Time to change the story on benefits
A recurring issue in the news throughout this government’s time in office, and to be fair, in the last one too , is what welfare benefits we pay and to whom. There’s a repeated theme reflected not only in government but to a large extent in the wider community that somehow we are paying far too much to far too many people. This argument has gathered pace to the extent that the word “benefits” has become associated with “scroungers” and people who aren’t quite pulling their weight.
I, as much as anyone else, think we all have a responsibility to contribute and pay our own way if we can. It’s part of being a responsible citizen. If we can, we should contribute, not only in terms of paying tax, but also in terms of being a positive member of our community. Society just wouldn’t work otherwise.
However I have a real problem with the increasing overlay of negative spin. Somehow over the last few years, we’ve got to a position where instead of being proud of they way we have chosen to operate as a society and the fact that we think it’s important to support vulnerable people , there is a perception that people in receipt of benefits are in some way lazy, not trying hard enough, or not contributing.
In actual fact, the statistics are vastly different from what most people think. A report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in late 2012 reveals only 2.57% of the benefits budget goes on out of work benefits, and 15.55% goes on disability and sickness benefits. For 2011-12 it is estimated that only 0.8% of total benefit expenditure a result of fraudulent claims.
The misconceptions and stigmatization, for the vast majority of people, this does them, and their contribution to society, a huge disservice.
In a time of recession it’s difficult for anyone to get a job, and even more so for those with a disability or caring responsibility. And people who are carers are of course contributing massively – although Carers Allowance, even for those able to claim it, is sadly inadequate and there are many more with significant caring roles who can’t claim it.
Many people don’t even claim the benefits they are actually entitled to – either because they don’t know they are entitled, because the process is too complicated, or they feel they shouldn’t. No-one should feel embarrassed to claim a benefit they are entitled to, in the same way as no-one should feel embarrassed for using an NHS service or sending their child to the local school. We all contribute so that everyone can have a decent quality of life . That’s what our post-war settlement was all about. William Beveridge, in 1942 suggested that those of us who can, should pay national insurance so that people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed could have a minimum standard of living “below which no one should be allowed to fall”.
This was forward thinking for its time. The principles, 70 years later , should remain exactly the same.
Carers Trust has joined a campaign called Who Benefits? because we need to change the debate and challenge this negative narrative that paints people as indolent for claiming what is rightly due to them, if their circumstances are such that they need it. I have always been proud to live in a society which believes you can make your contribution in many ways, and that we should never leave anyone who is doing the best they can without the means to a decent quality of life. I hope you the same. Over the next year, in the run up to the election, write to your MP and tell them that we ALL benefit from fit-for-purpose benefits system.