I’m upset, I’m angry, and I’m pretty certain I have nothing to say that you can’t also find in a bunch of other left-wing blogs, forums, twitter and facebook feeds. Moreover, we’re mere months into a Tory-dominated government so I know there’s plenty more to come. Still, this is my place to vent, so vent I shall.
George Osborne is to cut a further £4bn from the benefits bill for the jobless, in a hard-talking clampdown on those whose “lifestyle choice” is to “just sit on out-of-work benefits”.
Honestly, the logic here is utterly astounding. The Conservatives have this brilliant plan:
1) Cut lots of jobs.
2) Punish jobless people and portray them as lazy bums.
Said plan assumes that either there are plenty of jobs still out there or that it’s a doddle to survive on benefits, and cutting them will just deprive the jobless of the odd bit of mindless entertainment that they don’t need anyway.
Get real, George.
The reason why benefits apparently need cutting is that we’re in a recession. One of the significant side-effects of said recession is increased unemployment, which happens to arise from a decrease in the number of jobs as businesses cut back…and that’s before the government pretty much destroys the public sector. I thought all of this was pretty obvious. Hence, less jobs to go around, and more people on benefits. What the hell else are people meant to do, starve? Rely on charity? Maybe beg on the streets. I’m pretty sure the government wouldn’t be too keen on that either.
In the last year or so alone, the job pages (I say “pages”: these days it’s usually less than a page) in my local paper have shrunk by over two thirds. Meanwhile, a significant number of the adverts are scams (write on envelopes from your own home!) or hardly offer enough to live on (earn some extra money by delivering papers!) I live in an area which apparently still has a relatively high number of jobs, at least compared to other parts of the country; that fact disturbs me a great deal.
I know people who have several part-time jobs in order to afford to live. I know people who have never had a job, and now probably never will…it’s far from impossible to pick something up on the minimum wage, but experience is everything right now. If someone drops behind due to personal circumstance or whatever, they’re likely to be screwed. I know people with degrees – with first-class degrees – who consider themselves lucky to get a minimum wage job. I know people with first-class degrees who can’t even manage that – they’re either “overqualified” (because they have a good degree) or “underqualified” (because no-one will give them a job). It’s benefits or nothing.
Anyone who thinks the benefits system is a doddle probably hasn’t been on benefits. Either that, or they’re bloody lucky. The bureaucracy is arcane and complex: even if you’ve got your head around the system, there’s no guarantee that the Job Centre (or any other benefits agency) won’t screw up and leave you without any money for a few days. Or weeks. Or months. I missed out on several months of post-operative incapacity benefit because I was too freakin’ incapacitated to claim it for for the first few weeks, and then spent the following few weeks making the mistake of trying to sort out a back-claim, rather than instead sorting out a claim from that point. I was lucky: I had money to fall back on.
Then, of course, if you need jobseekers or incapacity or whatever they’ve replaced that with now, you probably also need somewhere to live. Hence you probably need to apply for housing benefit, which you need to apply for separately. Same goes for Council Tax benefit. Sometimes it’s possible to spend weeks chasing all of this up whilst the debt mounts if they manage to miss some of your details or forget a payment.
As for Jobseeker’s allowance itself: fifty quid is probably enough to get by on, if you’re damn good at budgeting. Oh, and if your housing benefit has come through, and it covers the rent for somewhere that isn’t full of damp and falling apart. You’d also better hope you don’t need particular medication as well. That’s more forms to fill in…if you’re able to get it for free at all. It’s going to be worse for people who need private treatment (trans people in places like Oxfordshire or Wales, for example), or people with mental health issues such as anxiety problems. The system is utterly blind to the individual.
Sure, some people might be able to budget, or save up to get Sky or something. That certainly doesn’t go for everyone, however. Moreover, does the government think we all have to be mindless automata who dedicate all of our time to jobhunting until we manage to find something? People need time to recharge their batteries, have a rest…and that’s particularly the case if you’re overjoyed to get a rejection letter/call/email, on the grounds that the organisation you applied for a job with actually recognised your existence.
Moreover, if you’re on Jobseeker’s, many Job Centres have this brilliant idea that voluntary work is Bad. Their logic is that you could be applying for work when you’re dossing around helping people for free. This ignores the fact that it’s perfectly possible to balance the two activities. It further fails to take into account that volunteering is a great way to bolster your CV in-between jobs whilst actually giving something to the community. If the Conservatives wanted to take this Big Society nonsense seriously, they’d be talking about this problem.
Finally, there’s the issue of it feels to be on benefits. The attitude of the government and the media implies that you’re meant to feel shame for being such an utter failure and a drain on society. Yeah, right. Last time I checked, it was bankers, not poor people, who were responsible for the recession in the first place.
Once again, I’m lucky. I’m at university right now, and hope to continue my education for some time yet. I can afford this. I’m not out of touch with reality though, as George Osbourne and others within the government seem to be. Being on benefits is not a “lifestyle choice” – for many, it’s a soul-destroying ordeal.