Burdens on Society

Lately I’ve been thinking about the rhetoric that is ‘being a burden on society.’ It’s a phrase that gets thrown around at many things, resulting in some form of self-righteous judgement and de-humanisation of those accused of being a burden.

Who is a burden on society? Well, that’s easy, society tells us. It’s those fat people, obviously, who refuse to just eat healthily and exercise enough and so have all sorts of health problems that make them a burden on the rest of society. It’s those migrants who can’t speak English properly and need special help to get up to speed with how Australia works. It’s those disabled people, who expect the government to just fork out money for fancy wheelchairs just so that they can be mobile – the nerve! It’s those dole-bludgers on Newstart allowance, who just lounge around all day living off the money Centrelink throws at them, and those single mothers sitting at home and refusing to go back to proper work. Those Aboriginal families who are affected by more levels of disadvantage than you can even comprehend.

So the rhetoric goes. If you are classed as one of these burdens on society, it is assumed that you take and take and take and give nothing back. You are a drain on resources, you are not worth the money the government spends on you. You are reduced to an economic bottom line, you are commodified, you are scorned and sometimes pitied. But in the rhetoric of being a burden on society, there is no space for actual compassion, only a sense of entitlement, where other people don’t deserve support because you happen to be in the privileged position of not needing that support yourself.

We saw this in the recent media furor about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will expect everyone to chip in a little more so that the government can provide support for people with disabilities and their specific needs. Or in the comments on ever news story about Centrelink payments ever. Or in any given discussion on the ‘obesity crisis’ and how fat people are killing our healthcare system. Or in the ‘debate’ about asylum seekers. There is a culture of terror – played up by the media and politicians – about anything that challenges our idea of what people are meant to be like: thin, able-bodied, healthy, comfortably middle class, white, cis-gendered (I could go on). Too often this masks what is really needed – for everyone to step back, realise that they know next to nothing about the lives of other people around them, and stop making some sort of snap judgement based on what they think someone else’s life is like.

Our government is there to ensure that all people have access to the same quality of life, in line with their particular needs. Disability insurance schemes, scholarships for Aboriginal students in higher education, support for single parents – they aren’t unfair advantages to some people which drain our country’s resources. They’re trying to put everyone on equal footing. And that is never a waste of money. I don’t believe that relying on government support to pay your bills makes you a burden on society, or less valuable as an individual, or less worthwhile as a human being. People are not burdens on our society, people are our society. They are more than an economic bottom line.

5 thoughts on “Burdens on Society

  1. As one of those so called burdens on our society, I am ever grateful for the government support that I receive. I could not manage as well as I do without it. Thanks for this post Jo.

    1. Yeah, I’m grateful too! I mean, the process is so horrible and frustrating sometimes and you have to tick all the boxes in just the right way, but at the end of the day, government support allows me to keep studying full time. I just wish that the culture around people on income support of any kind would change to a more positive view from the rest of society.

  2. im on disability pension I can not survive on it alone so i make cash working on vehicles of which i do very cheaply for people as i am highly skilled and intelligent i can read diagnostic engine codes using a paperclip and an internet connection telling me the codes however different for OBD!! compliance cars thats another story and too complex to describe although not hard to do, its a joke to think people can survive on welfare alone, welfare payment are costing the world very little its all lies, most money is spent on toys for the big boys new airforce jets, aircraft carriers etc… the list goes on without the peoples consent to go and legaaly kill other people, yeah how does one do that? we are paid a pittance on welfare only to be then harrased by police, government etc,,, where they put us through the mill expecting us to pay more and more from a bank balance of near zero,

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