Lots of money, lots and lots of money

I heard on the radio this morning that, as the Tories believe that married couples provide the best environment for children to grow up in, they’ll be offering such families £20 as an incentive. That the Tories are effectively proposing themselves as the party of big-spend is of course concealed by the notion that this will be delivered as a tax break, with somehow magically no services anywhere else losing out.

Of course, you might argue—if you weren’t a Tory—that you could do greater social good by giving that money to single parents and not to married ones. Such welfare would offset the fact that, according to Tory research after all, they can’t provide as good an environment for their children. You could even distribute the funds as luncheon vouchers, only exchangeable for fresh vegetables, so that the layabout, drain-on-the-state single mothers can’t buy smacky crack or faaags with it (you’d also need to have somewhere selling vegetables on sink estates first). But to suggest that presumably misses the point of the whole patronising exercise: to use money to modify strongly socialized behaviour modes.

Here’s a prediction regarding this most recent plan: it won’t work.

Here’s a refinement: it’ll work, but only among the middle classes, who are especially good at leveraging this sort of trick. The poor and vulnerable hardworking families—the ones who desperately need the money—won’t go for it.

The poorest areas are at their most apathetic when dealing with any apparatus of the state. Blackbird Leys’ recent history, seen from the point of view of the outsiders coming in to meddle, is a long list of projects which have been run by the incoming middle class, for the indigenous lower class, who in turn—suspicious of all the hundreds of previous projects that have had their funding pulled before they’ve finished—don’t bother to attend. To fill out numbers these projects are instead attended by other members of the middle class, who sup deep at any benefits, while the money just swirls round in a spiral, losing energy through the system’s viscosity and inefficiency.

It’s astonishing how much incentivizing is already going on, to no avail. If you live on the Leys, you’ve got access to free childcare, night-school courses, sports and health schemes, and more police than crime-for-crime comparison with, say, Cowley Road might suggest. But single mums don’t stick their kids in the schemes; courses falter and eventually close due to low attendance; people get obstinately and sweatily fatter; and law and order is eschewed in favour of the swifter remedy of going round there and givin im a punch in the face. To attempt to redress the balance of decades of neglect, and near-destruction at the hands of Thatcherism, millions of pounds have been pumped into the Leys as a logical extension of the policy of rewarding good citizens in the hope that everyone else will clamour to be one too.

Now maybe that money has had to fill the economic groundwaters, disappearing under the surface because long drought of the last Tory government left reserves so low; maybe it’s the next million that will produce the fertile soil and the first good crop, or the one after that. But there’s another, more worrying possibility, that ultimately you can’t just pour cash onto the surface in the assumption that it will soak in, that once you’ve caused a whole demographic to concrete over their finances in economic defence, it’s not good enough to just splash beneficence around and just hope against hope that you’ll encourage the growth of anything other than mildew.

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