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.