Archives for posts with tag: benefits

They can just move to where there’s work

Really? Is there available, affordable housing and/or social housing there? Or will that be at even more of a premium in a place where there are jobs compared to somewhere there isn’t?

They can just move somewhere smaller

There’s a lack of one-bed social housing, and a private rentals ain’t cheap.

They can just move back in with their parents

Unless they have an abusive parent. Or no dad and a mum who’s since had another two kids. Or their parents have been forced to move to a one-bed flat (and been able to find one) due to the bedroom tax.

They can just take any job and not be picky

When there’s hundreds of applicants for the most menial of roles? And will that job give them stability and rights, or might it, say, dump them back on to benefits after however many weeks or months when they decide their services aren’t needed anymore?

They can just travel further afield to get to work

As long as they can afford the transport costs, that is.

They can just find a job that fits around their caring commitments

Ha!

They can just find a job that they can manage with their health problem

Because the world is filled with understanding employers who will reorganise their office to accommodate a disabled person and will be totally understanding about time off for medical appointments or acute episodes of illness.

They can just make do on a little less

When mum’s gone a week eating just bread so the kids can have warm meals, and she’s scared what will happen when they grow out of their current shoes and coats?

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sxc.hu

saivann @ sxc.hu

There is evidently something wrong with me.

I seem to have a chronic inability to be angry about people claiming benefits. I know I’m supposed to be furious. I’m meant to be incensed that people can have 10 kids and not work. I’m meant to be incandescent that a family where no one has a job brings in near to my previous salary in benefits.

But nothing happens. I’ve tried reading the Mail, the Sun and the Express, I really have, but somehow it fails to make me cross at all. (Well, the people claiming benefits don’t.)

Multiple pictures of people who were fraudulently claiming incapacity benefit running marathons, going down waterslides and auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent have summarily failed to convince me that there’s an epidemic of fraud. It’s not like I’m especially perceptive, or too rich to care or in quite the same boat, being currently a comfortably-off claimer of JSA.

Though I would say that I am extremely disinclined to jealousy, which might have a lot to do with it. In adulthood I’ve been jealous of someone approximately once –  I hated it, found it futile and unhelpful and haven’t been back there since. It’s OK, I make up for that by being a git in all sorts of other ways.

This much-tweeted Independent piece brings home the powerful effect of media misrepresentation of benefits. It’s so easy to believe that because something’s reported, it’s common – whether it be benefit fraud, child murder or paedophiles jumping out from behind bushes. Of course, the reason that it’s news is that it’s an exception, but like so many things, the knee-jerk reaction is likely to win over the counter-intuitive truth. And when jealousy comes rears up its ugly head, doubly so.

Perhaps the best example of this is the insistence that ‘People have kids so they can get benefits’. Yes, previous to the imminent cap on benefits, more kids = more benefits. But it doesn’t take an economic genius to work out that that doesn’t equal more wealth. Because somewhere the ‘kids for benefits’ ranters miss the point that kids cost money. Quite a lot of money. Quite a lot more money than you might get for each one in benefits. My main thought when I see this sort of article is ‘That’s really not much money at all for a household of eight’ and that it can’t be at all fun to live that way. No one’s thinking ‘Let’s pop another one out, then all eleven of us can go on a Caribbean cruise’.

One of the most reprehensible tricks in the media book, to my mind, is the ‘benefits outrage’ piece. Evidently these sell papers, as it’s not unusual to see them on the front page. The basic outline is this:  person on benefits, usually a single mum or absent father of several, ‘boasts’ of how much benefit they rake in, ‘moans’ about having too small a house and so forth, or it’s a rant at the foreign family who gets a ‘luxury house’ in ‘millionaires row’, as if it’s their fault that it’s the property chosen by the council, and that obviously  they ought to be in mildewed prefab in Zone 6.

I don’t imagine that journalists approach these people saying ‘Please can we interview you about how you’re living the high life on benefits so that we can vilify you on our front page?’ I suspect they come with heads tilted sympathetically, asking whether they can talk to them about how hard it is to be a single parent/jobless and on benefits. And then they ask leading questions, quote out of context and downright misquote. After all, these people aren’t likely to go running to the Press Complaints Commission and even if they do, the most they can hope for is a tiny apology tucked away somewhere, but probably not even that.

You can see how easy it could be to change ‘My kids eat out once a week at McDonalds, it’s the only treat I can afford’ to ‘“My kids always eat at McDonalds” she boasts’; or how ‘I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs, but I feel like giving up now’ somehow becomes  ‘”I can’t be bothered to apply for jobs” he moans’ somewhere between the interviewee’s mouth and the printed page.

Fish in a barrel, as far as an unscrupulous journalist is concerned. It’s possible, I concede, that some of these people are lazy good-for-nothings so eager to appear in the media that they’ll open themselves up to national vilification by boasting of their lack of work and luxury lifestyle. But I also think it’s rather more likely that it’s journalists participating in the fine art of ‘making shit up’.

Papers also love cases of ‘fakers’ caught out on holiday or doing sports, while claiming disability benefits. So now we’re seeing people with intermittent illness being ‘shopped’ to the DWP by neighbours who didn’t take the time to consider that some people live with conditions that may only occasionally require a wheelchair, or mean that can manage without a stick on a good day. But the ‘Benefit Avenging’ high kicks in, and all empathy’s out the window – it’s in the papers, so obviously it happens all the time.

With so many imaginary illnesses, we must need the heroic ATOS, with their miraculous healing powers. They’re so effective that they repeatedly visit people who’ve won appeals, or those with chronic, degenerative or fatal conditions just to make sure that they derive the full benefit (no pun intended) from their magical abilities. Hang on, I thought they were supposed to save the government money?

Then there’s the stats about all those people who’d ‘rather lose benefits than get a job’ triumphantly crowed about in a number of papers. Look, there’s your proof – lots of people are so lazy, they’d rather lose their benefits than work. No mention of the fact that some of these people might be ill, that their mandatory placement could present any number of practical barriers, that the support offered by the authorities for childcare might have been insufficient or they may have other caring responsibilities that are not taken into account. I read recently about what is on offer for childcare, and as far as I can tell it equates to just under three days’ childcare per week round where I live, so leaving a Londoner out of pocket by over £120 a week for working unpaid, unless they have family support at hand. No data, of course, on the reasons for turning down these placements, just the assumption that it must be because they are monumentally lazy.

As well as selling papers, this is all very convenient for the government, of course – it gets the public behind welfare cuts (as long as they’re not the ones affected) and thinking less of those higher up the chain who bear far less of the burden of taxation than those on far lower incomes. The DWP’s latest adverts about closing in on benefit fraud yet again suggest that this is such a massive problem that it clearly deserves a lot of the DWP’s time and attention. But I hazard to put forward that maybe it ought to be giving more of that attention to work, pensions, benefits and supporting people who need it rather than running down convenient imaginary fraudsters.

vote1281305_52700450I’ve wanted the Tories to be better, I really have, but the time to give up seems to have come.

I’ve always hung back from the subtle rhetoric of  ‘All Tories are utter scumbags who deserve to be tortured slowly, then killed’. Why? Because I know that isn’t true – my parents are Tories, were local councillors for many years, and very active ones at that. Both of them despise and reject prejudice in all its forms, support the idea of drug legalisation and more rights and better treatment for immigrants and other views unpopular with the Daily Mail, but they are actually Tories. They have not always toed the party line and don’t much like it at the moment, and I’ve never wanted to believe that they believed in something wrong at its base. And I still don’t think Conservatism has to be wrong at its base, but what’s going on now is wrong by any definition.

The stereotypes of Tories are interesting. Growing up, I’d be asked if my parents were terribly strict. No, they’re about the most liberal parents I know. When I told people they were local counsellors, active in social services, health and education committees and other voluntary bodies, I’d get the response ‘Labour, then?’ as though Tories ought to be on Baby Killing and Dog Kicking committees.

I have difficulty on a number of levels with rabid Tory-hatred, not least that it makes simplistic reductions, which  discourage rational debate about politics. People believe the Tories are irredeemable, socially unacceptable, and will remain so whatever they do or say, and so it doesn’t really encourage the Tories to be better than they are. There are decent Tories out there, and it would be better to at least listen to them and let them come to the forefront of the party than to drive them all out of town with flaming torches.

I used to snort, and still do to some extent at people saying things such as ‘The Tories hate poor and disabled people and want them to die.’ But, by God, they’re sure as hell acting as though they do.

One thing that is really disappointing is that Iain Duncan Smith and the Social Justice Unit started off sounding as though they actually had a decent approach to the benefits system – before election, of course. The concept of ‘tapering off’ benefits so that rather than losing a host of them on taking up a job, more benefit could be retained while working  (let’s not forget how many benefit claimants are people employed in low-income jobs), seemed to be a positive way of helping people into work, rather than punishing people for the difficulty of finding jobs they can sustain themselves on. Obviously, I am no economist, maybe I’m totally off bat, but it sounded like a good idea to me.

This idea appears to have vanished utterly – presumably due the expense of implementing, and largely due to the media’s sustained campaign against benefit claimants. Yes, even though welfare is far from being the cause of the UK’s economic situation, the Tories knew that they would have wide backing from the media if they pursued this as a way of improving the state of Britain’s economy. So they took it and ran with it.

The resulting situation is disgusting. Not to mention illogical and expensive. And unless they burn themselves to the ground and entirely rebuild themselves as something else, this time I don’t think I can forgive the Conservative Party. Laugh away, say you knew it for years, but I wanted them to be worth my vote, I wanted there to be forward thinking, caring people to take the reins and make it a party worth supporting.

I wanted them to show they didn’t have to be the Nasty Party, but they’ve gone, put a smiley face on it and horrendously victimised the most vulnerable members of society without making efforts to go after the people and organisations who could cough up enough money to make an economic difference and still have enough phlegm to buy yachts with. And there’s going to be further economic and human disaster when housing benefit cuts bite, with low-income people becoming  unable to afford to live in places like London. Or to live anywhere safe and habitable.

I’m on benefits myself. I was made redundant four months ago, so I’m enjoying the fun and jollity of the JSA right now. If I remain unemployed for much longer, I probably (and quite rightly, in my case) lose entitlement to JSA and I’m somewhat relieved given everything I hear. We can manage without it, though things will be tight, but at least I can’t be threatened and cajoled at every turn. I’m distressed by the thought of the countless people for whom cessation of benefits is terrifying – people who are understandably wondering how they will live, how they will feed their children, with nothing.

The government’s line appears to be that ‘they’ll just have to manage on a bit less’, when they have no concept of what it is to be on a low income – hell, I don’t even have much of a concept of it, but I can see it is pushing people’s lives into a state of emergency.

Is the answer revolution, as the usual corners are muttering? Probably not. But social media is beginning to flex its muscle in terms of shaming or withdrawing custom from those who don’t pay tax or use ‘workfare’ free labour to replace paid jobs – the last few weeks have given several examples of effective people power fuelled by Twitter and Facebook.

And I still believe it is incumbent upon us to vote. The Coalition presumably decided to focus on welfare because they knew it would ‘play well with the voters’ and voters these days are more likely to be the sort of people who look down on those taking welfare. If voters were people with whom this kind of thing didn’t go down well, they may not have taken that decision. Staying silent at the polls is not helpful, but if everyone, or even a significant chunk of everyone, who is ‘not the kind of person who votes’ voted in the next election, that would scare the living shit out of every politician far more than any protest.

I can’t say it’s been a pleasure, Conservative Party, I can’t say it’s been anything at all. I gave you the benefit of the doubt for as long as I could, but if you’re cutting benefits, then so am I. I would say this is written more in sorrow than in anger, but screw it, I am seriously angry.