Quiet morning? Banish boredom with some hand-wringing about alcoholics, drug addicts and obesity patients receiving incapacity benefits!
It is one of those hardy perennial stories to be wheeled out on a dull news day, a chronic "scandal" that media and Ministers alike know will press the button marked "moral outrage".
But hold on. Today's version says 80,000 addicts receive welfare payments and yet in 2006 the story was that 100,000 were on incapacity benefits. In 2008 it was more than 100,000, last August it was nearly 90,000, by November it was more than 100,000 once more.
I haven't seen any stories saying that the latest figures represent a 20% fall in just five months. I wonder why.
I also wonder why this particular group of incapacity benefits claimants is picked out from the data. The suggestion seems to be that people suffering from diseases like alcoholism, drug dependency and obesity are morally culpable for their condition.
John Humphrys articulated just this point on the Today programme
this morning. When Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern suggested alcoholics were often unable to work "through no fault of their own" he was interrupted. "No fault of their own?" he was asked.
One can understand why the question is asked but once society starts introducing the idea of "fault" into the issue of welfare, the debate enters dangerous territory.
Let us assume that the reason for all these stories about drug addicts, alcoholics and obesity sufferers receiving state support is that some people regard them as "undeserving": what about these people?
- The smoker who knew the risks and developed lung cancer
- The non-smoker who lived with a smoker, knew the risks and developed lung cancer
- The horse-rider who knew the risks of the sport and suffered brain injury after a fall
- The spinster who ignored her doctor's advice to lay off the sweet sherry and developed debilitating diabetes
- The man whose refusal to follow health and safety advice resulted in a disabling industrial accident
- The driver who crashed into a tree after three gin and tonics and was never able to work again
To be fair to the government, ministers have always couched the debate in terms of supporting and encouraging people back into work through treatment or other help. There is also a legitimate public discussion to be had about individual responsibility and whether the state should tailor welfare provision to encourage pro-social behaviour.
But let's be honest: this familiar debate is really about providing ammunition for those who insist it is possible to take a moral stance on welfare; that we can divide up potential recipients in terms of deserving and undeserving.
The trouble with this argument is that it would necessitate some kind of "morality officer" charged with deciding whether incapacity was the "fault" of the individual. Who would we recruit for this job? What questions would be asked?
The alcoholic whose condition has led them from well-functioning citizen to welfare-dependency - is it the role of government to investigate the case and apportion blame?
What if it emerged that the individual had suffered serious child abuse which had led to severe mental health problems which in turn had led to the bottle? Should the abuser face sanction rather than the abused? Should the retailer who sold the cheap cider knowing the customer had a drink problem? What about the drinks company promoting sales of high-strength low-cost booze? And do the institutions and politicians who failed to protect the abused child and supported the drinks industry shoulder any responsibility?
A thought for a quiet morning...