There are occasionally people found to be in receipt of benefits to which they are not entitled and deliberate benefit fraud is a crime, but no judgments are made as to whether someone ‘deserves’ a benefit to which they are entitled, so no such statistics exist.
Eligibility criteria are based on need. A person who is in need is entitled to make a claim, if they meet the eligibility criteria they are entitled to the benefit.
To devise a system where benefits are given based on subjective moral judgements as to how much an individual’s own life choices had contributed to their present need would be impractical and counterproductive, would stigmatise benefit claimants and push those deemed unworthy further into poverty. Not only would such policy be unethical, it would be economically unsound.
Deputy Dyke in his letter (‘Reasons for benefits cap’, Guernsey Press 18/03/21) is right in that there was nothing particularly judgemental about challenging the calculations and affordability of raising the benefit cap and points out that issues of deserving/undeserving poor are not relevant to the fiscal point he was making.
Indeed they are not, so it is unfortunate that as part of his fiscal arguments he raised the issue of targeted intervention being an alternative to raising the cap and a better way to help some families. To do so very much implies that he was conflating benefit claimants as a whole with dysfunctional families.
I would agree with both Deputy Dyke and Mr Dorey that social problems and poor life choices are very real problems that do need discussion and that investment in targeted intervention and support does have the potential to reduce pressure on the benefits system. However I disagree that such discussions directly relate to how basic benefit rates, eligibility criteria or the benefit cap should be calculated.
For example Mr Dorey asks, ‘does society think it ever right or acceptable that a child should be brought into the world when the cost of bringing it up is known to be going to fall on the public purse’? The answer to which is clearly yes it is. There are innumerable scenarios where no possible blame could rest with the mother for needing to claim financial assistance and even if such blame could be attributed, how do we make such a judgement and what does Mr Dorey suggest we do if we could? As he himself points out – ‘it is impossible to draft a law that is fair in every case because it cannot take account of subjective circumstances’. A statement that effectively answers his own question as to why no one is addressing the issue of whether all benefit claimants ‘deserve’ what they receive. It is not a judgement that can be fairly and objectively made.