Sunday, October 31, 2010

today : I continue to be a lazy scrounger

It already started when the coalition was installed. The chipping away, the cynical stories relentlessly in the lap-dog Tory media, the repeated statements made in an attempt to coin an orthodoxy of opinion, the unfiltered, unbalanced think-tank reports.

But it will get worse. At least once a week there will be a planted story in the media, a minister making some statement or even better, the single news reports focusing on individuals.

The uncomfortable truth is that there is a section of people who exploit benefits. Mainly, these are people who commit straight up fraud - the people who claim to be unemployed but work cash in hand, or those who put on an elaborate charade of disability in order to get DLA and a car. But for the vast majority, benefits are a port of last resort. Almost everybody who claims welfare has to grit their teeth and put aside their personal pride in order to do so. Go to the Jobcentre and just hang out. You can feel it in the air - a sense of bitterness and reluctant defeatedness that just hangs there.

Yes, there are some who get trapped into it, and can see no way out. Children of parents who have been brought up feeling keenly their place at the bottom of the pile. There are also some who end up marginalised and caught in the habit. Quite a few are trapped by the system itself - the fact that going back to work will actually make them poorer.

And lets not get mixed up here. People who live on government benefits don't live but survive. When I worked with the unemployed many of the people walked to and from my literacy classroom to save a few pennies on bus fares. The ones who are (and will be) trumpeted in the Express and the Mail are a tiny minority. Even then, I would defy any tutting Mail or Express reader to swap lives or incomes with them. The amount of people making themselves rich from defrauding the system is absolutely tiny.

At the moment, I'm one of the ones who has to survive on benefits. I'm one of those ill/disabled people who you might think, if you saw me, was perfectly capable of working but is just lazy. I'm not - I have ongoing chronic pain issues that you can't see. I don't screech all day or go around with my operation scars on display. I've seen it from all sides. Not only have I had well paid employment, but have also worked closely with the unemployed and disabled. I'm honest and try and make my way. I've paid a stack into the system and now have to draw on it.

I'll be swept up in the broad attacks built from little stories. I claim housing benefit, but I'll be lumped in with the very very few who live in central London and claim against extortionate rents (why not fix the whole London rents issue by doing what New York does and have a rent control policy?). Consequently nobody will stand up for me. When the cuts bite I'll actually be about £90 per month worse off. That's about three weeks food shopping per month. That's about half my utility bills I won't be able to cover. But I will be branded some kind of scrounger.

I claim DLA too - a double whammy. I get ESA - a triple whammy (this will be slashed along with most other things). The DLA claimants who run marathons or dance the tango are always front page news, but the subtext is always the same: disabled people are scroungers. Unemployed people are scroungers. Ill people are scroungers. Why should we pay for their laziness?

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