Sunday, April 21, 2013


"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
—Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

Finding people work (or getting people to work when there is an alternative) is one of society's age-old problems.

Recent reports show the unemployment rate in the U.K. at around 7.9%, and the U.S. at about 7.7%, give or take. I doubt those figures. I think they are both low,  because, while they derive from the number of people receiving unemployment payments from the government (at least in the U.S.) they do not take into consideration the number of people whose "benefits" have run out and who have given up looking for work, but are still definitely "unemployed." (Again, in the U.S., at any rate.)

In Victorian times, there was, theoretically, no such thing as "unemployed." You either had a job, working for yourself or for someone else, or you were employed by the government in a workhouse. For the latter, you were housed and fed and clothed, after a fashion, and schooled or trained for employment. The fruits of your labor is what produced or purchased the aforementioned food, shelter, clothing and education.

We all know it didn't really work, although it looked good on paper to those who were searching for a way to help the poor. In reality, it was pretty heartless.

Our President Clinton and legislature tried to bring back that concept through a system called "Workfare" in which those who were physically able were required to do work or school themselves in return for their welfare check. That hasn't set too well with the liberals. President Obama really doesn't like the concept of mandatory working in return for a paycheck, and has tried to change the law to where thinking about looking for work should be credited as actual work. None of this stuff seems to be working in the U.S. (although conservatives SAY it is working, and point to the large numbers of people who have managed to break the cycle of welfare dependancy through being assigned a job or training before they can eat.) I think it is being tried in Britain as well, or being talked about. With my humble knowledge of the British entitlement society, that isn't going to fly at all over there. I don't know if you've tried it or are just talking about it. I recommend you do NOT put it into practice.

Any suggestions on how to humanely replace the old workhouses? On the surface, I personally favor vocational training for those who are (truly) able-bodied -- but even as I say this I know that won't work. There are just too many unemployed who already have a skill and don't need training. They just can't find work in the field they are trained for. Mandatory retraining is repulsive to me because being retrained into work you hate kills the soul. There are probably other ideas. Of course, this assumes the reader of this is in agreement that it is good for a person to earn his own way in our society whenever possible, and that holding up liquor stores and selling drugs for a living is not good for society.

A good article on British workhouses is at


  1. Wow - lots of questions. I think in the UK, people are very fed up with those who see welfare as a way of life. There are families where three and more generations have never worked. This is clearly not fair on the taxpayers and I wouldn't be surprised if there was agreement that these people had to do something to earn their keep. The problem however, is that if you make them work, you'll be taking work from someone else, unless you're just having them crack rocks.
    Years ago I visited Coldingly prison in England, where the inmates made all of the road signs in the country. Even today, the inmates are trained and work, but because some of them earned what was deemed too much for a prison inmate, the system has been revamped several times.


    2. I found that link very interesting. Theoretically, our prisoners are supposed to do work too. License plates and various craft shops. (Unless it would lower their self-esteem, of course.) They used to spend the days making little rocks out of big rocks. :)

  2. In this country, too, we have many who believe welfare is their due and their chosen way of life. They learned it from their parents, and probably, their parents before them. When they become part of that cycle it becomes almost impossible for them to break free...unfortunately. "Unfortunately" not only for them but for the rest of the country.

    Too many are willing leeches on Society.

    I don't the answers...I wish I did.

    1. I still like my idea of having treadmills for making green electricity.

  3. Way back, in the early eighties, I had the opportunity to travel from Finland into soviet Russia. Naturally, I took it, I was fascinated by the chance to see behind the Iron Curtain. Some day I'll dig out a heap of old photos...
    However, the relevance of this is that we travelled by road, and several times, between the finnish border and Leningrad, we passed large groups of people working by the roadside, cutting the grass with scythes, digging out the ditches by hand, young folk, old folk, men, women, all working hard.
    I asked, at a stop, our russian 'guide' (ha! 'Intourist guides'... that's a story in itself. -Your friendly surveillance operative), what was going on.
    He told me that all soviet citizens were guaranteed enough money to live on, but all had to work for it. In the villages there was no industry, so when the demands for farming were low, at certain times of the year,everybody was expected to turn out and work for the good of the nation.
    "In your countries, you are so proud of your machines, you would send out one man and a tractor, to do this in a couple of days. But we russians, we send an entire village, and it may take two weeks, but everyone works, everyone earns their wages."

    It seems to me that there are many things in our world that are not done, or not done well. And yet we have a huge legion of people who expect a regular paycheck from the state, who lounge about doing nothing. Surely our streets could be spotless, devoid of litter. In fact, all manner of things could be achieved. Flood defences built, sea walls strengthened, I can think of much that could be done. Prisoners would work long hours to pay reparations to those they had wronged.
    Nobody would be paid for doing nothing. If I'm going to pay taxes which pay the unemployed, then I expect them to repay me through working for the public good.
    And welfare? Well, when I was a kid, 'poor' meant being unable to feed yourself, kids without shoes, no coal for your fire.
    Poor did not mean having a television in every room, and going on overseas holidays. Poor was not a description used of a family who owned a car, a washing machine.....

    We have redefined poor. And I work hard, to pay taxes, which support people who can afford a better lifestyle than I have.

    1. I agree the definition of "poor" has changed. And I hope you come across some of your USSR visit photos,



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