Is a term much used by those who believe that modern Britain with its 'free' health care from the NHS, and 'benefit' system is the 'model' for a 'caring' society. Naturally, those who believe that the state is there to provide for housing, income, health care and everything else, do not want to see any changes. But the question must be asked - is the 'state' the best provider if we want a 'compassionate' society? The answer is very probably not.
Taking a look at the current UK 'benefit' system makes one's head spin. It is extremely complex and actually gaining access to parts of it is so convoluted you almost need to be a civil servant to even know it may be available. Different Whitehall Departments all 'manage' different parts of it, so one ends up having to make multiple applications, and don't expect one lot to tell you about the other lot. The 'rules' governing access to any given 'benefit' are also pretty opaque, so your average member of the public is going to struggle to get any clarity should they have a question. Half the time the civil servants themselves don't know, of that I'm convinced.
At the moment there is a lot of focus on the so-called 'bedroom tax' which is being applied to those who live in multi-bedroomed Housing Association properties, usually on Housing Benefit. The removal of the 'discount' on Council Tax for a single person living in such a property is causing a furore, but it was intended to persuade some of these folk to move to smaller properties, so those with larger famillies could have a larger home. It seems sensible, but, it hits widows and widowers who live alone, often on small pensions and they have often been model tenants, living in these houses for extended periods. They raised their families in them, it is filled with memories - and now they are being driven out. Of course the civil servants and politicians behind it trot out the mantra, that 'for the many to reap the greatest benefit, some must lose.' It is never, of course, the case for them and theirs.
The second, and perhaps higher profile, argument revolves around the 'Disability Living Allowance' which is supposed to provide those with severe disabilities and who cannot work, with a top up to any pension, Housing Allowance and any other 'benefit' they receive. As it is one of the most abused of the 'benefits' on offer, the government has targeted it. Now comes the bit that demonstrates why I absolutely do not, and never will, believe that the 'State' can ever be 'compassionate', fair or 'caring'.
They appointed a company called ATOS to conduct 'assessments' of those receiving this benefit. The company set up offices all over the UK and then sent summons to the various recipients to 'appear' at their offices for the assessment. The newspapers have been full of accounts of those who faced long, difficult and sometimes painful journeys to reach the 'assessment' centre and then stripped of their 'benefit' because they were not deemed, by some twerp ticking boxes on a computer, 'disabled enough'. Computer programs can only assess what they are told, so, since each disability case tends to be unique, you simply cannot assess them all using a single set of criteria in a computer.
Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of suicides and more than a few deaths from the distress this has caused - but the civil servants do a "Pontius Pilate" and so does ATOS. "Not our problem, we're just making the assessment on the criteria wer were given." Pass the soap, basin and jug please.
This is the problem, and it is two fold. Those who insist the Benefit System can only be administered by the 'State' firmly believe that a 'Compassionate Society' is one where the State sticks its hand into everyone's wallet and extracts a share of their earnings to 'distribute' to those in need. They ignore the fact that almost 60% of the money that is 'collected' in this way is actually spent in the 'administration' of the system and not on the 'benefits' themselves. Their motivation, often idealistic, is also about 'control'. If you control someone's access to income, housing, transport, education and health care, they are fully in your power - for life. They'll do as they are told for fear of losing what you 'provide' if they don't.
Secondly, the centralised system that is the 'State' is grossly inefficient in assessing any 'local' needs, and very ill-equipped to assess 'individual' needs. It cannot distinguish between someone in genuine need and someone taking the Mickey out of the system. So, to make life easy for themselves, the civil servants at the centre write 'rules' to be applied to everything and everyone - creating a strait jacket that the abusers soon find ways to escape and circumvent, and the really needy find themselves trapped by.
I believe we need to rethink the entire system, removing it from Whitehall completely. It needs to be local, to address 'local' issues and needs and it needs to be out of the hands of the terminally bureaucratic. The 'assessment' needs to get off the 'tick box' computer screen and look at the individual, if necessary with face to face assessments by more than one or two 'assessors'. The plethora of 'benefits' need to be revised as well, and brought under a single agency in each locality, the current system of scattered Departments all having a finger in it is made for abuse and fraud.
Just because a society has a system of 'handouts' in place to support the aged, infirm and out of work does not make it a 'compassionate society' in my view. Compassion is not a 'State' attribute, it is a human one, but rapidly vanishes when small groups are given control of the distribution or allocation of 'compassionate assistance' in a society. I want to see the system reformed. I want a system that uses the contributions I make to it through tax, used wisely and fairly. I don't want to see companies like ATOS paid billions to do what the local charities and social services could do more compassionately and more efficiently. I don't want to see disabled soldiers - or anyone else with a geniune disablity - turned out of their homes or being told they're 'fit enough to find employment' when they are in wheelchairs or missing limbs. Yet that is what Whitehall and ATOS are achieving without actually improving anything.
A genuinely compassionate society is one which operates on genuine concern for each individual. It is one in which neighbour cares for neighbour and it is not one where someone can be driven to suicide by some faceless bureaucrat using a computer which says a person qualifies or doesn't. It is also a society which knows what is right and practices it. In such a society the abuser would soon be excluded or reformed, not, as at present, protected and encouraged.
We have a benefit system, it is currently under strain and much abused, and Whitehall, having ceated the mess, are probably the very last people to be trusted with sorting it out. Does it make Britain a "compassionate society"? I'd say no.