Ian O’Doherty: Why should we give these lazy, work-shy scum free money?
Friday December 11 2009
As the country tries to come to terms with the combined fire storm of the recession and the Budget, it is at least somewhat refreshing to see that we haven’t lost our charitable instincts.
On the radio, on television, in print and via email, we have all received innumerable exhortations to momentarily forget about our own problems and instead start to think of those less fortunate than ourselves.
It’s a noble sentiment and there is no doubt that the need for charitable organisations has never been greater.
As a spokesman for the St Vincent de Paul correctly pointed out yesterday, the cuts in social welfare will force people who were already hanging on by their fingertips into the arms of groups like his.
And while the Vincent de Paul do sterling work, I am sure of one thing – they won’t be getting any cash from me this Christmas.
This is not, you understand, because I am feeling even more Scrooge-like than normal; nor is it a desire to see more people have a miserable Christmas.
Rather, it is because of an experience I had two Christmases ago which was a real eye-opener in terms of how charity is administered.
A good mate of mine was a volunteer for the group and, realising that it was about time I tried to bank any karmic points that might be out there, I agreed to help him out with a charity drive one night.
And so, in the company of some genuinely selfless volunteers, we went into the north inner city to deliver the traditional Christmas hamper.
Except the recipients weren’t getting a hamper – they were being handed envelopes full of cash.
The amount differed according to the perceived needs of each recipient – or ‘clients’ as they were politely referred to – and the whole experience was, frankly, nauseating.
For understandable, if misguided reasons, volunteers are warned not to make any judgments against the people receiving the free money, but the bile rose in the back of my throat with each house we visited.
Because what became clear was that these people were not poor – the vast majority of them were simply lazy, indolent good-for-nothings.
Now, that’s going to sound unduly harsh and mean spirited and cruel and judgmental and all those things that are frowned upon.
But when you go into a house to give someone an envelope of cash and you see that they have a bigger wide-screen telly than you yourself own, then you realise that there is no way you can equate these people with genuine, actual poverty.
When I pointed out that being so poor and destitute that you required the humiliation of charitable assistance was not exactly consistent with owning a big bloody telly, I was quickly informed that wide-screen televisions were seen as a status symbol among that group of people and therefore they all had one and, again, I should stop being such a judgmental jerk.
The other thing that struck me was the utter lack of shame the recipients – young, fit and healthy men in my age group – showed when they got their envelopes. The first person we encountered was a bloke in his 30s who had seen the volunteers entering his street and he rushed out, demanding in that appalling flat nasal tone so popular these days: “where’s meee Christmas hamper?”
And, having been given his envelope, he sloped off, issuing neither thanks for the gift nor apology for being a healthy man in his 30s reduced to the status of a bum.
This pattern was replicated in every house we went to – big-screen telly, eagerly outstretched hand and rarely a word of thanks.
And then, when one of the people we visited apologised for his dog – a lovely little fellow – for barking at us (what dog doesn’t bark at someone knocking on their door, for God’s sake?) and then issued the statement: “Sorry about that. I’m going to drown him in the canal tomorrow,” I finally lost it.
Here you have a scumbag who talks about drowning dogs and he’s being given free money? Where’s the justice or common sense in that? I then discovered, via the volunteer I was with, that it is actually against St Vincent de Paul policy to tell their ‘clients’ that you are going to kick their f***ing head in. Who wudda thunk it?
But there was one house, the last one we visited, that restored at least some faith in human dignity and, most importantly of all, pride.
A middle-aged woman who looked several decades older than her true years was single-handedly rearing all of her grandchildren because, I later learned, all her daughters were going through various degrees of drug addiction. She was an incredible woman, a noble throw back to the days of the true working class, not the welfare class that the younger generation had descended into.
And, tellingly, she was the only ‘client’ who seemed in any way embarrassed to be relying on the kindness of strangers. “Things will be better next year, please God,” she smiled weakly as she took the envelope.
As we left, I was filled with a burning sense of rage and injustice – in fact, I wanted to go back to all the previous houses we had visited and take all the envelopes back and give them, instead, to this woman – someone who genuinely needed and deserved it.
I’ve been thinking about that woman since the Budget was announced.
Why do we, as a society, make life more difficult for people like her? These are the people who hold communities together, who put their own lives on hold while they look after and care for those around them, while we continue to give lazy, work-shy scum free money?
It’s not the fault of the selfless, heroic and, in some areas, physically brave volunteers from the Vinny de Paul and other volunteer groups – they see what they see every day and have decided it’s best to simply try and do the right thing without making the kind of disapproving, libertarian judgments I had formed. They do an incredible job under increasingly hazardous conditions and they all deserve the thanks of a nation.
Nope – it’s the fault of a society which has told several generations of young men that it’s not their fault if they can’t get a job, even though, at the time, there was almost full employment and jobs were abundant.
Let’s put it this way – unless you have a genuine medical condition which precludes you from working, nobody should be entitled to any social-welfare benefits as long as McDonalds are looking for staff. It’s as simple as that.
So, this year, I will as usual be making a donation to charity.
But it will come in the form of teddy bears and toys and things that will help to make a kid’s Christmas a bit more bearable – and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be no cash involved.
- Ian O’Doherty