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Year 2005 No. 25, February 17, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

A Burden on Society?

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A Burden on Society?

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A Burden on Society?

One of the key ideas running through the thinking of the present Labour government is the notion that certain people are a "burden on society". Therefore while announcing his recent measures against migrant workers and asylum seekers, Home Secretary Charles Clarke attempted to justify these by saying, "… we need to ensure that we let in migrants with the skills and talents to benefit Britain, while stopping those trying to abuse our hospitality and place a burden on our society". In similar vein, Secretary of State for Education, Ruth Kelly, addressing the North of England Education Conference and referring to permanently excluded pupils in referral units, declared, "This includes a full timetable for permanently excluded pupils ... so that they don't simply drop out of education, destroying their own lives and becoming a burden on society." This idea also finds expression in the present government's declarations about pensioners and workers who have reached retirement age, where it appears as the "problem of economic dependency".

But what lies behind this idea and why do the spokespersons of the government lay such a stress on it?

In fact the idea of a person being a "burden on society" or causing the society a "problem of economic dependency" is both inhuman and unscientific. Human society has long since drawn the conclusion that society must care for all its members and that those who cannot work for whatever reason, cannot simply be categorised as a "burden" and discarded. Such an approach, which was the hallmark of the Nazi regime, is rightly regarded as barbaric. Therefore, when the government categorises people in this way, it is clear that there is nothing humane or progressive about such a government.

Leaving the inhumanity of this approach aside, is there any scientific basis on which to come to the conclusion that certain people are a "burden on society"?

The unspoken argument on the tongues of the Labour spokespersons is that these individuals, whether low skilled migrant workers, unemployed youth or pensioners will make a claim on the welfare system and hence should be seen as a burden on society. This is a self-serving conclusion which aims to cover over the real causes of the economic and social problems facing society and stigmatise and scapegoat the victims of the present economic and political status quo. How is it possible to discuss the issue of economic migration without addressing the devastating effects of the movement of finance capital around the world, its merciless plundering of the people and resources of countries in every corner of the globe, leaving millions in destitution and poverty in its wake. Why should the ordinary workers of these countries reconcile themselves to poverty and death while watching the wealth their labour has produced spirited away to the major imperialist countries, like Britain, for consumption? How is it possible to consider the plight of asylum seekers without also discussing the aggression and gross interference in the affairs of the oppressed countries by the big powers that constantly provoke instability and war all over the world in pursuit of their economic and strategic interests? How is it possible to discuss the plight of unemployed youth or pensioners without first discussing the very nature of the economy and what becomes of the social product, the wealth produced by all those who labour in the country?

The government spokespersons remain quiet on these questions because they want to hide the fact that it is precisely the system of economic injustice which they defend that has become a "burden on society" and is blocking humanity's progress.

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