Welfare in the UK: The future is private.

Should someone other than the state hold the security net for those in need?

Paul Hosefros / The New York Times / File
President Bush signs documents Jan. 29, 2001, to create an office to oversee faith-based initiatives as director John Dilulio (far left) and religious leaders looked on. 'We will not fund the religious activities of any group, but when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them,' Bush said. Will Great Britain follow this path?

In the UK it has become a moral duty of the state to provide financial support to the unemployed, despite the fact that its current model is unsustainable, with almost four million UK households having no adults in work. We have become reliant on government doing things for us, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Historically a number of charitable groups, churches and mutuals used to provide support for the unemployed when necessary and I believe this is a model we should increasingly seek to replicate.

Fortunately this ties in with one of the key aims of the Conservative’s Big Society agenda: to support and encourage co-ops, mutuals, charities and social enterprises. As Tom has rightly pointed out, there is always a danger of ending up with a government-planned society. What we don’t need is government-run initiatives and social enterprises, but for government to simply step back and see civic groups take over the task and fill any new gaps in welfare provision.

To some, this may not sound very caring, but I would argue the current system is much crueler. Unemployment welfare is impersonal, it doesn’t provide enough help to get people back into work, and under the last government it created perverse incentives, trapping people in poverty. In contrast to this, there are a number of charities who play an important role in reintegrating people into the workforce and making them self-sufficient. The role these groups play should not be undermined – they offer a tailored service, mentoring systems and accountable relationships to address the diverse reasons for the individual’s unemployment. But they can do more than just act as a compliment to the state funded benefits. I believe they can take over the role of financial support too (depending on whether the government is prepared to create more incentives for philanthropic endeavours).

My own Church is a case in point. Every church member has the opportunity to give to an alms fund to help members of the congregation or local community in need of financial support. Many choose to give regularly, knowing that the pastoral team in the church will not only ensure the money goes to the right people, but that they will also take the time to mentor the individuals in question, help reintegrate them into the workforce, and support them during a difficult time. And where possible they try to provide some employment to these individuals, whether through building works at the church, administration or in childcare. As a result of this, the church is for many their first source of support rather than the government.

If government welfare was scaled back, churches and other organizations in the local community can be injected with a new vitality to serve the most needy in their area and to offer a quality of advice, support and job opportunities that are so badly needed. And most importantly this provision will provide a tailored, local and personal service that could never be achieved through state welfare systems.

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