Monday, 25 June 2012

Benefits

We seem caught in an ideological war of hatred that is not all that different from that of the waves of racism that were pervasive in British society decades ago. While the "haven't-quite-got's" may have lashed out at those who were a different skin colour to themselves in the past, now it has somehow become simply "Benefit scroungers".

Scroungers. It's not even cheats any more, the narrative has moved on from the idea that the bad people in society are the ones conning us in to a meagre allowance from the state, now it's just about those that no doubt need the benefits as it stands, but are "undeserving".

On the whole the right wing press, rallying around David Cameron most recently with his talk of a blanket ban on under 25s getting housing benefit, will talk about "these people" like a drain on society, hurting us all through the tax we have to pay, the children they bring up to be wasters too. En masse these people group together as an indistinguishable mass of lazy, probably fat, certainly over-burdened with children, 50" HD screen buying wasters.

Yet, much like the "I'm not racist, I know [X] and he's a sound guy...it's just the rest of 'em" excuse making for prejudice, we all know people that are having real and true struggles with benefits and finding work.

We know that guy or woman who wants to work, who wants to move out of their parents house, who is applying for everything going. We know that they are being screwed about by the system, being made to jump through hoops, living in fear that if it goes on too long they'll be made to jump through even bigger hoops, making the choice between losing their benefits and still having time to look for work, or being forced to work for free stacking shelves for a major corporation.

We all know someone like this, yet for some they are the exception...everyone else of course is just resigning themselves to picking up the benefit check. Somehow these people don't have to jump through the same hoops, they don't have to show willingness to work, and they have jobs that they could take but are just too workshy to do so.

Unlike our dear friend who we know who has it completely the other way around.

But if we all know people like this...doesn't it show that actually there are thousands upon thousands of people on benefits only just staying afloat while they do everything they can to re-enter a level of normality in society? Isn't this exactly why the welfare system exists, to keep these people afloat?

The Conservatives don't see these benefits, they see only numbers on a machine, further debt that is all too easy to take away, justified by public support that is too blinkered to realise it is once again going through a population wide cultural campaign of discrimination. The stick is the approach, but like the horse getting whipped with it you have to question what the point is.

Forcing people in to voluntary work isn't finding them work, the vast majority don't have jobs waiting for them at the end of their "placement", some even being forced out of voluntary jobs that they're actually being productive in, vindictively, to instead service large corporations on threat of losing benefits.

Forcing people to simply not have housing benefits won't make living costs cheaper, whereas maybe tackling the rental market that has spiraled so out of control that in some areas of the UK it's as impossible to rent as it is to afford a mortgage would, as would dealing with wage disparity that sees executive pay rocket during a recession, while the real wages of low paid workers tumble ever downward, putting pressure on the welfare system as people NEED to find some way to plug the gap in their income vs outgoings equation.

While there may be a minority of people that choose, subconsciously or otherwise, to remain in the shadow of benefits, I believe the majority do not, as it is those who are trying to claw their way out of the shadow that we all see in the faces of our friends and our family, and rarely the other kind. The problem is not that they are on benefits, but that the trench they're in is too deep to get back out of without a ladder.

Cameron and his Conservatives want to put a hole in the trench, so that people fall straight through and in to hell, and hope that this is incentive enough for them to climb a bit harder, if that were even possible. What we should be doing is putting down ladders. Without more jobs being created, without better wages, without lower rents...people will always find themselves sliding back down in to this sorrowful pit where their life is not in their own hands.

We seem to be at a crossroads, one that unfortunately looks like it's becoming a one way street every day we carry on. It's time to work out if we're ethically and morally happy with abandoning people completely to homelessness, absolute poverty, starvation, in an effort to punish the few who may abuse a system or choose to remain in it at least...or we can recognise that with any socially liberal system you have a certain level of "gaming" of the system that is cost-prohibitive to enforce against, but this is a price you pay to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to keep up with the rest of us.