Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Benefit of Blame


A lot is made these days of our so-called 'Benefits Culture', with a lot of anger and hatred being thrown at those who claim benefits for large families, or unemployed individuals who claim housing benefit. Too many times in recent months have I seen the words 'unemployed scum' and 'scroungers' flung carelessly around on social networking sites. I suspect that those using such terms have at least one unemployed 'friend' on their profile. Those words are hurtful, and rarely accurate.

The fact is that we are in a recession and it's taking us a long time to recover from it. Redundancy is rife and many people are out of work through absolutely no choice of their own. In a period of four years I was made redundant three times, and on two of those occasions I claimed job seeker's allowance and housing/council tax benefit. Not because I didn't want to work, but because I wanted a roof over my head. Admittedly, I still had a mobile phone but only because I could not afford to 'buy' my way out of my twenty four month contract. On the third occasion, I was living back with my parents and was fortunate enough for them to waive my rent until I had got back onto my feet. At any point a stranger could have looked upon me as a scrounger and that's really my point. We don't always know the back story of each individual's situation and should not direct such venom at them without knowing the facts.

The hatred toward people with large families is particularly worrying. Of course, there are some people that are happy to swindle the benefits system for all they can get and who would not work if there were ten jobs to each person, but this is not the majority. Just because a person has chosen to have a large family should not mean that they are criticised by society, let us not forget that life is put on this planet in order to breed. It's not a crime.

My sister has five children. She's a mother through and through and has been since she was about eight, reading her young sister (me) books in order to teach her words. She has also been a single parent much of the time and has claimed benefits. Not because she wanted to, but because working would have meant spending most of her money on child care, leaving her far worse off. At no point was she living a life of luxury, but instead one of fear and debt. The reality of a single 'benefits' family is nothing like the picture painted in the media.

She is now with an incredibly hard working man. Last week alone he put in 112 hours over seven days in order to support his family. However, he too was made redundant in the last year and had to claim housing benefit briefly to keep a roof over his family's heads. Can he be classed as a scrounger?

Some women also get pregnant by mistake. This has been the case for hundreds of years and only those who have never once risked going without a condom can cast judgement. I don't know one young mother who deliberately became pregnant in order to 'get a house'.

The current media favourite is to criticise those who keep on luxuries whilst struggling to pay rent. For example, mobile phones and Sky TV. These things have contract terms, meaning that it's often far more expensive to pay an early cancellation fee than to keep paying the monthly tariff. The general belief is that people claiming benefits ought to be supplied with just enough to survive, living on the very edge of poverty. Would the people complaining be satisfied with large families wandering around with holes in their shoes and nothing but bread and water in their bellies?

The fact is that we are all struggling at the moment. Directing vicious hatred at those who are, in your mind, getting something for free is nothing but bitter and ill-judged. Take a step back and consider the personal circumstances of those on the receiving end and how it really affects you. Would you actually be any better off if that family down the street were in a smaller house? No, I thought not.

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