Reforming the welfare system

This past week, the British government initiated welfare reforms that Canada should follow. Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of the Conservative-Liberal coalition government, announced that drastic reforms will be made to the British welfare system to offset their huge deficit.

Currently Britain has the third highest deficit at 12.6 per cent of its GDP– to put this into perspective, Canada is at 4.8 per cent. Britain had an alarming deficit before 2008 and the recession pushed the country deeper into trouble, forcing the British government to make drastic changes to its fiscal policies to prevent a complete collapse. One option: welfare cuts.

There are over 5 million British citizens on welfare costing Britain over $141 billion CAD per year in unemployment, housing and disability benefits. The changes being made by the Cameron government hope to move the perpetually unemployed citizens, or the “work-shy,” as Conservative Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith rightly calls them, from the welfare system into the labour force. The government intends to alter the system so any individuals able to work find a job, people without the basic education or training are provided with resources to improve and all others able to contribute but unable to find a job will be expected to volunteer up to 30 hours per week at a local charity. It is expected that the deficit will be reduced within five years because of the combination of changes to the organization of the British welfare system alongside previously work-shy people becoming active members of society. From a fiscal perspective, this appears promising.

But why should you care? While some economists argue that 21st century globalization links all of our economies and a lower deficit elsewhere is good for everyone, I support Cameron’s changes to the British welfare system on principle. I believe that our economy and society as a whole does not function properly unless every able citizen is a contributing member of society. The expectation is simple and does not involve discovering the cure for cancer or paying $40,000 in taxes every year– it is being a part of the community and understanding that there is always give and take.

This is not a question of liberal or conservative economic beliefs. Unfortunately these reforms necessitate more bureaucracy, but what is the alternative? Although I do not support high levels of government intervention, the best route is reform. Force the work-shy into the labour force, either with a job or through volunteer work, and do not let them be a drain on society. These proposed reforms are targeted at two groups: the work-shy people who are cheating the system and the individuals who were unfortunately unable to join the workforce earlier in life and do not have the means to get the training or education necessary to get out of the welfare system. Understand that these changes are not aimed at the mentally and physically handicapped. The Cameron government expects to return hundreds of thousands of individuals to the work force, which is less than 20 per cent of the 5 million people on welfare. This will ensure that those who can contribute do.

Before you turn away in disgust and call me an uncaring, dirty capitalist, consider how you are paying your bills– you had to work. The proposed changes Cameron introduced are important for Britain’s economy and society because they will help lower the deficit while ensuring the work-shy are no longer a drain on the system. I only hope that Canada and the United States follow suit.

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