22 January 2009

The Cult of the "Hardworking Family"

Of all the emotive devices and sound bites used by politicians, the abstract “hardworking family” is the one that makes me the most nauseous. It isn’t limited to the UK either, as shown by Obama’s chosen labour secretary, who promised to "improve the opportunities for hardworking families."

We elect politicians to represent all of us, so why do they think it’s acceptable to focus all their attention on “hardworking families.” If it were just the “hardworking” or “families” it would be bad enough, but it seems that you’ve got to tick both boxes before you are worthy of appearing on your representative’s radar. Why do spinsters deserve to be treated as second class citizens? Why do families that want to work less and spend more time at home deserve to be ignored? I don’t remember Lincoln talking about government of the people, by the people for the hardworking families.

The idea the hard work makes you a worthwhile person stretches across the orthodox political spectrum in an almost religious worship of the idea that spending time in a way that doesn't increase GDP is almost treason.

The whole idea offends my libertarian sensibilities; I don’t think the state has any right to tell me how hard to work. My life is my own and so long as I’m not harming anybody else in the process, my lifestyle choices should be mine alone. If the government wants to improve opportunities, it should do so for all, without prejudice.


Devil's Kitchen made a fair point in response to my previous piece, which is that "hardworking families" as a term to describe people who are "married with children" and also have a "proper job," is sometimes contradictory, as many government policies are aimed at giving those people the opportunity to work less. It is almost as if the government has put the concepts of "hardwork" and "family" on such high pedestals that if you satisfy both requirements by forming a traditional family unit and holding down at least one job, it believes you must be such a worthy person that you deserve to be given special treatment and let-off the "hardworking" element a bit.

The wording in my first set of comments was a bit sloppy. I said "Why do families that want to work less and spend more time at home deserve to be ignored," which could be interpreted as supporting the kind of "family friendly" policies that the government has been promoting, which isn't what I intended. What I had in mind was the way the tax credit system is only available to those with children who work over 16 hours per week. It's an arbitrary threshold above which the state judges you to be "hardworking" enough to deserve to have your tax burden eased, but below which it views you as undeserving. Of course, if you don't tick the "family" box either, you have to work even more before you become worthy of a rebate.

It's slightly off topic, but this is one of the reasons I like the citizens' dividend approach. By giving everybody the same cash payment, irrespective of circumstances, it can provide a safety net without enforcing the kind of social pre-conditions which are at the core of the current welfare state.


marksany said...

I'm loving your work.

Paul Lockett said...

Thanks. It's good to know I'm not just ranting to myself!