Tuesday, 26 October 2010
You'll have to forgive my recent blogging silence, but I've been keeping quiet for fear of being accused of not being ill by another nutbucket like Nadine Dorries...
The recent witch hunt against the many sick and disabled people in this country who receive benefits to help them survive culminated in the ever reliably bonkers MP for Mid Bedfordshire announcing that if the sick or disabled can Tweet several times a day or keep a blog then they must be capable of working and thus should cease to receive benefits. This taps right in to the common belief that the sick and disabled should be shamed and punished for their misfortune by staying home quietly, only watching TV on a clunker of a cathode ray box (which they don't make anymore. But note how a flatscreen TV has become short hand for being a scrounger), eschewing the internet and certainly never spending their money on cigarettes, alcohol, junk food or fizzy drinks. Bonus points if they wear sackcloth and ashes to identify themselves in a crowd.
While I have found it most beneficial to my health and my purse to give up smoking and knock my Diet Coke habit on the head in the last few months, I've only been able to quit things that I previously considered a 'treat' now that I am addressing my depression and anxiety. I no longer feel the urge to ingest nicotine and caffeine as a crutch, but I certainly haven't given up nice things completely. Sometimes I do outrageous and profligate things like buying cheese. And I'm damned if I'm going to live in total austerity because my cheese money comes from the government right now instead of an employer.
I've had jobs since I turned 16, even working when I only had physical health problems to contend with. I've paid tax and National Insurance since getting my number and I'm using the welfare state as it was intended: as a safety net in a time of hardship. I hope that some day in the (not so distant) future I will be able to return to some form of paid employment and of course resume paying tax and NI. I cannot express how grateful I am for the Welfare State. I'm not exaggerating when I say that without it, I would have been starving in a ditch somewhere. It has picked up me, put a roof over my head and provided me with the means to feed and clothe myself for the past few years while retaining some semblence of independence.
That means the world to me, but doesn't mean that I am utterly forgiving of the system. Even before the recent cuts by the coalition I think that the Welfare State is letting everyone down in many ways. The use of the private company Atos Healthcare to administer medical checks to the sick and disabled causes these vulnerable people unbearable stress (I found mine worse than the medical after being raped) and often means that desperately ill people are removed from disability benefits, placed on the lower rate Job Seekers' Allowance and bullied into finding work. The seemingly high rates of benefits that single mothers who started having kids young seem to be able to claim for large families despite never having held down paid employment breeds (if you'll pardon the pun) resentment and anger amongst 'hard working' families. Having the state provide the crutches of Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit indirectly gives big business the excuse not to have to pay anyone a living wage and so people are enmeshed in the benefits trap for generations.
I think that some things about the welfare system needed overhauling and that the Labour government missed a trick in tightening things up. It's shocking to me that a single parent on Income Support gets free prescriptions, but a Mulitple Sclerosis or cancer patient on Incapacity Benefit doesn't. It smacks my gob that families with a household income of £50,000 per annum can receive Child Tax Credit while a single and childless person who returns to work after being on Job Seekers Allowance on minimum wage doesn't in most cases qualify for Working Tax Credits or supplementary Housing Benefit to help ease the path and make work pay.
But I can tell you know that the coalition's plans to overhaul the Welfare State are not the way to go. They will only make things easier for the kind of people who don't think that the poor and vulnerable are worth any kind of compassion in our society. These people seems to either be Tory multi-millionaires who inherited their wealth or the narrow minded sort who insist that they get nothing for their tax payments (because where they live there are no streetlights, schools, hospitals or bin collections) and seem to know with the psychic power of the now sadly departed Paul the Octopus, that they will never lose their job, contract a serious illness or become disabled and thus think the Welfare State is a bad bad thing that must be stopped at all costs.
I understand that the country is financially up shit creek without the internal capabilities to manufacture and sell itself a paddle and that we need to reign it in a bit to sort it out. But the jobless, sick and disabled didn't cause the problem (unless you're one of those Daily Express readers who think people get ill just to spite them) so why are they paying so much to sort it? George Osborne wrote off a 6 billion quid tax bill that Vodafone owned, allowed bankers' bonuses this year to reach 7 billion and then cut the Welfare bill by another 7 billion. Economics really isn't my forte, but even I can see how these things overlap....
This kind of shenanigans suggests two things to me. Firstly Gorgeous George and his plummy pals have an ideological dislike of the poor and welfare claimants and are using the deficit as a handy smokescreen to implement stuff that wouldn't wash otherwise. And secondly, I'm not sure they've got any actually practical experience of running a budget. You know, like poor people and normal families do every day of the week rather than reading about it in a book. Most of us know that if your incomings and outgoings aren't matching up, you try and increase the incomings while reducing the outgoings to a manageable level. So you flog some stuff on Ebay or take a second job in a pub on the evenings; you don't stop paying your rent because it's currently your biggest outgoing. This is a pretty surefire way to actually end up less secure and spending more money in the long run (when you have to try and move house after losing the one you've got). I don't see why this tactic will work any better for the Government than the average man in the street.
In the meantime while we all watch and wait to see how the Comprehension Spending Review will effect the economy and the country, I will be looking for ways to maximise my incomings without resorting to breaking the law and making sure I have a safety net for when this safety net is pulled away from me. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the changes in Housing Benefit, particularly the raise in age for single occupancy to 35, won't cost me my flat and the stability that goes with it. Getting back to work in the foreseeable is a lot less likely to happen if I'm hostel-surfing again. I'll also be trying to help speak out for those who are also being unfairly penalised for being ill, disabled or jobless. But until the Tories crack down on the incendiary rhetoric of their own party members like Nadine Dorries and stop trying to portray the sick and vulnerable as primarily liars, scroungers and cheats, I think I and a lot of other people will be whistling into the wind...