Monday, January 10, 2011

Welfare Cheats - Heard It All Before - Part 1

 A guest post by Paul originally posted here

I wonder why I get out of bed some Sundays. . . . . . .

Keen to maintain my grip on the world of current affairs, I stagger downstairs and switch on BBC1 at 9am for that doyen of anti-bloggers, Andrew Marr (Andy – I don’t live with me mum, I rarely drink and I haven’t had “spots” in 40 years).

His “guests” today include the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, and the Shadow Chancellor,  who made such a huge impression on me that I’ve forgotten his name already! Used to be a Postman, was in successive Labour Cabinets - you know who I mean! Hasn’t got a black & white cat . . .

Anyway, one of the “initiatives” that BOTH major parties (I say both intentionally – I don’t consider the Lib. Dem’s a separate independent Political party anymore – more an annex to the Tories; maybe a conservatory?) are touting, as a cure to all ills, is that perennial “blame those claiming benefits”. Always an easy target, and frequently popular with the mass media.

Apparently, a billion can be saved if they “clamp down” on those claiming who shouldn’t be; out comes all the usual clichés – living on benefits mustn’t be a lifestyle, work must always be more profitable than staying at home, the taxpayer must be protected, blah blah blah.

Now before I let rip, please allow me to give you some background:

Those of you poor souls who have read earlier rants will now know that I am deaf. However, I am in full-time employment – earning a reasonable salary and paying my FULL share of taxes. Like most on PAYE, I don’t have a lot of control over that! Regardless of that, I believe we all have to share the burden – albeit I question the wisdom sometimes of using my hard-earned money on illegal wars, etc. – but that is a different argument for another time. I am happy to contribute towards the state coffers.

In the last 20 years, I have primarily worked in the field of Welfare Rights. I have been employed at Citizens Advice Bureau’s; at UK Advice (formerly FIAC) outlets; in the “not for profit sector” and – for the last 10 years – in Local Government.
I have worked with the elderly, with the severely disabled – both physically and mentally, with offenders (including Schedule 1 sex offenders, violent and prolific offenders), with the sensory impaired and the mobility restricted; with the deserving poor and – in some people’s estimate – the less deserving poor.
I am arrogant enough then, to believe that my opinion is based on some experience and – therefore – has some worth. I am also NOT a member of any Political Party, and have not been for over ten years.

In twenty years of advocating for those reliant upon state-assistance, I have “endured” both Thatcher’s & Major’s Tories, and Blair & Brown’s New Labour. There is, despite their alleged ideological differences, a certain nasty consistency to the message, and it is now being repeated by the ConDem coalition government and not being challenged by the official opposition.

In twenty years, I have seen successive governments change the name of support for those with limited, or no, ability to work. We’ve had Sickness Benefit, Invalidity and Incapacity benefits, now we have Employment Support Allowance. Each time, the message is that the changes are designed to support those who can’t, and to weed out those who can work.

Rarely are claimants perceived as “individuals”, with differing problems, instead, they are referred to as one homogeneous mass, most – somehow – and to differing degrees, on the fiddle.

In truth, all credible statisticians will tell any and EVERY system will always – no matter how good you make it – have a small number of fraudsters, it is the way of the world. This number, however, is a very small minority – 2 > 3%, never above 5% - err, that means 95% aren’t!

I have seen the unemployed actively encouraged to declare themselves as unfit for work by Benefits Agency staff under pressure to reduce the number of Unemployed for Political masters. In my time in the S. Wales valleys (the Rhondda, Cynon, Merthyr and Rhymni) it was common to for the DSS (as it was then) to “persuade” unemployed Miners that they were clearly unfit to work.

Few people who worked in the coal mines have no medical legacy of the experience, and we had 200,000 unemployed Miners after the mid-80′s (never mind the numbers from the ancillary industries and from Steel, manufacturing, etc.).

Some of you may recall that, at that time, the DSS used to give examples of jobs that the unemployed may want to consider as alternatives. How we chuckled, with a 50-year-old Miner being told he could work as a Cinema usherettes, or as a process worker in hi-tec industries.

First; few cinemas had usherettes anymore, and who wants a hairy-arsed miner coughing up coal dust buggering up your enjoyment of the film; and how many Miners, with hands like a bunch of bananas, can hold a soldering iron and do the fidley work on circuit boards? They were more at home with a pick axe or a shovel.

Regardless, for political expediency at the time, they were directed towards claiming a benefit that reduced the embarrassing unemployment figures at the time. A Minister could then stand up in Parliament and say s/he had reduced unemployment, whilst leaving out the method!
Years later, suddenly the amount of expenditure on  is a concern, and the same people who have been pushed towards these benefits are now branded as cheats. Many, by now, have developed depression from enforced idleness, or have respiratory problems from chain-smoking, or other health concerns from a poor diet due to low levels of income.

Now Politicians say they should look for work. They are not “Sick” but capable of doing some work. . . .  but they don’t say “what” or “where it is”?
This only refers to a relatively small group of claimants, but a group that is often overlooked in the debate. They are equally entitled to consideration.

Next time, I will attempt to focus on perceptions of disability. Not everyone copes, or is capable of managing, the same disability.

Being incapable of work does not mean you are necessarily disabled, and vice versa.
I am disabled – but I am NOT incapable of work.

Everyone is an individual with different needs and abilities to cope.

I wish Politicians would stop thinking that every blind person has the same needs, or that every deaf person is the same, etc.
Paul :-)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm mobility impaired and, until being made redundant in October, worked for 15 years full time. I haven't taken myself off to register for unemployment benefit or whatever it's called because I don't want to experience first-hand the demonisation felt by others tarred with the 'scrounger brush'.

A Pegrum said...

Thank you so much for saying what I want to say but so much more clearly and persuasively. I might put a link to your blog if that's OK when I next contact my MP about ESA and the whole approach to work, benefits and sickness/disability. I agree with you that the individual is what matters - links to personalisation in Social care and health too - and that the underlying philosophy is what needs to be exposed/challenged. I am trying to challenge the belief that work is always good for you - after 11 years of working with a progressive neurological condition before being retired I know its not necessarily true!

Mary said...

That is so true! I have a chronic illness, and I am very fortunate to be in a company where I can keep working. But if I were made redundant, I shudder to think what would happen. I am not in wheelchair, I look OK on the outside, so I would probably be accounted a "cheat". I can continue working because I have unique skills and experience needed by my company, acquired while I was still healthy. So it is cheaper to provide accommodation than to replace me. Plus I have a high salary and use a lot of it to pay for various kinds of help. If I no longer could pay for things that I need to keep me going, and had to be looking for employment in that state, I can easily see this unravelling. Someone who gets ill while working a low-wage job, well... I can only say, I am very thankful for what I have in life.