Sunday, May 25, 2008

Helping the underclass

I expected to disagree with this, by India Knight in today's Times, when I saw the strap: Our boozing culture is largely an underclass one and it's time we both acknowledged the problem and stepped in to help.

In fact, she's right as far as she goes, but it's a case of argumentus interruptus:

The old working class exists, but it is on its last legs, and the underclass that has replaced it is on the rise – angry, desperate, broke and broken, culturally and morally barren, passing on their poor, empty lives to their children and grandchildren. No wonder they drink to oblivion – wouldn’t you?

The fact of the matter is that the binge-drinking problem is largely an underclass problem. Teen pregnancies are largely an underclass problem. Teenage crime is largely an underclass problem. Child neglect – we live in a country where a little girl allegedly starved to death in her own home last week – is largely an underclass problem. Our collective problems are largely underclass problems.

Could somebody not just come out and say it, before another generation floats away to its doom on a sea of alcopops? The underclass was made, not born. Nobody asks to live in poverty, with no hope, no ambitions, no possibility of betterment, and the belief that the most fun you can have is to drink yourself into early cirrhosis. I know they’re hard to love, but really – do we owe these people no responsibility whatsoever? Don’t cut the price of their dreadful gut-rot: help them.
That's the end of the piece. Help them? How?

In fact, help has caused this problem. Only the underclass lives in an environment of state apparatus, from the hospital they're born in, through the estates they live in, to the benefits agencies they get their money from. Even those who have jobs live in this landscape of 'social' housing, tax credits and social workers.

The way to help people in this predicament is to stop helping them. We have to move to a system of safety net welfare, short lived interventions and assistance that help people move beyond the need of state interference once more. That's going to be a painful process, but it needs to start. Public discussion must necessarily precede that. India Knight needs to finish her arguments.


Anonymous said...

"Teenage crime is largely an underclass problem."

She's wrong there. It's not just an underclass problem, it's now a problem for the rest of us.

Jimmy Mizen and the young Harry Potter actor stabbed to death just the other night were not members of the underclass - they were decent young people with worthwhile lives.

Sad to say, I have a sneaking suspicion that politicians would have been only too happy to leave the underclass to randomly stab each other. Now it's crossed the line into decent society, they will feel pressured to do something.

Pity they didn't feel a need to do something before, but it seems to some people, some lives are really worth less than others...

Peter Risdon said...

I couldn't agree more, Julia.

Anonymous said...

"Now it's crossed the line into decent society, they will feel pressured to do something."

I wonder if this "mugged liberal" will be crossing the floor any time soon.

Anonymous said...

When people like that say "Help them", they mean "Give them more money."