Monday, July 18, 2011

Lifestyle Choices

Normally the Sunday Independent and me are pretty far apart. My only coverage of the paper is through the Cedar Lounge Revolution and their Sindo Stupid Statement of the Week column. So I was somewhat shocked to hear via Twitter and others that they had a piece quoting Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection, as saying unemployment is a lifestyle choice for school leavers.

In the article she is quoted as saying there are "people who come into the system straight after school as a lifestyle choice". The interpretation is that rather than seek further education or find a job that there are loads of people out there who would rather spend their lives in the scratcher. The idea that a Labour Minister charged with protecting the most vulnerable would come out on the offensive against welfare recipients made me sick.

At the moment most people leaving school who don't continue in education can't find work because of the economic meltdown we are now in rather than won't. These people, mainly young men under 23, are given the princely sum of €100 per week on which to live. Hardly creaming it. The jobs initiative was meant to help these people, but so far the unemployment figures are only being kept under control by the valve of emigration.

Then I considered the source, the Sindo. They very helpfully opens the article with the statement "Social welfare has become a 'lifestyle choice' for many leaving school" helpfully inserting the word many which wasn't seen attributed to the Minister. All of a sudden the initial statement has been tarnished by the sub-editor deciding to spice up the wording. If you replace the word "many" with "some" or maybe "a few" then the reader is lead to a much more acceptable viewpoint. Yes there are going to be a few layabouts in every society.

But that wouldn't suit the Sindo's agenda - all welfare recipients are doing it out of choice. This plays right into Marc Coleman's mythical middle Ireland where the hard working, conservative, Catholic majority are silenced and the Sindo must ride to their rescue. But as Johnny Fallon said, ironically in a weekday Indo blog, "the only people I have ever heard suggest that social welfare is a great life, are those who say it from the comfort of their own safe job and welfare never tempts them to give up that job."

On RTE's Morning Ireland, Minister Burton started to give a much more nuanced position. Rather than just a single quote out of context she was given a good run to explain her views. Far more reasonable. Sure Joan, go tackle fraud in welfare. By her estimate there is between €200M and €500M of fraud in the system. But don't forget to tackle some other lifestyle choices including tax exiles, reckless borrowing and excessive bonuses that have defrauded the state of far more resources than welfare recipients ever will.

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