Letter : Why benefits are necessary

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The Independent Online
You say that some people are prepared to back a Clinton-type proposal to deprive people of all social security benefits if they do not take up jobs the authorities think they should ("Short backs benefit cut", 11 August).

While there is nothing wrong with the principle that people who accept benefit accept a corresponding obligation to look for work, a total denial of benefit is unacceptable in a civilised society. It reduces people to a position where they cannot legally make a living, and must therefore be either an invitation to crime or a back-door death penalty.

We will understand this proposal much better if we identify it as a proposal for conscription. Conscription should be backed by the sanction of imprisonment, not of the death penalty. Also, as Bill Clinton should have realised, it must contain provision for conscientious objection. I would not back such a proposal, but I would find it less objectionable than the version outlined in your report.

Earl Russell

House of Lords