Some truly crazy ideas have been bouncing around various Whitehall policy departments. Taken together they give a sense of a general trend.
Back in December we had the welfare card proposal, so that unemployed people couldn’t spend their benefits on cigarettes and alcohol. This week: an idea that fat unemployed people should be ordered to exercise or else lose benefits.
Many people will approve of these ideas, because they would make life difficult for people on benefits. The rationale is ‘You are dependent on the state for your income, so we have a right to dictate how you spend it.’ But there is no way that the government will stop with welfare claimants. Plain packaging, minimum pricing, proposals for legal limits on sugar and fat content will affect working people too. If unemployed people should have a welfare card, why shouldn’t working people get paid in food vouchers? After all, otherwise we would just waste our salaries on Camel Lights, pizzas and red wine. And we are all dependent on the state to some extent. Even Jeremy Clarkson drives on publicly maintained roads.
Under a Tory led austerity government you would at least expect negative freedom. They won’t empower you, or help you out in hard times. You could at least expect them to leave you the fuck alone. But they won’t leave you alone. The Fabian authoritarianism that New Labour brought into public life has not been abandoned: quite the reverse.
So they cut essential services – sickness benefits, debt advice, legal representation, you know, things that people use, stuff that matters – while grasping for more and more control over what people do in their free time.
It is a kind of government by brainstorm or thought camp, where bizarre and silly ideas are implemented with seemingly no thought for the science, the economics or the practical reality of people’s lives.
Of course sometimes we need to be protected from ourselves.
But people also need the freedom to make their own mistakes.
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