. Discriminating against people because of their circumstances and based on a false perception derived from jealousy is unfair and also un-Christian. Discriminating against children because of the way you perceive their parents is doubly unfair and unjust. Making families live in unsuitable accommodation because it makes those who are in work feel better, is unfair. What about one of the public sector workers soon to lose their jobs? What does the government have to say to them: “Not only are we going to deprive you of your job, but we are also going to make sure that you don’t live anywhere nicer, or have anything nicer than someone who has a job, because you haven’t done the right thing and worked. We will make sure that you’re not living in a cardboard box, but god forbid you upset all those nice decent people who are still in work.”
Here’s a suggestion which is fair and doesn’t treat people without discrimination. Why not levy an extra £2,000 – £3,000 on the tax bills of those who have received a free university education? Add a bit more if they went to Oxbridge. Furthermore go after Philip Green who last year paid his wife a staggering £1.2 billion dividend in order to avoid a £285 million tax bill.
Allocating resources according to need. Now that is “just, fair and appropriate in the circumstances”. Not using the same mental reasoning as a six-year-old.