Today was the 70th Anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge Report, the report that led to the creation of Britain’s welfare state. Seventy years later we are still having a debate about whether or not it should exist. The Daily Mail will insist that the nation’s taxes are funding a whole tribe of Frank Gallagher’s, claiming benefits because they are too idle to get a job. From this I’m pretty certain that no-one at the Daily Mail has ever queued up to sign on. I have.
Last year I temporarily left my university course because of circumstances I couldn’t control and despite applying for countless jobs ended up claiming benefit for 8 months. This is what I learned about the welfare state.
First I claimed housing benefit to pay my rent, but the most I could claim was £60 a month less than my actual rent and I couldn’t get out of my contract so out of £212 Job seekers allowance I was left with £152 to live on. Have you ever tried to live on £152 a month? Its not quite the wall to wall sunshine people would have you believe. I dreaded the bills coming each quarter because I knew there no prospect of me paying my share without scraping around for money.
You can’t go out because the cinema and the pub are too expensive, it’s too far to walk and you have nothing to wear. You don’t see anyone and you get lonely and you feel really depressed so then you can’t be bothered to go out anyway. If anything breaks you can’t fix it or buy a new one, you just manage. Until everything is cobbled together – hanging by a thread.
Then there is the actual signing on process. It is soul destroying, admitting that you still can’t afford to feed yourself. In the queue at 10am with the old men drinking cans of special brew, I can’t say I blame them if that’s all they have to look forward to each week. There’s something about that place that makes you want to pull your hood up and hide from the world. No-one would choose that.
I hated it so much I took a temporary job away from home for a very small amount of net income. It didn’t pay off. As soon as I started work I became liable for council tax and my housing benefit stopped. I tried to work and it cost me money. That is why it’s hard to get off benefits – there’s just no in between and you just get stuck, wanting to be useful but not able to.
I can’t understand how anyone would choose that lifestyle for themselves. No-one does. It is thrust on them because of lack of education or losing their jobs, in short its misfortune not one big holiday. I was lucky, I had no children to feed with the small amount of money I had. Now, just as the pot of money has to stretch further as more lose their jobs and at the time when more people need help the government is trying to cut the welfare budget. Its not just Jobseekers then, people with disabilities are thrown in at the deep end, competing for what few jobs there are.
Being on benefits has very little to recommend it, but imagine if it wasn’t there. I didn’t eat well last year but I never had to go hungry, when I was ill the NHS paid for my treatment. When my tooth cracked it got fixed for free and it didn’t hurt to chew any more. Imagine people still got taken to the workhouse to die in squalor, working their fingers to the bone. I am proud to live in a society that feels a responsibility to those less fortunate. The welfare state isn’t the problem, it’s the fact that it can be so hard to become self supporting because in the box ticking world of the DWP you can either work or you can’t, you have work or you don’t. For children growing up in family’s struggling there should be a real incentive to get a good education and have a better lifestyle, but most of the time there isn’t and that is where the problem lies.
I’m not on benefits any more and I sincerely hope I never have to be again, but having claimed it I will gladly pay my taxes to support anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in the same position.