Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Durkin on Welfare

Martin Durkin is a controversial figure. Marxist libertarian and director of Channel 4's the Global Warming Swindle. His next documentary is on the Welfare state and looks set to be just as provocative. Here is an interview he did with Frontpage magazine:

"FP: [...] Tell us your thoughts and observations in terms of welfare. Where has it caused the most devastating effects?

Durkin: To most people, I imagine, welfare seems an obviously good thing. But in fact the corrosive and iniquitous side of welfare has been evident for many decades. It’s only now that people are poking their heads out of the trench and daring to say so. You can see the devastating effects of welfare in Britain, for example, in the exponential rise in single motherhood. The figures are astonishing. In the 1950s almost all children in Britain were brought up by their natural parents. Today, only around half the children in Britain are brought up by their natural parents. Half!

FP: Why has that happened?

Durkin: To see why that happened, let me paint you a picture. In the 1950s, the typical working man and his wife In Britain lived in an income-tax free existence. They kept every penny they earned. For an unmarried teenager, there was no council flat (the ‘projects’ I think you call them), no rent rebate, no rate rebate, no housing benefit or anything else. The burden of looking after her and the child fell on her family, friends or charity. Parents who discovered their daughters were pregnant were understandably furious – because they had to pick up the tab. That’s why Dad stomped round to the family of the boy responsible, to call him to account. They boy’s family understood the full economic implications of making babies and came down on him like a ton of bricks. From the real economic relationships there arose a real moral code – the value and the cost of things were clear.

The growth of welfare benefits has been huge since that time. And within that system a pregnant girl gets special treatment (top of the state housing list etc). The fear has gone. The old idea, “Don’t, for heaven’s sake, get pregnant. It would be a disaster” has gone. For many girls, getting pregnant is a ticket to get out of the parental home. This has been the subject of detailed studies. A ten percent increase in benefits, one of them finds, tends to increase the prevalence of single mothers by 17 percent.

FP: How has the Left played a role in this development?

Durkin: This whole trend in social policy was fuelled by the anti-family views of the left. The family was bourgeois. Divorce was even celebrated (at least among the serious Left and among tougher feminists). I suppose they thought they were doing young girls a favor. If they did, they were fatted-headed idiots. The effect is disastrous for all those involved. The levels of depression, violence and criminality among lone parents (and their wayward children and transient partners) is heartbreaking. As one commentator puts it, “The evidence that lone parents – and indeed those who cohabit – are very more likely to be victims of violence is worldwide, consistent and overwhelming.” In Britain single parents are about 20 times more likely to suffer domestic violence. A child of a single parent is 15 times more likely to be abused than a child brought up by two natural parents. A child brought up by their natural mother and a cohabite (non natural father) is at even greater risk – 19 times more likely to suffer violence and 74 times more likely to be killed.

It’s awful. To catalogue in detail the full devastating effects of welfare – also for example the crippling effects on men who are out of work – would take ages.

FP: Ok, but tell us some more negative effects.

Durkin: Overall, I think in general the bigger evil effects of welfare have been enormously underestimated, even by commentators who regard themselves as more pro-capitalist in their sympathies. Welfare is the basic cause of the deleterious cultural changes we have witnessed in the West over the past 60 years.

The Welfare State, pioneered in Britain of course, has corrupted this country to its core. It has transformed the country caricatured by Noel Coward and others – essentially pretty decent, self-reliant, and plucky – into a country which is thuggish, selfish, mindless, dispirited and lost. Gone is the British stiff upper lip. Modern Britons are moaning, self-pitying inadequates. The welfare state has bred a generation of obnoxious, drug-addled criminals and ne’er-do-wells. It has also, incidentally, burdened what was once the world’s biggest, most dynamic economy with the dead weight of an obstructive and vastly expensive state machine.

I’m sorry to sound cross about this, but I don’t think people fully realise what’s happened. Britain has, I think, the highest crime rate of any industrialised country in the world. It is twice as high as the US. The violent crime rate is higher in London than New York. Britain has the highest rate of drug abuse, the highest teenage pregnancy rate and the highest rate of sexually transmitted disease in the modern industrial world. What the hell happened?

FP: So what the hell happened?

Durkin: The logic is inescapable. Each slice of do-gooder social policy has had its own tragic, unintended effects. The weight and quality of evidence leaves no room for doubt. The Welfare State has been an unremitting disaster, beyond any hope of reform. It is not that the welfare state isn’t functioning properly, it is that the welfare state is in essence degrading.

In the US, I think much the same can be said of the effects of welfare on the black community. How did we get from the nobility of Martin Luther King, to the sordid, gun-toting, rantings of the gangster rappers? Does the Left imagine that this represents liberation? Larry Elder and others have no doubt what’s to blame. The story goes back to Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which had people going door to door, encouraging people to get on welfare. Now, I understand, nearly 70 percent of today’s black children are born out of wedlock.

It can be demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that the modern ‘cultural trends’ which we lament have an economic cause, and are a direct result of state intervention. The Left do not see economic necessity as a proper reflection of actual human relationships, but some capitalist carbuncle. It’s clear now that in removing economic necessity from people’s lives (which is what welfare does), we risk sinking into barbarism."


Andy said...

How much do benefits alter behaviour? A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests it alters peoples' behaviour quickly and dramatically.

Here's a report on the study in the Telegraph:

"A study claims there has been a "sizeable" increase in the birth rate among poor women since Labour made welfare payouts to parents far more generous.[...]The study, Does Welfare Reform Affect Fertility?, looks at the impact on the birth rate in the UK caused by reform of child benefits launched by Labour.

It says that the introduction of Working Families Tax Credit and an increase in Income Support between 1999 and 2003 triggered a rise in taxpayer spending on children "unprecedented" in the previous 30 years.

Because the reforms were targeted at the poorest families with children, the value of their state handouts increased by 10 per cent of their total household income.

For couples who both left school at 16, the reforms meant an increase in benefits of 45 per cent, from £39 a week to £56.76. This is a rise almost twice as much as the handouts for which a couple who went on to sixth form college would be eligible, which increased by 25 per cent to £37.27 a week.

The researchers then looked at fertility rates both before the reforms were announced and after, for a sample of 101,330 women aged between 20 and 45.

They found a large increase in the first year after the benefits were made more generous, particularly among women who had left school as soon as possible.

The results show a 15 per cent increase in the probability of having a baby in the "low education group", equivalent to an extra 45,000 births compared with 670,000 across Britain as a whole.

Overall there has been a steady rise in the birth rate since 2001, and although some of this is down to higher fertility among immigrants, even among women born in the UK it has risen from 1.68 births per woman in 2004 to 1.79 last year.

In addition, analysis of household surveys found large numbers of poorly-educated women who said they were not using contraception because they wanted to have children.

The study, led by Sarah Smith of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University, is published in the autumn issue of the journal Research in Public Policy."

Andy said...

Phillip Johnson of the Telegraph looks at the shockingly inadequate state pension and ponders whether people would have been better off if it had never been introduced.

"The Beveridge Report, which laid the foundations of the post-war welfare state, declared that every citizen who paid his or her contributions should be able to claim an "adequate" pension worth more than any means-tested benefit. By the mid-1970s, the Labour Party was seeking re-election with a pledge to link the pension – long since lowered to start at 65 for men, and 60 for women – to earnings. Although that decision was reversed by the Tories in the 1980s, again the myth was perpetuated that the state pension could provide in old age.

Yet its value has declined over the years to the point where to rely solely upon the state pension is to be among the poorest people in the country. The average annual pension is now about £4,300, though this can be enhanced by winter fuel payments, pension credits or housing benefits, depending on your means. But even then, it is still far below what the Government itself considers the poverty line of about £12,500 a year, or 60 per cent of median average earnings.

After 100 years in which living standards have quadrupled, a pension designed to prevent the poorest in society enduring a penurious old age has failed in its purpose. The means testing of the supplements has discouraged thrift; while the assumption that "the state will provide" has rendered the responsibility of families to look after their elderly kin largely a thing of the past. Meanwhile, the cost of paying out the pension to a growing number of elderly people who are living longer means many will be required to work beyond their 65th year – as they used to before the pension was introduced – to make ends meet.

Might we have been better off without the state pension? "It seems likely that if the state pension had not been introduced, British people would have saved a great deal more and, overall, would probably now be wealthier in their old age," says analyst James Bartholomew, in his book The Welfare State We're In. "The late 19th-century trend for people to become less benefit-dependent would have continued, and it would be normal to have very substantial savings. Old people would have more independence and dignity in retirement."

Full article here