Welfare, savings and impoverishment… May 6, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
A fascinating piece on BBC radio in their Analysis slot with psychologist and public affairs professor Elda Shafir who has studied scarcity and how that impacts on the cognitive ability of those who are poor [scroll down the page, it's close to the top at the moment]. The findings are well worth considering and it’s an intriguing listen. But I was also fascinated by how the following was brought into the mix:
What about welfare? You hear the phrase ‘benefits culture’ a lot in the UK and it often seems to be implying that people stay on benefits for a lifetime or through generations out
of choice because they’re not motivated. That might be the case, mightn’t it?
Isn’t it amazing how deeply rooted the concept of the feckless is these days, and it is not difficult to see how useful it is for the right as a tool in terms of managing perceptions of public policy. Shafir answers in a robust fashion:
Yeah, it might be the case. I see no evidence for it and I see tons of evidence for the opposite. So you know are there some who have endorsed a certain culture which leads them not
to want to find work? Sure it’s possible. Everything we know from research, everything from labour economics to decision making, to other areas, people prefer to work you know for the
right wage as opposed to not work. People try very hard to do things well. And look we have the evidence
– a lot of these people who don’t do well when they’re poor strongly would do things a lot better when they’re less poor,
and that’s part of what the studies show.
And this exchange is interesting too.
If you’re right and if people who are you know stuck on benefits are there not because they don’t want to work and don’t want to make the effort but because they are trapped in a scarcity mindset, what then can policymakers do to change the way benefits are delivered that would help break that cycle?
Well it’s everything from how benefits are delivered to how difficult my daily life is.
And he continues:
It’s back to transportation, to childcare, to banking. What can you do to make people’s lives better? … [If you can] design their lives in a way that allow them to thrive, you’ll be able to tell which are the ones who are able and trying and motivated to succeed as opposed to those who are not. And then the answer, we’ll see whether it’s 10 per cent or 20 or 30 who are not trying hard enough. As long as you design a context that’s guaranteed to lead me to failure because the banks are not reliable, because the loans are too high, because I can’t manage childcare, transportation or anything else – everybody will fail. You can’t tell anything about the motivation or the capacity.
And Shafir makes some useful points about how it is necessary to have savings, to be able to ‘absorb you know a rainy day’.
I’ve noted before, just how difficult it can be to get the monetary gains from having cash/savings up front – in relation to, for example, magazine or paper subscriptions. For those able to pony up a hundred euros or whatever there are significant discounts over paying the cover price. And it is these seemingly small but very tangible financial issues that further impoverish people who have little enough to begin with.
But add those to unreliable and under-resourced infrastructures, whether financial, educational, transport and so on and it is not difficult to see how life itself becomes for many many all but impossible.
If it seems that the game is loaded, well… of course it’s loaded. That’s the point.