Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Benefits, welfare, the dole – call it what you will. It’s the financial safety net that attempts to aid and protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. It pays for housing for those who can’t afford it, it pays for clothes and food for children when their parents are out of work, pays for appropriate help for the elderly and those with disabilities.

But thanks to years of inflammatory rhetoric from politicians and the media, those in receipt of benefits are demonised, hated, mocked and looked down upon. They’re scroungers, scum, they all have enormous flatscreen televisions, they drink and smoke, they don’t want to work. It’s a familiar stereotype but it’s an inaccurate one. A YouGov poll recently found that two fifths of people asked think benefits are too generous. However it also found that people who know least about benefits are the most hostile towards claimants.

The fact is that a far greater proportion of the welfare budget is spent on people in paid work than is on the able-bodied unemployed. According to the DWP Income Support and Working Tax Credits (both paid to those in work but on low incomes) in the financial year 2011-2012 amounted to £13.8bn. In contrast to this just £4.9bn was paid to those claiming Jobseekers Allowance. The same DWP figures show that welfare costs are divided as follows:

Elderly – 42.3%
Low income – 20.8%
Families – 18.4%
Sick and disabled – 15.5%
Jobseekers – 2.6%
Other – 0.4%

So much for the accusation that the unemployed are a major drain on the welfare budget.

Another popular whinge about those claiming benefits seems to be that it’s working people’s taxes who pay for their flatscreen TV and luxurious lifestyle. Now, putting aside that stereotype it is quite true that tax pays for the welfare system. It also pays for the NHS, road maintenance, the emergency services, the armed forces, schools, the royal family, council responsibilities such as rubbish collections and so on. Any working individual is paying a very small proportion of their tax into the benefits system and it’s very important that they do. Why? Because you never know when you might need that safety net. It’s all very well for working people to complain about the unemployed but the truth is that they are only one redundancy, one accident or illness away from being out of work themselves.

So let’s look at that stereotype now, starting with the inevitable complaint about flatscreen televisions. Firstly I’m not sure whether it’s even possible these days to buy a television that isn’t flatscreen. Secondly, it’s entirely possible that said television was bought in better times, while someone in the family was working. Thirdly, it may have been a gift. Fourthly and most crucially – it really isn’t anyone’s business what a benefits claimant spends their money on (this applies to alcohol and cigarettes as well).

Another common misconception about the unemployed is that they’re lazy, workshy and can’t be bothered to get a job. Well folks, it’s not that easy. Recent figures show that at least 4 people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance apply for each unfilled JobCentre vacancy in the UK. In some areas of the country there are more than 20 applicants per vacancy. A JSA claimant has to show that they are applying for at least 3 jobs per week or they don’t receive the payment of £71.70. Yes, that’s all JSA is. Even allowing for housing benefit (which many jobseekers won’t be entitled to because they have a mortgage) and child tax credits/child benefit that’s a very small amount to raise a family on. Utility bills, food, clothing for growing children, money for school trips and expenses, maybe broadband to facilitate jobhunting and homework, maybe a car… Very few people claiming benefits are living a life of luxury.

So next time you hear the a politician or other public figure making inflammatory claims about those on benefits, or the next time you read an overly exaggerated story in the media, stop. Pause. Remember the DWP figures, remember the facts – and remember that one day it could be you on the receiving end of that hatred.

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Comments on: "Scroungers, scum and society’s ignorance" (15)

  1. I completely agree. We have had to apply for benefits (for the first time in our lives) when my husband lost his job due to my mental illness. The amount received is barely above the poverty line and we have two small children. We have both worked and contributed our tax dollars for many years to receive the very small amount of assistance that we are getting now. No-one that lives on benefits is living a life of luxury – it is a ridiculous myth.

    • Sorry to hear that you’re struggling, it is really hard. And of course the perception of ‘scroungers’ doesn’t help. I hope things improve for you soon.

  2. Cherise said:

    Re the flat screen TV etc – it’s also highly likely that it has been brought with one of those extortionate 4000% APR loans that are targeted at poorer people…

  3. I really do hate the assumptions made about those on benefits, it’s one of those topics where you really need to put yourself in “their shoes” to fully understand what it is like.

    On the other hand, I do wish some benefit claimants (a small minority) would try and be a tad more responsible, spouting of about how they don’t have to work and are getting this, that and the other; they tarnish all benefit claimants with the same brush.

    Some people do exploit the system, and these are the people the public hear about, not those applying for dozens of jobs, selling off things of worth, forgoing any and all luxuries.

    It would be nice of Channel 4 to maybe focus on those type of benefit claimants for a change!

    Sorry rant over!

    • Yes, I agree that there is a very small minority who perhaps fit the stereotype but public perception is so skewed that they’re assumed to be typical. It’s so frustrating.

      It’s like benefit fraud – the YouGov/TUC poll I quoted in the post found that people thought 27% of the welfare budget was fraudulently claimed, when in fact the DWP figure is just 0.7%.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I live on a “rough” estate notorious for “benefit scroungers.” But until she moved out a few weeks ago, one of my neighbours was bringing me a massive roast dinner every Sunday – and I know a lot of the people around here keep an eye out for us to make sure we don’t have trouble with my ex.
    My estate is a bit like “skint” but there are also a lot of people on benefits who are just trying to get by on their £72 a week and provide for their children.

    • Your neighbours sound lovely! I used to live somewhere similar, supposedly it was one of the worst areas of the city. But as you say it was mostly people just trying to get on and make ends meet.

  5. Really good piece!:)Typical of a lot of ppl,unfortuneatly,to get on their high horse and preach “get a job!”not as easy as that!:(Employers can be v.picky and still don’t always have a flexible aporoach to childcare arrangements for single parents like me.When government change to make it easier for single parents,school leavers,unqualified ppl to be accepted more in the workplace i’m sure vacancies will be filled,and stay filled longer!:)

  6. Shane,Manchester said:

    Excellent post,you have hit the nail on the head.I hate myself and thousands of other unemployed people nationwide being classed as lazy/workshy.I think the unemployed are tired of being demonised and punished,I know I am.Your seen as a scumbag by people and JCP treat you like a criminal.We don’t deserve benefit sanctions along with hunger and destitution.The government is pushing me and thousands too far.I’m cracking already due to hardship.

    • I’m sorry to hear that but I know how you feel, it seems like just existing is getting harder and more costly every week.

  7. I do hate the assumptions, but I feel that they do also apply to some and those it does apply to usually are the ones that shout the loudest and therefore everyone gets tarred with the same brush. For example some one I know as openly said ‘I write the applications I copy them for evidence then bin them, why should I work when I’ll miss my kids grow up, my dad worked everyday of his life i don’t want to’ which everyone wants to see their kids grow up, and i cant imagine anyone WANTS to work if its not nessecary, but I also know people like him are the exception rather than the rule, but it’s easy to see how people who hear him say these things can start to believe everyone on benefits is the same. BTW my hubby works full time and we get child tax credits and working tax credits cause he’s on a very low wage.

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