What Benefits Culture?
Tonight there is a special Channel 5 (owned by Richard Desmond of Daily Express/Daily Star ‘fame’) programme called “The Big Benefits Row”, which has been advertised as an in-depth discussion of the increasing reliance on welfare and why we have become a ‘benefits culture’. This is hot on the heels of Channel 4’s extremely polarising ‘Benefits Street’ which has met with much criticism for being exploitative and non-representative.
We are presented with the idea that we are:
(a) Living in a benefits culture in which people are choosing to live on benefits.
(b) Becoming poorer as a country because we are having to support these people who are not working (and again, the intimation is that people are choosing benefits as a lifestyle choice).
(c) Somehow anyone who is reliant on benefits is ‘them’ and is not represented nor has any voice in the media, unless by campaigning people and groups rather than by any mainstream news outlet.
The fact is that those who claim benefits are now far more likely to be in work than out of it, and the largest sector by far is those relying on state pensions. Check out the government’s own statistics by clicking here.
In unemployment types of benefits, the numbers of claimants is reducing month by month. Here, have a couple of pie charts:
So what is this ‘benefits culture’? Where is this idea that people are leaving school or work and choosing a life on benefits? I don’t see a benefits culture, I see an ‘Anti-Benefits Culture’, one borne of the desire to ensure the need for welfare aid at any point in one’s life is a sign of failure, of being a ‘lesser’ person and of being a burden.
This is absolute rubbish. The welfare state was created by Aneurin Bevan and his colleagues in response to the desperate poverty, disability, illness and need that society was suffering after World War 2. It is a hard-fought for institution envied the world over for the way it shows care and concern for the less fortunate who through no fault of their own cannot support themselves within the boundaries set by the ever-increasing cost of living. It is a measure of our society how well we care for the least able to do so, whatever the reason they are temporarily or permanently unable to.
No-one can predict the future, yet somehow those on benefits are supposed to have had foresight and chosen not to have children or larger houses or anything expensive in the foreknowledge that they would lose their income and no longer be able to independently support their lifestyles.
At each turn those on benefits are demonised, taxed out of their homes and sanctioned unfairly (with the Citizens Advice Bureau even being reported on Channel 4 news in the ultimate in Benefits Street irony). and forced to desperate measures including suicide in the despair they are forced to live in.
The wealth gap between rich and poor has never been wider, and yet whilst bankers are criticised for their bonuses and lack of responsibility the most vehement criticism is poured on those least able to have a balanced, nuanced response. That wouldn’t make good TV, not in this era of mockumentary scripted reality shows.
Yes there are those who cheat the benefits system, much like bankers did with the international monetary system and hedge funds (or rich people gambling as I like to call it), or tax evaders do, or companies offshore circumventing corporation tax do, or MPs making expenses claims do, but in far lower numbers and with far less national economic impact. There are also others who will never be able to support themselves entirely independently, and will always need some assistance. I have a disability but am lucky enough to be able to manage my chronic pain to work full-time. My husband, on the other hand, is perfectly fit and healthy but because he is a certain age and has Shop Management experience and has to be available to care for me in order that I CAN work full-time, he cannot find a job. He gets no benefit at all, despite having paid his stamp for 20-odd years.
Even so, fair enough, if we can look after ourselves on my wage, I’d rather the money went to those who cannot sustain themselves. But instead of social community and caring, we are persuaded to see those on benefits as leeches. You know what? I’d RATHER see a few benefit cheats slip through the system and get welfare aid they are not entitled to than see increased hardship, poverty, demonisation, suffering and death.
We do not live in a benefits culture, we live in an anti-benefits culture. I think that is a great shame on our government, our media and our non-thinking people. I want my taxes to help those in society who need it, for whatever reason. I don’t see it as my money. It is our money, for the benefit of all of us. That is the benefits culture I want to see.