The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has said this country is going to close its scheme helping unaccompanied child refugees because “We don’t want to incentivise [child refugee] journeys to Europe”. The Home Office appears to be arguing that the cause of children fleeing conflict zones such as Syria and Eritrea is the result of a small UK Government scheme that has thus far only taken in around 200 children. Just take a minute to let that sink in.
To respond to this “incentive” the child would first need to have heard of the scheme, be prepared to leave all they know, their family and friends, take a perilous journey on the lottery ticket sized chances of being found by the right agency at the right time to be assessed as suitable to be resettled as part of the scheme.
To believe this you have to view refugee children as incredibly brave, resilient, well informed about British politics coupled with having a catastrophic ignorance of probability and a grim determination to exploit immigration law.
The alternative explanation that people flee war zones to get away from war seems more plausible.
“Incentives” as an excuse for ignoring basic decency.
This follows a pattern of Government policies where previously accepted ideas of meeting people’s basic human needs and treating them with compassion and decency has been rejected on the grounds that this will “incentivise” them to behave badly or not look after themselves.
In April half a million people who have been assessed as unfit to work will have their benefit cut by 30%. The stated reason is that by giving sick and disabled people higher rates of benefit in recognition of the fact they have greater long term costs to cover, “incentivised” them to not get work.
The argument is that sick people get jobs much more slowly than fit people. If we equalise the benefits of the sick and the able bodied, they will have the same financial incentives to get a job. This will lead to people who are unfit to work getting jobs at a similar rate to those who are fit to work. I wish I was joking.
This line of logic is evidence free and fatuous. People repeatedly tested by doctors and the DWP and found to be unfit to work don’t get jobs quickly because they are unfit to work.
My last blog was about the benefit cap, which will lead to large cuts to around 100,000 family’s benefits. The government states these cuts “provide a clear incentive to work”. Well maybe the cap does; but if you are a single mum with a new-born child, or a sufferer of Parkinson’s disease who is unfit for work you can be “incentivised” until the cows come home – it’s still not going to help you get a job.
Perhaps the most disgusting of all was the idea that search and rescue operations preventing hundreds of refugees from drowning should be stopped, as saving lives provided an “incentive” for refugees to cross the Mediterranean.
Confusing reasons with “incentives”
“Incentive” was used as a technical term by researchers where it was understood that an incentive means nothing unless a person is able to act on it. When the word escaped into politics this important caveat was ignored.
The nasty insinuation of the term “incentive” is that the reason you become a refugee is that there is a resettlement programme; or the reason that you don’t have a job is that you receive benefits. In all the cases mentioned above it is clear that the nasty insinuation is straight forwardly untrue.
Walking by on the other side of the road.
When you follow the government’s logic of incentives almost any good deed can be avoided. The story of the Good Samaritan can become a tale of a well intentioned but naïve man whose actions provided an incentive for people to avoid taking out proper travel insurance!