Make it too easy and it’ll still be too hard

By chance yesterday, I wondered into Winston Smith‘s blog (Via Lindsay Mitchell‘s).

Winston in a care worker in the UK, working with… well, read on. Winston’s blog is full of stories like this, of people who are never actually required to do anything, who are bribed in order to not assault and abuse other people, and who can’t even motivate themselves to successfully sign up for a benefit.

Gavin, twenty three, is today being evicted, or in the jargon of the supported housing sector ‘having his licence to occupy terminated.’ The reason for Gavin’s eviction is that he has significant rent arrears. He has no valid excuse for this debt and has accrued it due to being too lazy to access state benefits to which he is legally entitled. Whether ethically he should be entitled to these benefits is another matter. He has come to the office to express his indignation and to convey how unjustly he feels he is being treated.

“I really don’t understand why I am being asked to leave here. I paid my rent when I was working so I don’t know what the big deal is,” he remarked.

“Gavin, Gavin,” I sigh with despondent resignation, “ twenty three, and you still don’t know how the real world functions. You haven’t worked for a year and a half and even when you did it was only part-time. During that period you only paid some of your rent some of the time,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, I had a limited income so Housing Benefit should have paid the rest.”

Winston explains that those dealing out benefits aren’t psychics, to which the reply is that “it’s not my fault, my social worker should have done more”.

“Gavin, it was actually your keyworker at the time that filled in the form for you and constantly reminded you to submit it along with all the required documentation. I have evidence of this in your support plan as we are required to write down every mundane detail of assistance and advice we give to you. The issue wasn’t that the Housing Benefit form wasn’t filled in, but that you gave them none of the additional documentation that they needed in order to pay you for that period and without all the required documents your application at that time was never processed. Anyway, since you were sacked you did get your Housing Benefit sorted, but not for the period you were working and this is where a large portion of your arrears comes from. However, more recently you have been accruing arrears in that you haven’t been paying the seven pounds fifty of your rent that isn’t covered by Housing Benefit but should be paid out of your Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

“But Im not getting Jobseeker’s Allowance, they keep messing me around,” he whines, self pityingly.

“Yes, I’m well aware of that you are not in receipt of JSA but remind me why did you lose your Jobseeker’s Allowance again? Oh yes, that’s right, it’s because you constantly failed to turn up to sign on as you prioritized sleeping until the afternoon over getting free money to ensure you had somewhere to live. So, instead of complaining of being messed around by the Job Centre you need to look at what you have failed to do and that is sign your name one morning every two weeks on a piece of paper. ”

Failing the most modest of requirements. Can anyone be taken seriously if they suggest that simply signing their name every too weeks is too much to ask to receive assistance?

“Well, I don’t actually need Jobseeker’s Allowance as my girlfriend comes around to visit every evening and she always brings food so I never go hungry and she buys me cigarettes as well. Besides, Im going to get a job.”

In other words, in his mind, his only needs are having a full stomach, and a smoke. Because someone else owns his accommodation, why should he bother with that?

“Gavin, but you need JSA to ensure that all of your rent is paid. What is it about the concept of paying rent that you seem to fail to grasp? I’m also curious as how you will be successful in your quest for and maintaining of employment when you can’t even successfully scrounge from the state. In fact, you are failing to even be on the dole so how you could hold down a job is anyone’s guess. Anyway, all of this is irrelevant now as you are being evicted today. If you could just ensure that your room is clean before you go as we have someone moving in to it next week.”

“I ain’t fu**ing cleaning it, sure that’s what the cleaner is paid for.”

The irony of course being that “Gavin” isn’t doing anything at all for his money, yet demands that others do things for him.

“No, he is hired to clean the communal areas and take out your rubbish but not clean your room.”

Neither of which a cleaner should be doing but I can see why Gavin has this expectancy. The state has fostered this expectation that others are there to serve him whether it be in the form of a keyworker sorting out his benefits or a cleaner charged with clearing up the detritus of his chaotic lifestyle.

Five minutes after getting rid of Gavin, Kenny, 21, knocks on the office door. He too is failing to successfully scrounge from the state. I’ve seen slugs with more get up and go. Soon, his ex-girlfriend with whom he has a fractious relationship, will be bearing him a child. There are similar scenarios throughout the project and indeed up and down the country ensuring that Britain has yet another generation of employment and education averse youngsters to take the place of today’s underclass when they go to the great Burberry factory in the sky. He seeks my sage advice in relation to benefits.

And another story continues.

Oh, and while I’m at it, this is also happening here. I know someone on a board of a private charity, who places modest obligations on those they help, and hear only excuses in return. From what he tells me, some of those people are shortly going to be on the street.

I was thinking about the stories on Winston’s blog later, and remembered that in Management lectures at university, we were told that “Positive” reinforcement was by far the best way. We were told that studies had shown this, yet people didn’t use it. The message was clear: people only used negative reinforcement because they were stupid, lazy or just liked inflicting pain.

It’s the last one that is being seized on by opponents to National’s “meet the requirements or we cut your benefit” plans. (Not to mention Sue Bradford’s inflammatory comments regarding Christians during the Section 59 debate.)

Reading Winston’s blog, it’s clear that raising a child with only positive reinforcement is a recipient for disaster. But herein likes the rub.

The studies that established the superiority of positive reinforcement were almost certainly conducted on people who had been raised with both positive and negative reinforcement. Meaning, that those participating would understand that failure of a task would have negative consequences – as they do in the real world. (Failure of my task to purchase this morning’s paper would mean I had no paper to read for example.)

So clearly, when someone is offered a positive inducement to do a task, this is quite likely to have an implied and assumed “negative” inducement as well at the other end. Clearly, having both is better in most cases than just having one – someone pushing as well as pulling is going to be better than someone pulling only.

But today, we see the real results of only using positive reinforcement, and it’s in people who can’t even take the slightest responsibility for their own welfare. Couple this with a “duty of care” and you have some serious problems that only get worse. One or both has to go.

Yes, some people are going to end up on the street under these reforms. Yes, they will have to rely on private charity.

That’s sad, but what’s sadder is that they don’t want to take responsibility to improve their lives. Maybe once they look at the effort they take to get non-government charity, they might realise that they’ve actually chosen the harder path by default.

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