Yesterday Cameron gave a speech in which he declared that the government plans to introduce measures by which they will be able to withhold benefits from migrants who fail to learn English.
Whilst I agree with the sentiment that it is essential for all long-term migrants to the UK to be able to speak the language – both for their own benefit and that of community cohesion, this is the absolute wrong way to pursue this policy.
This is not the first time that Cameron has seen withdrawing benefits as an appropriate means of punishing behaviour he disapproves of – he has also advocated cutting off convicted rioters from state funds (as well as evicting their families from council houses which I have blogged about before).
Although these tactics play very well with the right-wing media who often view all persons in receipt of state aid as scroungers and layabouts, it is actually completely immoral politics.
The welfare system was introduced not as a government “goody-bag” or as a means of rewarding good citizen behaviour. Its function is that of an essential safety net. During the course of the 20th century the vast majority of the Western world came to acknowledge that it was necessary in a civilised society to ensure that no-one died of starvation or preventable ill-health. It is human right that all should be given the basic means of survival.
This is what benefit has remained: the basic means of survival. This idea that people on benefits live the life of luxury is a complete lie. The figures tell that. Basic jobseekers allowance is £67.50 per week. This does not pay for opulence. It comes as no surprise that the Tory-led Cabinet has no conception of what a life on benefits entails – most, if not all, of them have never gone hungry or even experienced any level of financial or social deprivation.
The consequences of allowing a precedent whereby benefits may be removed for societal transgressions would be appalling. By removing the safety net you will allow people to fall off the edge. Even worse, for those with children you will plunge their children into poverty.
For those whose behaviour is anti-society, there are many punishments that we can impose. However, no matter what someone does we, as a civilised country, are bound by a code to ensure that every single citizen has the basic necessities to sustain life. Taking this away may make friends in the Sun and the Mail but it would, I am sure, not sit well on the conscience of any politician with just one ounce of human decency.