herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Freeloaders beware - this Age of Entitlement is dying

THE raging storm over just how many people are better off on welfare benefits rather than working has put the spotlight on the sensitive issue that lies at the heart of the social crisis gripping Ireland and the rest of Europe.

Few in positions of power want to talk about it because it highlights a massive failure on their part.

Whether or not in Ireland half the unemployed, or just one in every 10 would lose money by working is almost beside the point.

The fact remains that for many it makes common sense to take the dole rather than take a job. This is a cold, rational and short-term calculation.

But in the long run it's a deeply selfish one. It stands to reason we can't all opt out of the world of work and expect others to look after us. Sooner or later workers will revolt at being forced to carry so many freeloaders and demand a social contract that is fair to all.

Since the reconstruction of the continent after WW2, Governments in Europe have prided themselves on the creation of "a cradle to grave" welfare state.

In the good times, as businesses boomed and trade with the rest of the world made Europe affluent, there was money to spare to meet an ever growing bill for an ever expanding range of entitlements.

During the Celtic Tiger years we in Ireland not only partied, but we spent billions in a period of full employment on beefing up the benefits those out of work, or down on their luck, could enjoy.

It became a matter of national pride. Remember the boasts about how great we were now that our welfare provisions were better than Britain's?

However, once an entitlement has been granted it is politically dangerous to claw it back. President Nicolas Sarkozy found that out when he increased the retirement age in France - to 62!

His rival Francois Hollande promised to bring it back to 60. Today he is the new man at the Elysee Palace.

It's no wonder that so many people these days seem to believe that the world owes them a living and that any and every conceivable problem should be sorted out by "the Government". This dependency culture is undermining social solidarity. As a life on the dole becomes a career choice for some, many hard-pressed taxpayers resent the tough deal they have been saddled with.

This year €40 in every €100 spent by the State will go to welfare schemes and services.

Over two million of us are receiving some sort of benefit on a weekly basis. That does not include the 600,000 families who get a monthly child benefit payment regardless of their wealth. Now the money has run out. Ireland and most of Europe is broke.



BAD NEWS



But no political party here or anywhere else is rushing to break the bad news to citizens used to the State looking after them. After all, it was the politicians who encouraged all that dependency. It was good for votes but bad for moral character.

Despite recent cuts, the standard of living that we currently enjoy is light years ahead of anything our parents or any other generation could ever have imagined.

But we are borrowing billions to keep it up and it will fall to the next generation and those that follow to pick up our bill.

This was not what William Beveridge, the pioneer of Britain's modern welfare state, had in mind when he introduced his humane reforms after WW2.

Beveridge wanted the old, the sick, the maimed and those with disabilities to be cared for. But he warned against governments stifling "incentive, opportunity and responsibility".

The Age of Entitlement is coming to an end, and Merkel can't bail us out forever.

The Vikings had a motto that seems brutally relevant to this new Age of Austerity: "Nobody is guaranteed survival".

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