Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some balance at last

The very timely article in The Guardian here quotes a British welfare claimant...
“When I had to apply for benefit in the UK, I just turned up at the benefit office and had to fill out one form. Later, someone came around to check whether I really lived at my address. That was it. In Germany, I needed to certify everything from what kind of car I drove down to how I heated my flat. At times it felt like I was doing paperwork for paperwork’s sake. I found it a very demeaning experience, but then that may have been the point.”
With all of the drivel about 'benefits tourism' we are subjected to these days, the article is to be welcomed. My own experience of the German system I can only rate as positive and by no means demeaning.
Of course at my age it is not a matter of anything resembling 'job-seekers allowance... and there is no system helping independent freelancers to find clients. But when it became clear that my earnings as a translator were dropping to a perilously low level I was very relieved that the state offers Grundsicherung im Alter und bei Erwerbsminderung... 'basic support for the aged with reduced earnings'. Given that I have mostly been self-employed and have not regularly enough paid into any scheme entitling me to a pension, I am most thankful for the equivalent of GBP 105 per week that the Grundsicherung provides. I am also freed of the obligation to pay the German household radio/television/computer license fee and I now have comprehensive health insurance at no cost... nice to know when one is fast approaching the age of seventy-five.
I wonder how someone with my profile would fare in the United Kingdom? 
My personal story notwithstanding, I remain convinced that the whole 'benefit tourism' issue could be so easily solved. Yes, the principle of free movement of citizens within the EU must remain sacrosanct. Yes, such citizens must enjoy the protection of a welfare system. But why should that be the system of the country of residence and not the country of origin? If the 
Ruritanian who has moved to England falls into a situation of welfare dependence, why should the benefit allocated differ by a single penny from that which would be made available under directly comparable circumstances in Ruritania? 
Too simplistic? Perhaps. Tricky in the short term. But has it not long been a tenet of EU ambition that gradually there should be less of an economic  chasm between the federation's richer and poorer nations, an imperative reduction in inequality?
Guess it's a project for the next generation.

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