Freud on risk

Lord Freud, criticising the “dreadful” welfare system, thinks that poor people don’t take enough risks. There’s a basic distinction to make here between risk and vulnerability. Risk is about the chance that something will go wrong; vulnerability is about the harm that happens when it does. Bankers like Lord Freud can take risks, because they can recover from them if they go bad. Poor people can’t take the risks that bankers do because they’re vulnerable when things go wrong. The point of social protection is to make people less vulnerable; the problem with the personalisation and conditionality he advocates is that it’s making them more so.

Freud dismisses the argument that he hasn’t tried to live on a low income himself: “you don’t have to be the corpse”, he says, “to go to a funeral.” Maybe not, but it’s an awkward place to be if you don’t know who you’re burying.

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