Saturday, 12 January 2013

Strivers v Skivers?

I watched a news article on welfare reform a few days ago and was angered by the suggestion that Britain is a nation of ‘strivers v skivers’, where people who work have difficult lives and people on benefits don’t work and are pampered. Do people genuinely think the divide is that simple? Of course, it could be argued that the UK Government are feeding this ideology with their drastic welfare cuts. Their logic is that being in work needs to be more beneficial than being on benefits. This would be a fair assumption, if there were enough jobs to go around. However, there is a definite shortage of jobs in the UK, not to mention the fact that a lot of people on benefits actually already have jobs. Through no fault of their own, some are on a low income which can’t support them and their families, which is why they also need to rely on benefits to feed and clothe themselves and their children. 

I’m aware that a very small minority of benefit claimants play the system in order to get the maximum benefit from it. However, this truly is a very small minority. Is it really fair to tar everyone with the same brush as a result of a few irresponsible individuals?  Is it fair to stigmatise everyone on benefits just because you happen to know one person who is playing the system? The majority of claimants would actually prefer not to be on benefits and work extra hard to try to overcome this stigma, which is much easier said than done when it’s so ingrained in society with such a prevalent ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture.

I may not be on benefits myself, but I claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance for a short period after I finished university while I was searching for a job. Did that make me a scrounger? I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people in the UK have been in receipt of some kind of welfare benefit at some point during their lives, whether it was EMA, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Disability Living Allowance, Child Benefit... the list goes on. So are all these people scroungers, or just people who needed some extra help at a particular point during their lives? 

Although some welfare changes have already been implemented, the biggest hit so far will come in April when the under occupancy charges come into force. This charge is grossly unfair and will affect the most vulnerable families. People might have to move from their homes, possibly to a different area altogether, if they can’t afford to take the Housing Benefit cut. All this because they’ve got more bedrooms than the UK Government thinks they need. Again, a lot of people affected by this rule are already in work and are working the maximum number of hours allocated to them. 40,000 households will be affected, and this is just in Wales alone. Worryingly, the UK Government have no idea what kind of drastic effect this will have on communities as they won't be experiencing the effects first-hand.

So... strivers v skivers? It’s really not that simple.  

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