Government Assistance and The War We Wage Against Each Other

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According to the Courier Mail, the Australian Government has another proposal to cut welfare payments. (see article here) I applaud the government’s efforts to look at everything and see where we can cut costs.  I applaud their seeming commitment to the idea that the solution has to help people, not just dump them and leave them off worse than before.  I admire that about the Australians, they seem to think a bit more before they jump, or at least make an effort to see the whole picture.

What irritates me is the immediate discussion that ensues where people use their own anecdotal situations as proof that everyone else could/should be able to do the same as they did.  Someone states that  they have a disability  and when offered, they refused government assistance and went out and worked 3 menial jobs just to be able to buy bread and they are happy.  Good for you.  YOU are not everyone else.

1.  Stop thinking your life and your experience is relative to the entire world.  It is just one example of one way among billions of differing ways.

You have people who immediately want you to know that everyone/most of the people on welfare or with a disability are bludgeoning the system.  They again, can tell you that they see these people applying for jobs all the time, inferring they know everyone/most of the people on welfare or with a disability.  They insist that they know of jobs that are available and so the person who says they cannot find work is lying and just lazy.

2.  You can’t possibly know more than a mere point percentage of the people who are on welfare and no-one should take your limited experience with a handful of people, for a few moments on a given day, as proof that you are capable of completely evaluating a single human being, let alone the entire group, to the point you can speak to who they are and what their intent is.

You have people who insist people on welfare abuse the monies given to them.  They see them “all the time” buying alcohol and cigarettes and they know they are doing drugs.  They see them buying crap in the grocery store.  They insist they can’t afford ice cream and so neither should anyone on government assistance.

 3.  Please see number 2, same applies. 

You have people who insist all those who are on welfare. are overweight, lazy, wanting a free ride to play games all day. They are drug dealers and criminals and are probably responsible for every crime and wrong doing that happens in our neighbourhoods.

 4.  Please see number 2, same applies.

I have no doubt that there are people out there on benefits who do exactly what these people have observed but I am not willing to accept even the anecdotal evidence to be true because, just like I do not know the people we are talking about, I do not know the person judging and have no reason to believe them any more than I do the recipients.

I don’t know what the situation is.  I am not on welfare.  I don’t have a disability.

I do know that sometimes when people cannot afford television or trips to the theme parks at the Gold Coast that “ice cream” might be the biggest thing that happens in their life.  It might be a treat they allow the children a couple times a month.  That is just as possible as is the idea that they eat it all the time when there are healthier choices. Food is incredibly personal and has a whole range of meanings for us that don’t always have to do with health.  When people are not at the top of their game food can be a source of comfort and self medication.  I see complete irony in complaining they buy drugs and then complaining they are buying food.  It makes me think the point is just to complain.   In those comments condemning them I hear people telling me that they would be happier if these people simply did not exist.  The fact they do exist, the fact we have to see them, makes them angry.  That concerns me more about the people complaining than it does about the supposed assistance “abusers.”

I have compassion for my fellow human being which includes a  sense of responsibility to help and care for those that need help and care.  I know that when things fall apart in a person’s life it is difficult to find coping methods and have the sense of self esteem that allows one to get out there and change their circumstances.  I know that one of the biggest hurdles to that self esteem are the people who stand and judge them without ever knowing them and who paint them with broad strokes of their limited experiences.

I also know that people get stuck and sometimes it is easier to throw money at a problem than it is to roll up our sleeves and actively engage with people in a way that addresses the source of the problem.

I know that we cannot go on supporting growing numbers of the unemployed and it concerns me that it is growing and I want to know why and understand how we can all contribute to a better outcome for future generations.  I may not be able to do much for the whole country but I can have an impact on my own family and friends and if each of us would do just that . . . problem solved.

We have to stop looking to the government to give us magic answers and we have to stop the adversarial position of just attacking any idea that is put forward or from getting carried away with our anger over the problem and doing really destructive things … for us and our country.    We have to start working together, taking responsibility for both the problem and the solution.

Identifying the problem is not placing blame, it is identifying those areas we need to work on and improve.  Can we stop the “us” and “them” and realize there is just “we.”  We have to look at this, understand it, change it, heal it.

We can do it.

But not if we are going to put our energy solely into name calling and further marginalizing a whole segment of society that is already marginalized.  When a natural disaster happens no-one bothers with who might have “deserved” the losses or the damage they suffered.  We just start pulling people from the debris.  The sorting out of what happened and why and how it can be prevented is another discussion to be had when all the fact are in and we are calm enough to sit and think of what can be done.

The problem is the enemy.  Not the people.  Perhaps the greatest thing we can all do to start this ball rolling is to take down the wall we have put between “us” and “them.”  We are all just human beings, none of us perfect, none of us doing all the right things that we can sit and judge others and none of us really having any idea what that person next door, on welfare, or a millionaire, is about or what they have been through.  So let’s stop the fighting and start the healing.

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