A Decent Living
Last night I was watching a documentary fronted by Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford; business icons and people who know about confrontation and difficult choices having worked with Sir Alan Sugar for many years. Episode 1 will be available until Thursday 18th July here; the second episode will air that night. The premise was to find out whether we pay too much, enough or too little in benefits to claimants. This was to be achieved by pairing four claimants with four wage-earners (either in couples or singly, one claimant who had a disability) and by them getting to know the lives of the other, coming to a conclusion on this question.
Within 10 minutes there was comparison made between those on benefits and those in salaried work and how the benefits system may result in claimants having a higher income that the waged. I was screaming at the television (out loud as my Sooterkin™ and Adopted Brother™ who were both present can attest) “What about discussing the idea of employers providing a decent living wage instead of demonising benefit claimants?” Where do the high wages paid to the wealthier minority come from? Company budgets do not exist in a vacuum and to pay a high wage the money must be balanced on the books from elsewhere. It will be at the expense of those at the lower end of the wage scale.
An avaricious society prioritising economic wealth and possession will create a populace governed by greed and entitlement, and the desire to work for profit only. This attitude is not simply confined to those who are economically successful but is ingrained as a desirable attainable goal, without those at the lower social scale being given the opportunity to work for those goals. Wealth and possession to give one status is the end goal creating a desire to attain higher wages at the expense of those who cannot attain.
Such success depends on the failure of others. To value a person according to wage and to possessions requires others within that society to be have-nots, and requires the majority, or at least those in a position to dictate societal priorities, to collude and agree that those priorities are the right ones for our society. Biased information and demonisation of the have-nots perpetuates this, as the programme last night showed. Even those on benefits will blame and demonise those on different forms of benefit.
A decent living wage at the lowest end of the scale combined with set maximum wage and the change in the priorities in society is the only way to reduce the benefit system, create more people able to purchase items (which are no longer the be-all and end-all and it is not to the detriment of oneself if one can’t ‘own’ a particular item) and emphasis on job and life satisfaction, and stimulate the economy in a sustainable manner. If people don’t have money, they can’t spend it. Simple.
To penalise the poor for the benefit of the rich, and to demonise benefit recipients many of whom have no way to afford to live nor any jobs to apply for that will sustain them, is to perpetuate the unsatisfactory system we are stuck in.
Criticisms made of the benefit claimants in the programme included:
- The food they ate – Unhealthy food is cheaper;
- The fact they had pets or a number of children – people have pets before losing their jobs, as well as children, and the economic system as it is relies on larger numbers of poor people to do the menial jobs within society. To maintain a lower wage system more job applicants than jobs are needed.
- Owning expensive items showed they were getting ‘too much’ – people are given presents or may have purchased before having to claim benefits – sometimes their families help support them.
Moreover, as my Adopted Brother™ stated at the TV, although sadly they did not appear to listen, any purchase a person makes when on benefit is taxed; that tax goes into the pot which pays benefit. Benefit recipients are paying tax, just not ‘income tax’.
10% of the annual benefit budget goes on unemployment benefit. 50% goes on pensions.
1/2million people rely on food banks; which include toilet roll and other non-edible essentials. 90% of those relying on food banks are on benefits, the rest are destitute or low-waged or benefit-sanctioned. Many parents go without food to feed their children.
One claimant was volunteering, working full time for the benefit of his community without a wage. Volunteering does not mean you are not working. You may put in as many hours as in ‘paid’ work to gain experience and fill out your CV, yet are being paid by the government less than the minimum wage. The idea of community caring was actively promoted by David Cameron, but it appears it is only acceptable if it volunteering because it is from the heart and if you have a private income which means you don’t need to actually earn money. Again, being a home-maker is not seen as work – men are seen as less manly and as failures and not working; this previously exclusively female domain means women are judged if they go out to work as they are ‘neglecting’ the children, yet anyone who stays at home is not seen as contributing in as valued a way as those in salaried work.
Another claimant had disabilities, and was clearly confused about the myriad changes being made to the system with regard to those who had previously been allocated Disability Living Allowance. Quite apart from the extra problems and expenses living with a disability brings, there was no discussion or attempt to understand the fact that the majority of employers are not disabled-friendly or disabled-accessible. There are more applicants for less jobs, and being disabled is a massive mark against an applicant, however wrong that may be (and it is, very).
Benefit fraud is miniscule, yet we are led to believe it is huge and a massive drain on the country. This is simply not true, and is a tool in the demonisation of claimants.
We are not going back to Victorian England; that period had a high moral philanthropic values whether they were actually fulfilled by the rich or not. We are going back to medieval England, where the poor and destitute are penalised for being poor and destitute.
Job applicants are assumed not to be trying hard enough if they don’t have a job; until you are a successful job applicant you are not trying. It does not matter how much you are doing, or how much competition there is for the job. This automatically presumes the vast majority of applicants are failures who aren’t trying – there are always far more applicants than positions, regardless of the true situation of unemployment.
Judging is easy. Understanding is hard. That is what I took from last night’s programme.