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Being on benefits is not a life style choice

I am fed up with the ignorant and rude comments made about people on benefits.  I would like to say what it is really like to live on benefits.

  • When people describe it as ‘choosing to live off the government’, I would like to point out for most people it was not a choice.  I did not sit in school and think; when I grow up I want to live on benefits.  I had dreams and ambitions the same as most young people do.
  • Being on benefits does not automatically make me a lazy person.  I volunteer for three local good causes and try to be an active part of my local community.
  • I am not on befits because I am stupid.  I have various qualifications including a degree.
  • When people say ‘just get a job’ they have no idea how long and hard I tried to get a job.  I spent years applying for work and went to lots of interviews.  I tried really hard at every interview to get the job. 
  • I did not ‘turn down perfectly OK work as beneath me’.  I had an interview at McDonalds, they were the ones to turn me down and I would have willingly taken the job.   
  • Some people on benefits are simply too ill or disabled to work.  They are not lazy; they just know their limitations and know that they would actually be unable to fulfill most job roles to any satisfactory level. 
  • Not everyone on benefits is an addict on illegal drugs or an alcoholic.  I have never taken illegal substances and am not a heavy drinker.  Hardly anyone I know on benefits is an addict.
  • Getting benefits is not as easy as some people think it is.  Claim forms are tricky to even fill in.  Firstly you need internet access these days to get most kinds of benefits which for some people is not always easy.  Secondly the forms are often long and confusing.  If you cannot read or write well they are difficult.  Yes you can get help to fill in a claim from charities, but you often have to be able to get to them and have limited time with them.  You often need proof of certain things which can be hard to get sometimes.  Then they keep changing the rules on who can claim what and how, making it even more confusing.
  • Some people make out immigrants often come here just to live of benefits and can claim them almost as soon as they enter the country.  This is simply not the case as the Full Fact charity explain ‘Most non-EU nationals who are subject to immigration control are not allowed access to “public funds” (such as jobseekers’ allowance or tax credits), although they can use public services like the NHS and education.’  The rules on what immigrants can claim in benefits are complicated, and not as simple as turning up and filling in a form as this article explains https://fullfact.org/immigration/migration-and-welfare-benefits/  
  • Then there are sickness benefits.  On Employment and Support Allowance or Personal Independents Payments you have to have a medical assessment, which is not always easy, without someone with me I would have struggled to find the place it was held.  An awful lot of people fail these medicals, even those who are obviously very sick.  I failed my medical and had to appeal, which meant going to court.  Yes I had to go to an actual court, with a judge and a full on hearing.  This process can be scary, intimidating and somewhat embarrassing.  I had to listen to my support worker list the ways I failed at being an adult, which was not easy to hear, although I know she did it for the right reasons.  Not everyone even has support when they go through this process which must be really scary and I am not sure if I would another time as I no longer have a support worker.
  • I have had people say I should be working and not on sickness benefits because someone else they know who has the same condition as me is working.  Every disability and illness will affect the person with it differently to the next person.  Maybe if I only had that one condition I would be working, but like a lot of people I have a few different things which combine to make it harder.  Some might have had a lucky break finding an employer willing to hire someone disabled or sick, but not every employer is willing to deal with someone who may need more support and time off than the average employee. 
  • People who threaten those on sickness benefits with reporting them to the DWP as they seem perfectly fit and able to work need to mind their own business.  That person may not leave the house on a bad day, so you only see them on a good day when they are able to do more.  They may also only be going out as they simply have to and once they get home again may end up in bed for the next few hours recovering.  My mental health fluctuates and I do not always know if I am going to be able to get out the next day, so holding down a job full time would be very hard.  When people do not fit the stereotype idea of disabled it can result in being judged as a benefit cheat by others which is rarely the case.  
  • Being on benefits does not mean I should never have a night out or go and enjoy myself in some way.  Sick and disabled people can leave the house for more than just hospital appointments.  If I did not get out and socialise I would end up more ill physically and mentally, and then cost society more as a bigger drain on the NHS.  
  • The assumption can be that benefits should only pay for the bare essentials such as food and utility bills, and if I have anything more I must be getting far too much money.  Some people do only get benefits that cover the bare essentials, and sometimes not even that, hence the rise in food banks.  However I live alone and do not have any children so my day to day living costs can be kept quite minimal.  I am careful with money and so can afford to have some social outings and nights out now and then and can afford to have some nice things in my flat.  Besides, a lot of my nicer things are second hand from charity shops or things family no longer wanted, or gifts for birthdays or Christmas.  
  • Some people who judge others for being on benefits may be on benefits themselves but not realise it.  Things like Working Tax Credits, Cold Weather payments and even state pensions are technically a benefit.
  • The stigma of being on benefits is enough to put some people off claiming what they could and only doing so when totally desperate, by which point it might be they left it so long they have made their health worse or ended up in debt.  The nasty comments and societies attitude are putting some people at risk.

The demonising of those on benefits needs to stop.  I am sure a few do cheat the benefits system, but it is a teeny, tiny minority and most are just trying to survive.  Until you have lived on benefits for a while, try not to judge what you do not really know.  Bear in mind the phrase there but for the grace of God go you or I.  Most people are one accident or illness or job redundancy away from needing to claim them. 

Not Everyone On Benefits Is Trying to Cheat the System

‘Are you fed up with your hard-earned wages being given as ‘benefits’ to individuals in society who don’t deserve them?’
‘Zero tolerance against the work shy, freeloaders and benefit cheats drinking cheap ale, lapping up the sun rays well we slog it out in the offices and factories…..’ ‘Keeping Jeremy Kyle on the tele’.
The inaccuracy I read online about people on benefits can sometimes be amusing, but also sometimes makes me quite angry. I am on Job Seekers Allowance and have been for the best part of three years, but I do not drink ale, have not had a holiday abroad for over four years and have never appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show. These particular quotes come from groups on Facebook against people on benefits, but I have read similar comments on internet forums, on comments to newspaper articles and even heard people say things like this in person. I think in the last few years since the recession the comments about people on benefits have got nastier and more frequent. I think this has been fuelled by both politicians and the media.
The government needed something to cut in the budget, they tried cutting public spending on things like the NHS and education, but this was unpopular with almost all voters from every walk of life. What they needed was something they could cut spending on that did not affect their main core of voters, so they turned their attention to benefits and in particular those for the disabled and jobless. Statistically this makes little sense as the biggest benefit expense is in fact pensions, but no way were they going to touch pensions when older people are one of the main groups of people to vote. The disabled and the jobless are a lot less likely to vote, so the government have less issues with cutting their money. Now the government just had to get the rest of the general public to agree that cutting these benefits was a good thing. So they turned to their friends in the media, and boy did the right-wing press do them proud.
Tabloid newspapers love a benefit cheat story. They love to point out all the people who are able to get money whilst still working or living abroad. If you type benefit cheats into the news section of an internet search engine you would think that an awful lot of people are defrauding the system. However according to Citizens Advice Scotland benefit fraud represents only 2% of the estimated total annual fraud in the UK. In fact the amount of money paid to fraudsters is less than the amount overpaid or underpaid in error by the government. All this negative reporting of benefits seems to working.
To be on benefits long-term is seen as shameful to some people. These people have never had to be on benefits or at least not for more than a few weeks. I am on long-term job seekers, the way some people talk you would think I was a career criminal. I am trying very hard to get a job and do everything the job centre ask of me, even the stuff that makes no sense whatsoever. This is the only income I get and not that large an amount of money either. Without this money I would struggle to have any kind of life. I don’t want a fancy life, just enough of one so I do not go stark raving mad with boredom and loneliness. If more of the public were aware of what being on job seekers is like long-term, they might be less negative towards us. This coming week for example is not even a sign on week and I still have to go to the job centre twice for meetings.
I also used to be on Disability Living Allowance, which seems to get very negative reporting. A lot of people claim they know a neighbour is cheating the system, but I bet nine times out of ten that neighbour is fully entitled to that money. Not every disabled person is fully wheelchair bound and some have conditions that fluctuate giving them good and bad days. People see you on a good day and assume you are faking being disabled or ill. Getting money when being disabled was always fairly tricky, now Personal Independence Payments, replacing DLA are making it even harder. If someone gets PIPs you can rest assured they have probably been thoroughly checked out. No system any government can come up with will be totally fool-proof, someone will always find a way to cheat it for benefits, but the alternative of paying no benefits at all would be way more costly long-term.
Now I think one way to stop benefits being seen as so negative is for more people on them to vote. If the jobless and disabled voted more at elections the government might be less keen to cut their benefits and make them seem so negative. I call on all the disabled and jobless out there who can vote, to do so at the next election and show people that we are not all lazy benefit cheats and that we can and will stand up for ourselves.