The first challenge of bureaucracy is learning how to spell it, whilst spelling has never been a strong point, bureaucracy remains a particular thorn in my side. The fact I’ve had 4 attempts to spell it in the last two sentences is a testament to that fact. The second major problem with bureaucracy is that it couldn’t be anymore perfectly designed to be exactly the most annoying thing I ever have to deal with.
To clarify, since I arrived in Ireland I have been looking for work and to cover costs in the mean time I have applied for ‘Job Seekers Allowance’. This is a weekly payment from the Government of around €180 to cover costs of living. Needless to say the bureaucracy involved is turning this into an extremely long and frustrating process.
In bureaucracy’s defence, it does serve a purpose –
to annoy every human on planet earth.
It only* exists to weed out dishonesty and fraud. So in order to do that there must be more checks, more paper work, more proof, proof, proof that you are absolutely entitled to what you are applying for. Or at least any austerity driven Government will tell you that is the case.
From the Government’s point of view, welfare payments are a cost to society, the logic being that if more people claim through welfare the more it will cost them. Therefore it is in their interest to reduce this cost. The thing which is often forgotten though, is that it is not them, it is us. The Government is run by officials elected by us to run the country for us – it is not a business.
Baring this in mind it is worth remembering the basis of the welfare payment system, and to not forget its success. It was essentially born in Germany as a direct riposte to The Great Depression in the 1920s and 30s. During that period there was no safety net and essentially no support from Governments at all, as a result thousands were left homeless, physical health declined dramatically, mental health declined dramatically, malnutrition was rife. and it caused a significant number of deaths – sounds like a real cost to me! In the following 80 years since welfare’s introduction it has cut all of these issues out of society dramatically, including providing a much more stable economy, which has reduced the negative effects of the business cycle (recessions) by around half. So in short, it is a very big benefit.
This is because people who lose work can still afford to eat, they can still afford to pay their rent or mortgage, they can still study, they can still have access to healthcare and they are relieved of a significant mental stress, which allows them to look for work. The workforce and society at a large therefore is fitter, healthier, happier, more educated and safer.
The downsides, which are disproportionately presented in the media, are that some people take advantage of the system, and have no intention of working. Don’t get me wrong here, that is legitimate fraud – a crime, and that is ultimately why these long drawn out annoying bureaucratic system are in place, to stop exactly that.
Historically speaking though people are treated with suspicion after a crime has been committed, not before. A bureaucratic system, like this one though, seems to be designed to catch criminals before they have committed a crime. That means it must treat everyone as a suspect. So, for a system which was designed to support, it has somehow evolved into a system that treats everyone with suspicion and disdain. All because Governments are not actually trying to stop fraud, they’re trying to reduce cost. That is a subtle, but big difference.
If you want to stop fraud you increase funding into things like whatever the fancy name for the fraud police is – but don’t get me started on police funding.
The results of that are things like the ‘Fit For Work’ initiative drawn up by the British Government. Under this initiative officials will visit your home and decide whether you are fit for work or not – even if it has already been proven that you were not previously fit enough. If you are declared fit your welfare payments will be stopped/reduced and you must legally find work.
Now, according to official figures it takes, on average, 10 weeks to find a job in the UK, it is strange then that 4,000 people who were declared ‘fit for work’ by the Government died within 6 weeks of that declaration. Very fit indeed, and only 4 weeks shy of finding a job – so close!
For me visiting the Government offices today there was no care in their approach, I was met with what felt like cynicism and suspicion. But for me, a person with no physical disabilities and with a strong education behind me it is just annoying and disheartening – not a big deal; I fill out more papers, send in more documents and see what happens – all will be well. For others though, others who are now having to go further and further to prove how disabled they are, or how unfit they are to work shows how uncaring we have become. We care more about potential fraud than potential life saving care.
Whilst diligence is always recommended, there has to be a line, once that line is crossed it is up to the police or other relevant authorities to catch criminals, treating those most desperate in society as potential criminals before they’ve even taken a penny is counter productive. Not to mention, very, very, very, very annoying (for me*).