What is fairness? Far from believing the Marxist cliche, "From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs." a survey commissioned by the thinktank, Policy Exchange and conducted by YouGuv has concluded that people should be rewarded according to how much they put in to society. The poll, shows that a startling 80 per cent of all voters think that people who have been out of work for 12 months should have to do community work before they get benefits - as long as they are physically and mentally capable of working.
The unemployed are not looked on kindly by the majority of British voters. 49 per cent believe that those on Job-seekers Allowance who refuse job offers or interviews should lose half their benefit; 21 per cent say they should lose it all. Perhaps it is a sign of our straightened times that loss of half their benefit is seen as fit treatment for claimants who are single, have a criminal record, are "serial" claimants or are drug users by at least a third and sometimes as much as a half of all respondents.
A third of those questioned thought the main reason for unemployment was that benefits are too generous.
There was not much sympathy either for those who plead that they have to support large families. Two thirds of voters believe parents with three children should not get additional payments if they have a fourth; 59 per cent believe the government should actively discourage people from becoming lone parents.
When ordinary people use the word "fair", they mean that you should get out of life pretty much what you put in, or something for something, rather than something for nothing. Poverty is not society's fault and therefore it's not society's responsibility to deal with it. Poverty, they say, is a consequence of lack of effort or self-control – and, therefore, the individual must accept the consequences. The idea of "workfare" schemes, in which the long-term unemployed must undertake services to the community such as litter collection or graffiti removal if they are to continue receiving benefits, is hugely popular. If you pay people not to work (or to be poor) then they are likely to stay out of work (or remain poor). More surprising, perhaps, is the robust demand that those who could work, but won't, should have their benefits cut or stopped altogether – even if they have children. There is little sympathy for the argument that the children of the workshy should not be penalised for their parents' fecklessness.
This echoes St Paul's directive in his letter to the Thessalonians, "He who will not work, neither shall he eat."
This is the common thread throughout this survey: overwhelmingly people reiterate their belief in individual responsibility. Their insistence is that those who are able should be prepared to support themselves and any children they produce. This should not be thought of as mean-mindedness or lack of compassion. There is a clear message that those genuinely unable to make their own way should be helped. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the value of self-respect and self-determination: an understanding that being a grown-up means taking responsibility for yourself, and that not having such expectations of people demeans them.