Provided you haven’t been living in a cave on Mars, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears humming the theme tune to Dallas for the last week, you will have at least seen mention of “Benefits Street”.
The show, made for Channel 4, caused hundreds of complaints and really brought what was already a controversial topic to the fore. In fact, describing it as controversial is like describing the Israel/Palestine situation as a punch up in a pub car park.
I’m not really here to talk about the programme itself. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even see it. I have, however, read a lot of reaction to it. It’s been everywhere: Social Media, TV, newspapers and so forth. It appears that it tried to show that all benefit claimants are lazy, criminals who just want free money. People, including the ones featured in the show, are understandably pretty annoyed by this.
I won’t waste time rehashing all the perfectly valid points people have put forward in newspapers and blogs and Facebook statuses. Most of these are about how ludicrous an assertion it is to say that all people claiming benefits are out to avoid work and live off other people for free. You can read those in any number of good sources. And frankly, if you believe all benefit claimants are out to take your hard earned money so they don’t have to do anything then you probably believe that anyone with a skin colour from a different place on a Dulux chart to you is a violent criminal and you’re probably beyond help.
We now live in a society where many previously paid jobs have been devolved into unpaid internships. There is even an online auction site where one can bid actual cash-money for the right to work for free. That’s right, some companies now expect us to pay them for the chance to work for them. We’re heading for a future where instead of experience, qualifications or merit, all employment will be based on personal wealth (instead of just most of it like now).
This is to say nothing of the horrendously low-paid jobs that mean some people have to work two jobs. Often because, in order to save costs and effort (and worker’s rights) on the employers part, their jobs are part-time. It’s an honest days work for an honest hours pay. That’s why you should never take Government statistics on employment (or indeed anything else) at face value. Sometimes you will hear that a certain number of jobs have been filled. But often two of them will be filled by the same person.
But like I said, leaving aside how cretinous it is to suggest that all benefit claimants are abusing the system. There is one issue that is being swept under the carpet by the outrage caused by “Benefits Street”. That, is that there are people abusing the system.
Bear with me on this, because I’m not getting that from reading tabloid rags who are trying to turn people against one another in the hope of selling papers or drawing attention away from Draconian government policies. I have heard it from the horse’s mouth as it were.
State benefits like Job Seekers Allowance are a wonderful invention that symbolises how far our society has come. The idea is that nobody gets left behind (unfortunately they still do, but that’s an issue for another day). They’re not, however, a nice thing to be receiving. I claimed Jobseekers Allowance for two years and it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m not ashamed of it either, no one should ever be ashamed of it, but it’s not a good feeling. I’ll be honest, it feels fucking awful and it certainly isn’t the life of Riley as some newspapers and such will have you believe (Daily Mail, I’m looking in your direction). The point is, I needed help and JSA was it. As wiser people than I have said, you never know when something will go wrong and you may need it.
But there are people who don’t feel that way, they’re not grateful to the people who donated their hard earned money (albeit through tax) to help them in their time of need, they literally see it as free money for nothing. To illustrate my point I provide the following examples all heard, by me personally, in the Job Center or on courses I was sent on by them:
– “If these c***s don’t hurry up and sign me on I’m gonna stab one of them. I’ve gotta be in court at two!”
– “Honestly mate, the amount of hoops you have to jump through for these pricks, I may as well get a fucking job.”
– “I’ve got 5 kids, it’s fucking brilliant, they’ve got me so much money to do up my car!”
I am the first to admit that three examples is not a reliable sample to base a whole opinion on, if you’re doing that, stop. It does show however, that there are people claiming benefits who have no interest in working. My favourite one was the second one who said he “may as well get a fucking job” due to having to fill in some paperwork. Now the fact he thought that if he felt like it he could just “get a… job” whenever he felt like it tells me that he must have not have much experience of applying for them. That was, incidentally, heard on the Work Programme, that’s where after being on JSA for nine months they shop you out to a private company. So he had evidently been not applying for jobs for quite some time. The other two, well they’re just so groin-kickingly wrong that I don’t even know what to say about them.
Essentially, all I’m saying is that we should not be giving in to the bullying divide and conquer tactics of programmes like “Benefits Street”, but we shouldn’t be ignoring that there is a problem either. There are indeed people, though a very small proportion, who are defrauding the system. I think we need to be demanding changes to stop it.
And before anyone says it, yes, I know benefit fraud accounts for a tiny part of the welfare budget which is a small part of the overall budget. And yes, there are huge corporations and rich individuals avoiding obscene amounts of tax. They should be the priority, obviously. Some guy taking 140-odd quid a week on JSA and Housing Benefit while sitting on his arse making up his jobsearch log is almost inconsequential compared to the amount Starbucks have avoided or indeed evaded paying in corporation tax. We should also be trying to stop programmes like “Benefits Street” being made to try and twist our opinions and turn us against one another. I just don’t think we should ignore the people abusing the benefit system. Not least because it’s easy for the unscrupulous elements of the media and Government to use them to make all the honest, good people on benefits look bad.
It probably seems like I’m aiming all my ire at the smallest part of the problem. I’m not. I’m not on a campaign against benefit fraud, it’s just a small issue we shouldn’t totally ignore. Most of our outrage still needs to be directed at politicians, the civil service, the Job Center and the companies ripping off the country.