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Pride And Benefits

There was a programme called ‘On Benefits and Proud’ on, it should come as no surprise, Channel 5 this past Monday. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t have the stomach. Judging by the twitter feed, it was probably a wise decision. That of course will not stop me from commenting – much like facts and evidence do not stop the right wing trolls from braying.

The programme apparently focussed on a mother of 11 children, which, in the style of Chris Huhne, exceeds the legal limit for scrounger progeny. Unemployed people aren’t allowed to have children and the authorities should have the ability to travel backwards through time and, using knowledge of the future, enforce some kind of Philip K Dick dystopian prevention. Easy target number one. The other two case studies were a pair of single mothers who have the audacity to live in a high rent area, and a long term unemployed pair of Liverpudlians; those well known itinerants.

This is ridiculous; it seems, at the risk of sexism, very easy to pick on female subjects. Single mothers of course are easy targets indeed: they can’t reverse their situation and there is very little they can do to change it – not that they necessarily should. It’s fair to say that most love their children and look out for them as best they can. Why would you assume otherwise – because they are scroungers of course! Look she has 11 kids! Clearly irresponsible!

This article presents a fun deconstruction of what was likely a very predictable affair.

Central to the whole deal is of course the now-ingrained notion of ‘something for nothing’; that the unemployed receive life’s rewards without having to earn them. This message is intended to set those that do work against these people. Unfortunately those who buy into this message do not understand how they themselves have to tolerate increasingly harsh terms and conditions. Discussion of today’s strike by teachers puts this into focus: people bemoaning the ‘scrounging’ teachers for not being as compliant as they. This is the race to the bottom.

Ironically the best thing a ‘scrounger’ can do with their benefits bonanza (which is nothing but) would be to spend it. Yet this is seen as evidence of the overly generous amounts claimants receive. As if having enough to spend is having too much. But the money goes back into the system, which is the best outcome. The poor spend more of their money in this way than the rich, as well as paying a greater percentage of their income in taxes. Notice also the Tories speak about welfare – benefits – being out of control. This is their way of admitting they don’t dare just cut the amount received (yet): instead they say they have to reign in spending. It’s out of control, like a wild animal, and we have to tame it, unlike the opposition whose policies bred this feral beast. Nonsense of course.

Tragically the libdems count as evidence of their positive influence over their Tory overlords that they have lifted people out of tax. So instead of fighting for better and higher wages – they reduce the amount the government has to spend: nobody wins!

There’s nothing generous about benefits, and they are given out begrudgingly. Despite that they can be stopped at a moment’s notice on a whim. This is the reverse of most people’s working experience. But that’s the kind of work experience they don’t want people to have.

As people on benefits don’t have much of an income – particularly outside of cities where transport is relatively plentiful and human contact more accessible – they tend to spend more time ‘sitting on their arse’. I’m not sure how this is a different kind of ‘sitting’ than is performed by people working in offices, such as the staff of Saving Britain Money (or any of the other parasite call centres that ring every fucking day). It’s an easy way to stigmatise people, especially if they are also watching TV while ‘sitting on their arse’, or, shudder, playing a video game. It’s easy to show a snapshot of someone in this way and infer that is how they spend all their time. They clearly should be ‘doing something useful’ which is where workfare comes in. Get them off their backsides, something for something, get them contributing! However there is no support for the unemployed – that’s the plain cold hard reality. There is no support; the Work Programme is a dismal failure and I personally have had no contact from them in May (which will no doubt be my fault even though they have nothing to offer, by their own admission). If there was support and it was meaningful and properly helpful (not just stigmatisation and bullying) then people would struggle to find the time to attend a thirty hour a week unpaid work placement. Lucky then!

We do not have enough paid work for people to do. Unpaid work breaks the social contract and, worse, devalues the only thing some people have to sell, which is their labour and their time. They are forced into these situations by this government, and that is why it must be called slavery. This has negative consequences for everyone, including those in work whose own positions are jeopardised. There may be a space for a discussion on how unemployed people can spend their time and how communities – including employed as well as unemployed members – can contribute to the betterment of their corner of the country. But that does not negate the need for people, in this system, to receive an income. If you deny them that you deny them the means to not just contribute or participate, but to survive.

That brings us to the sanction regime. With the passing of Liam Byrne from the shadow DWP seat I had hoped for something more progressive. This it seems was not to be. Rachel Reeves, his replacement, appears intent on fighting IDS for the same votes and over the same proposition: who can be the toughest on scroungers. Aside from this being a hopeless position for any opposition politician (you might as well just join the bloody Tories), it tells me two things:

Firstly that Labour doesn’t care about me, my vote, my opinions, or my values. I do not matter to them or their plans for the country.

Secondly that Reeves believes sanctioning people is a productive course of action. why should people be punished for being poor or not seeking work in the required way – or indeed anything, as the DWP seems hellishly trigger happy these days (the PCS recently caught them out planning a week long sanction celebration).

How does Labour think this builds a society: pushing people beyond and stranding them there isn’t the action of a socially minded party? It is the action of a psychopath, and we already have one of those. Unfortunately he is egged on by the braying masses that think everyone on benefit should feel anything but pride. Channel 5 is the stocks; bring your own rotten fruit.


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