SOME sad and striking examples of poverty in Britain have emerged from coverage of the Government’s overhaul of the welfare system. People such as single parents who genuinely cannot afford the three basics of housing, heating and food deserve huge sympathy.
The effort to control Britain’s burgeoning benefits bills plays an important part in trying to reduce the country’s growing debt. But the changes must also seem particularly tough for those workers who put in long hours every week and who nevertheless still have difficulty in affording the necessities.
On the face of it, this includes people such as the market-trader who told Radio 4’s Today programme about how despite working up to 70 hours a week, he had an income of only £53 a week and was facing a crippling cut in housing benefit. (David Bennett, however, it later emerged, is a gambler and self-confessed poker-player.)
But underlying this widespread problem for many people – including David Bennett – is the fact that they are struggling to pay bills alone.
The “bedroom tax” – which isn’t a tax at all but an attempt to help larger families by matching them to homes with more space, thereby ending unfairness in the system – has drawn attention to the large number of people living alone.
Most household costs work out cheaper if they are shared, which is why students share houses, why people take in lodgers and why variations on communal lifestyles have always been popular with people who are so inclined for practical reasons.
The exponential rise in divorce and separation accounts for vast numbers of people living alone these days, not just an ageing population.
Nor is it only the welfare system that’s bearing the brunt of this rise; it’s the countryside too. What campaigners claim is a desperate need for more new houses is largely driven by the big rise in adults living on their own. For the first three-quarters of the 20th century, the need for new single-occupancy housing was much lower because divorce and separation rates were so low.
While couples who have divorced or separated cannot be blamed as individuals, we should be examining what’s behind this damaging trend and trying to fix it.
There is barely a television drama, film or soap opera in existence that doesn’t depict couples arguing, taking revenge or being unfaithful. No wonder kids grow up thinking such behaviour is the norm. They simply have no role models these days for a loving, caring marriage.
When a key influence on huge swaths of our young while they are growing up is EastEnders – the epitome of aggressive relationships – we are simply being wholly unrealistic if we expect them to go on to form loving, harmonious relationships as adults.
Teaching children the skills of getting on with a partner would save the country millions, if not billions, in the long run.
Lessons in personal finance are due to be added to the curriculum, which is a fine thing, but it’s time we added the most fundamental lesson of all: forming a stable relationship, and keeping it stable in the long term – years, perhaps even decades, through kindness, thoughtfulness, courtesy and cooperation.
It may sound as though we’re in a sorry state when we have to give children lessons in developing these traits, but the evidence around us is that it’s all too necessary, and can’t come soon enough.