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Anne Diamond on the nation's dependency culture

PUBLISHED: 09:16 03 October 2013 | UPDATED: 09:16 03 October 2013

Laziness

Laziness

Archant

We should be able to say that some people are just workshy and that there really are women who become pregnant simply to get housed, says Anne

There’s been a lot of talk these past few months about our so-called dependency culture and the sad fact that a large swathe of our population seems to be, or at least reckon they are, better off on benefits rather than working.

Some say Britain has given birth to several generations of people who feel that society owes them a living. It’s something that has clearly occupied John Humphrys, the renowned Mr Grumpy of Radio Four’s Today programme, who even made a documentary about it, lauded by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, but harshly criticised by the Child Poverty Action Group, which complained that the whole idea of a dependency culture was an “evidence-free myth”.

But is it? I’d argue that it is rich in anecdotal evidence, at least. Like Jon Humphrys, I have carried out dozens, even hundreds, of interviews over the years – particularly on radio phone-ins – with men and women, who choose, yes choose, to live on benefits and stubbornly refuse to work for a living. Many say that there’s no point in working for the minimum wage because it is not a living wage, and there they may have a point.

Others live in families where no-one has worked for two or three generations, and simply don’t know what it’s like to earn your own way. I’ve spoken to many women who did, in fact, deliberately become pregnant in order to get a council house. Before I did that phone-in programme, I personally thought that particular type of woman was a right wing myth. But now I’ve met them and spoken to them, and I have to report they’re very real indeed.

Clearly radio phone-ins and “vox pops” do not amount to facts and statistics, but to brush them aside is to deny our ears and eyes, and succumb to political correctness. Do we really want to live in a society that cannot suggest some of us are lazy, workshy or just plain misguided? If we cannot pick them out, then how can we help people take back control of their own lives, and lead happier more productive ones?

It’s a hugely sensitive issue, but we mustn’t fail to grasp the nettle just because it stings.

It reminds me of the way we are failing to deal with the obesity problem now facing this country. One in three of our children is seriously overweight and unfit – and for the first time their generation’s life expectancy is actually shorter than their parents. Thousands of us are straining our hearts, livers and kidneys, under the burden of fat. Obesity is going to bankrupt the NHS unless we can stop it spreading, growing and ruining lives like some dreadful virus.

Yet still we as a country tip-toe around the subject, scared to tell people that if they’re fat and unfit, they’re slowly dying, and they owe it to themselves, and our beloved health service, to do something about it, fast.

***

Listen to Anne on BBC Radio Berkshire, 95.4 and 104.1FM, from 10am to 1pm

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