Liars and thieves? The reality of benefits in the UK

First, for legal reasons I cannot disclose where I used to work. In December, through reasons not entirely in my control I entered the realm of the unemployed. At first it was a bit of a relief, it gave me the first real break in 4 years after effectively being on call 24/7/365 for 4 years. Even when I was supposed to be on holiday part of me was at work due to being the only IT person in a company of over 200. The first thing I had to do was sign on, and for once this was a simple straightforward process. The DWP now allows you to make your claim online. It’s not the most straightforward of processes, but infinitely better than trying to apply over the phone. Another surprise, interview at the job centre was the following week, rather than the old “sometime in the next month”. Expectations were high, maybe after years of red tape and bureaucracy the new government had improved the lot of the newly unemployed? Housing benefit was applied for as part of the process, all centralised and for once the council agreed to pay housing and council tax benefits. As it was December another welcome surprise was the rebate from the council tax, incredibly useful given the now tightened budget over Xmas. Direct debits were cancelled where none essential accounts were concerned, a conscious decision meaning my now recovered credit rating takes a terminal hit again, but a quick budget shows that we just have enough to manage.

Then comes the end of January, and due to how I became unemployed the DWP informs me I no longer qualify until April. That means no money for food or heating for another 2 months [1]. This is despite full disclosure of the circumstances and recognition that it was out of my control. Rather than now being forced to choose between turning the heating down a bit or eating plainer foods (my time at University has shown me how to eat quite well for next to nothing) I’m actually forced to make the choice of having no heating and not eating anything at all. The only way to ensure my family has both a home to live in and food and heating is to walk out of the door and make myself intentionally homeless. A quick emergency meeting with the DWP and I’m told I qualify for crisis payments due to having a wife and 2 teenage daughters. Of 40%. Yes, I’m now informed I’m expected to feed, clothe, heat and house a family of 4 on 40% of the amount the government declares the minimum needed to live on. So now my option is do I feed my family or turn off the heating and electricity. My only saving graces in all this is that my eldest daughter is soon to be 17, so the new bedroom tax will not affect us. And by being generally in good health I’m not claiming DLA so I don’t have to deal with ATOS. And that’s really the big issue, all of these policies brought together and the way the unemployed and disabled have been demonised by this government and by the media.

It’s very discouraging after over 20 years of working and paying my NI that I am considered worthless now by the very government that is supposed to be helping me. The unemployed and disabled are labelled “lying, thieving bastards” by the people who are meant to help, while those very people who are meant to help take tax payers money for doing nothing. A government that lives a life of excess and luxury at taxpayers expense is guilty of forcing the poorest in this country into ever deeper poverty. Families who are declared as “under-occupying” homes because disabled children need their own rooms are seeing their benefits reduced. Disabled people who need mobility payments to ensure their independence are having those payments reduced or even taken away because they can walk 20 metres, but not 21 metres. People who are losing their jobs because the government has decided employers should be able to fire anyone they want and then hire cheaper foreign labour are finding themselves losing everything, their families, their homes and even their lives. This is the reality of living on benefits in this country. The myth of scroungers living a life of luxury, with plasma TVs, cars and exotic holidays is exactly that, a myth. For those who receive just the benefits they are entitled to it’s not enough. High profile media campaigns targeting the minority who abuse the system do nothing to help those caught in the benefits trap. Billions spent getting the long term unemployed into work do nothing when there are no jobs available and government policies are forcing more people into unemployment. Forcing the unemployed to work in jobs that pay less than the benefits they lose is immoral.

The unemployed do not need hitting with big sticks to find work, they need genuine training. They need real work experience programs that actually pay them, not providing free labour for large multinational corporations. They need the opportunity for education, without the fear that they are going to leave university with crippling debt, regardless of age. The unemployed need the opportunities to prove their worth in a workforce that has been indoctrinated into believing that the unemployed are simply the scum of the earth. The most valuable thing a person can have is their own self worth. Without that they have nothing left to lose.

[1] For those wondering why I can still afford to write this blog given the financial situation this government has put me in the answer is simple. My next electricity bill is due on March 1st. [2]

[2] I’ve never been out of work longer than 2 months thanks to working in a high demand industry. I fully expect to be gainfully employed before this date. There’s also the matter of why I can’t disclose my previous employer’s details 😉

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