A current news story has got me thinking about disability benefits. We live in a society where we collectively support disabled people with cash payments, infrastructure and favourable social treatment. This is something that we don’t think much about, but it is quite intriguing because historically this is something that has only been done since the 20th century. And I am not sure we are always clear why we do it.
In my opinion there are two reasons for supporting the disabled.
In the first instance, by supporting them they are able to lead more normal lives and therefore make their own contribution to society. The case of Stephen Hawkins is an extreme one of course, but it is pretty clear that we get a good return on our investment in his case.
But most disabled people aren’t that disabled, or that productive. I don’t know what the figure would be, but I’d guess in the case of about 80% of them society still gets back more from them than it gives to them.
In a few cases it will be the case that supporting disabled people is a pure loss in the financial sense. These are likely to be the most disabled and the most expensive. So if you are completely hard nosed about it, I suppose you could argue that these people should rely on their families and charities. But in order to sort these cases out you’d need to employ people to do the cost-benefit analysis, so there is a good case for not being too strict about it otherwise it will cost more to assess them than to simply pony up in the first place.
But even then I think a lot of people wouldn’t feel good about living in a society where the weak and vulnerable are not supported by the rest of us. I’m pretty sure that this would be the majority viewpoint.
So on the whole, I can’t really see what all the fuss is about.