Since his party’s impressive election victory in May, British Prime Minister David Cameron is moving quickly to fulfill his campaign promise to ensure welfare benefits are no longer a way of life for many of his fellow citizens.
Instead of open-ended benefits for the unemployed, the government, beginning in April 2017, will require young people between 18 and 21 who don’t have jobs but are collecting welfare, to attend three-week “boot camps” to prepare them for work in a rapidly improving economy. If they refuse, they will be denied benefits if they are unemployed for six months.
According to the UK’s Daily Mail, “Six million Britons are living in homes where no one has a job and benefits are a way of life.” In 2008 the newspaper reported on families where no one has worked for three generations. Some are offended at the suggestion they should work. One family interviewed by the Mail claimed the equivalent of $50,000 a year in benefits. Jean Thompson hasn’t worked in 40 years. She and nine other members of her family live in a three-bedroom house and think the government should upgrade them to a 10-bedroom home. In Britain, such beneficiaries are called “shameless families.” This is the bad fruit produced by welfare addiction.
The conservative government wants to end the cycle by making sure the next generation doesn’t fall into the benefits trap. In addition to boot camps, it is proposing to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020, which will allow for on-the-job training.
The entitlement attitude is also deeply rooted in the U.S. This week, The Washington Post reported on a New York family that it says makes $497,911 annually but pays just $1,574 a month for a three-bedroom apartment subsidized by taxpayers. In Los Angeles, reports the Post, five people have lived in public housing since 1974. They made $204,784 last year but paid only $1,091 in rent. In Oxford, Neb., a tenant with assets of $1.6 million last year paid $300 a month for a one-bedroom public housing apartment.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development won’t evict any of these people, says the newspaper, because “its policy doesn’t require over-income tenants to leave, the agency’s inspector general found. In fact, it encourages them to stay in public housing.”
The candidates campaigning for president should be asked about this outrageous waste of taxpayer money and how they plan to stop it.
When welfare reform was debated in the U.S. in the mid-1990s, opponents argued people would starve in the streets if their benefits were cut off. Welfare reform passed a Republican Congress and when President Bill Clinton realized a veto could not be sustained, he signed it. By all accounts, people did not starve.
Rebecca Blank, who was a member of Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, studied the results of welfare reform. An initial skeptic, she found the welfare rolls “dropped to their lowest level in 30 years … incomes rose, and earnings increases were larger than welfare benefit declines. The average income for single moms was around $18,000 from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Between 1995 and 2001, it rose to nearly $23,000. Poverty rates among single-mother households fell to historically low levels by the late 1990s.”
In other words, people found jobs when they realized the gravy train would no longer stop at their door. The threat of an empty stomach does wonders for motivation.
The U.S. should follow the British model and establish its own boot camps for the unemployed. Of course, jobs have to be available, and those will materialize only after burdensome taxes are cut (bringing jobs back from overseas and encouraging job creation at home), unnecessary regulations are repealed and the consequences of Obamacare, which have likely led to layoffs and people forced to take part-time jobs, are mitigated.
Cal Thomas is a columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate (Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053).