Our Nanny State has got it wrong

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

Mahatma Gandhi believed in change through peaceful protest, and his independence movement in British-ruled India inspired many others since.

Gandhi had a unique world view and his ‘Seven Blunders of the World’ should inspire us all to contemplate our conduct. He saw them as: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.

A man knocked on my office door some time ago. He, his wife and children are on benefits as the entire family suffers from multiple medical conditions. There is no reason to suggest that they are shirkers, for as far as I could see they are entitled to every penny, amounting to over £3,100 a month from the public purse. That’s nearly twice the average take-home pay of a working person.

It was the purpose of the visit that I found a little disturbing, as the man told me: ‘I just want to be sure that there are no other benefits that I’m not getting.’ There weren’t!

On the subject of wealth without work, Gandhi said: ‘A child who receives a toy as a gift will quickly lose interest in it and toss it to the side. But the child who does chores to earn his allowance in order to buy the toy, will cherish it for a long time.’

Can you imagine how differently the gentleman might view his finances if he were to be lodging £3,000 in his bank account after a fulfilling month’s work? Like the child with a toy that he had worked for, he would delight in every penny earned.

Without wishing to make an example of this family, who I believe are genuinely in need, it has to be said that our benefits system has created a Nanny State that encourages the feckless to enjoy wealth without work. Furthermore, it engenders an attitude of, ‘It’s the Government’s responsibility to get me a job’ – or a house, or enough food for my kids.

I listened the other day to a TV news report about the family of a child who appears to have been radicalised by militant Islamics. The agencies of government are being accused of not doing enough to monitor the child’s social media activities. You can understand William Hague’s political correctness as he went as far as he could by saying that it is the responsibility of a range of people, but surely there are questions to be answered by the parents who paid for the phone, who ate and drank together and who shared the same home.

That’s a symptom of an unhealthy Nanny State and Gandhi was right: wealth without work attacks the fundamental idea of personal responsibility, the key ingredient of a healthy society.

There’s an interesting little verse of scripture (2 Thessalonians 3:10) that used to bother me. It seemed heartless and lacking compassion, until I read it carefully and heard what it really says: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’

The delicate balance that those implementing social reform have to find is to distinguish between those who do not want to work and those who would but genuinely cannot. And I’m not sure that Mr Cameron is getting it right.