Existing on benefits

Everyone knows someone that they think is a benefit cheat, either because they work while claiming benefits or they do things that they shouldn’t be able to do while receiving sickness benefits, or because they have expensive possessions or a new car.

The thing is, nearly everyone is simply wrong. Some benefits, for example DLA, are paid whether a person is working or not; and many people carry on working as long as possible despite their health problems, so working and claiming sickness benefits is often no indication of fraud. Many people have variable illnesses and can carry out a necessary task, but at massive cost to their health, so what you see them doing is no indicator of “worthiness” for sickness benefits. Many people have TVs and gaming consoles given to them by family, or had such things before going on benefits, or are running up large personal debts to keep up, so what you see in their home is no indication of fraud. Many people receiving DLA get a new car every three years through the Motability scheme, so having a new car is no indication of fraud.

Disability Living Allowance is paid whether the recipient is working or not. DLA is given specifically to make up for the extra expenses caused by living with a disability. My own father receives DLA which pays for him to have a car on the motability scheme. DLA also pays for suitable seating, extra heating bills, easy-to-access food, and other extra costs. My father is still working, and since he only has low paid temporary work, if he has his DLA taken away from him, he would lose his car and be unable to get to work.

As regular readers will know, I have a variable illness. There are days when I can walk to the shops. There are days when I can’t get out of bed or as far as the bathroom. There are times when I go out without using a walking stick but I have to use one to get home. (Staggering all the way.) There are times when I am well enough to ride a motorbike. There are occasions when I have ridden that motorbike for four hours, but then an observer has no idea what I go through after doing that. If someone sees me walk to the shops without a stick, they can’t make any assumptions about what I can do the next day, or even an hour later.

A major flaw in public thinking, and in the Work Capability Assessment, is the idea that if a person can do something once, they can do it again. I can choose to do a task at the expense of a day, a week, or however long in bed. I couldn’t do that task every day. I certainly couldn’t do it all day every day. I can sign my name, but I can’t write a page of text. I can commute to work, once, but couldn’t get home again. I could set up a whole website in a couple of hours in the middle of the night, but I couldn’t do it all day every day for a living, or tell you when I could next do it. Other people with health problems might be able to mow their lawn, put up a shelf or paint a wall, but at a similar cost to their health along with the associated recovery time. Living on benefits, as many of these people do, they are poor. They can’t afford to pay someone to do these jobs necessary in everyday life, and so they do them themselves, and pay the health costs later. Yet neighbours and passers-by see them doing these tasks, and instead of asking “can I help?” they phone the DWP and report them as a benefit fraudster.

580,000 people use the Motability Scheme to get a car, wheelchair or scooter. Getting an appropriate vehicle to allow freedom of movement is the whole point of the mobility component of DLA. If they have chosen a car, they receive a new one every three years simply because the Motability scheme, (which is not government run), makes the finances work by giving new cars to the disabled in return for a chunk of their DLA, and then selling the car after three years to recoup the rest of the cost. Since Motability is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles too, this works out cheaper than giving people second-hand cars, and also doesn’t leave disabled people stranded when their used car breaks down. And yet many people denounce this as fraud. Why should they have a new car? Well they have one because that costs them less than buying their own used car. It isn’t benefit fraud just because you are jealous of their car.

Then we have the household with electronic entertainment devices. Big screen TVs, games consoles, expensive Sky or Virgin TV subscriptions, smart phones. First off, an outsider won’t know where or when these items were obtained. They might well have been purchased before the owner started to claim benefits. The might also have been purchased later using credit, which is then repaid out of the benefits, which of course means less money for other living costs. That isn’t fraud; it might be unwise spending, and I don’t necessarily agree with that either. In some situations these items are purchased using cash from a loan shark, or from a catalogue or pawn shop with weekly collections of the repayment.

You also can’t necessarily argue that these items are unnecessary. There is a big argument to be made that television is part of our social glue, and that depriving someone of their TV, especially if they don’t go out to work, is just cutting them off from sources of news and entertainment and social connection to the rest of society. I say it is a gross injustice to remove a TV from someone that may not be able to get out of the house easily and may have no other source of entertainment. Equally, a games console is a way of passing the time, and for children might well be important for their social acceptance.

Basically, if someone spends their entire benefit payment on a games console instead of food, that’s not fraud, that’s bad planning. Benefits do not usually come with a specification of what the money can be spent on; in the rare cases that they do, the recipient is given milk tokens, or Tesco vouchers with “Not to be spent on alcohol” stamped on them to make sure that the cashier knows your embarrassing situation.

I know that there are benefit cheats out there. I know that there are people working while claiming Job Seekers Allowance, some of the time managing to live extravagant lifestyles, have mansions, lots of cars, and so on. The thing is, you have probably read about every single one of them in the Daily Mail. They are rare. Those people go to prison, and rightly so. But most of the people that YOU might think are cheats, probably aren’t. You don’t know their details, you don’t know anything about their health, their abilities, their financial situation, or where they got anything from.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

23 thoughts on “Existing on benefits”

  1. Absolutely, I agree with you. My dad gave TV to my children as a gift. I cannot afford to buy them xmas presents and I am lucky to have my family to buy them presents. I truly appreciate their kindness. 

  2. The other thing that abled people seam to have no knowlege of is what a disabled person actually misses out on in life with the numerous deprivation of chooses. The ability to purchase ones home etc etc.Material Items is only one part of living needs.  The greatest thing of all that esspecially when its a fluctuating illness is the compassion from ones neighbour that alone brings with it an uplifting effect, but with being down trodden upon by people’s attitude doesn’t do anyone any good not for the disabled nor the abled alike.  Even if I was found fit for work with my disability I would find it difficult to actually accept any type of employment due to my own disability as I would be in constant panic mode with fear that I’m being hated by work coleuges due to depriving there own potential abled bodied neighbours of that position. How ironic is that.  Yes! I’ve experienced that situation even by the so called support services set up to supposidly help disabled people.

  3. people who complain about how luxuriously benefit claimants live should trade places with one for a  few months and see what its like.

    Fact is, benefits have to be enough to live on or they do not serve their purpose. (What ALSO has to be enough to live on is the minimum wage. and its not. It should be higher than the absolute base cost of living, or you have a horrible benefits trap where people are much better off not working until they find the job thats perfect for them, because of the pain and sometimes extremely detrimental benefits joggling that goes on – through no fault of their own)

    But yes, some people would seem to want all benefits claimants of all types to have to live in absolute poverty because of their recieving government aid.  However, sinking deeper into poverty makes it even harder to get out. Other people would have it that peoples financial choices are severely limited while recieving benefits. I would say that having tight control over a persons or families financial choices removes a huge degree of personal agency and is horribly degrading. It becomes a punishment for finding yourself on benefits. some people, a LOT of people, find being on benefits punishment enough.  Some people have no choice – re: disabilities. Limiting how benefits can be spent effectively makes the recipient no longer independent. That to me, completely defeats the purpose of benefits – to aid people while they are in unfortunate circumstances.

    Removing personal agency is what we do to criminals. are all people who need government help on the same level as criminals now?

  4. Very well said and so true, I have a new car ( motorbility) I also have a TV and a smart phone but I would give them all up for one day without pain! And why should I have to justify having these things to anyone? Aren’t I deserving because I am disabled? Don’t I count anymore?

  5. I have Progressive MS & my Motability car is not ‘free’.  Not only does it come out of the Mobility Component of my DLA, the ‘cost’ is my health.  Would someone more able-bodied swap their ability to walk, to feel their own hands, the ability to complete a full sentence without forgetting words or getting through a day without the heavy blanket of fatigue falling over them FOR A CAR?  No, I thought not.  There is a price for everything and, trust me, I’ve paid dearly.

  6. as usual a great post, thank you.
    i always worry that my neighbours think there is nothing wrong ‘so what am i doing not working’~that old invisible illness thing again, and i refuse to go around with a mopey face to reflect me constant pain (variable but it varies in intensity never goes away).

    i do not have a mobility car, my OH drives me the places i need to go in our camper and i have a step to get in and out~we choose to use our money for the fuel to actually get around, extra heating and food that is easy for me. over the past year it has become harder for me to cook a proper meal and i insist at times on cooking to maintain an aspect of independance and dignity. so yes i buy ready prepared veg!
    oh boy do i remember once, long ago, saying how lazy it is to buy it ready peeled and chopped-how shameful i never considered that person could be ill and not manage.

    yes i have a mobile phone, its not a luxury, its a way of being in touch with friends i only see a few times a year, yes i have sky because of the amount of time i can sit doing little else.

    my clothes when i need them are e-bay, i do not buy shoes every season, i live in my birkenstocks summer and winter because they are more comfortable for my painful feet.

    why do people think that being on benefits means we have money? do they not stop to consider we too have bills to pay? who else is going to pay the gas, electric, water, telephone, tv licence? things that are constantly going up in price?

    the only way we all survive is to budget like crazy and hope nothing happens that need an instant lump of cash…

  7. Maybe be so but I suffer quite
    a severe long term mental health problem but manage to work part time but I am worse off
    because of it. I have a friend who has similar issues to me who managed to get
    middle rate DLA, income support plus disability component, his rent paid,
    council tax paid, free dental and prescriptions, plus he doesn’t have the cost
    of getting to work everyday. He doesn’t smoke or drink but manages to get a brand
    new car every five years and go on holiday a few times per year. He gets an equivalent
    wage of around £190 net. Actual money into his bank account from DLA and income
    support is around £140 per week. After tax and NI I take home £180 net per week
    and have to pay all my council tax, rent and travel costs which leave me with £62
    per week which I have to pay food and energy costs out of. So that’s £150 on
    benefits vs. £62 if you’re working, articles like this take the mick if you ask

    1. as i have said in my earlier comment, minimum wage is far too low. I think benefits are just enough to live on, but a real concern of mine is that minimum wage work is not as much as benefits, or is not worth doing in place of recieving benefits because switching back and forth from benefits to work creates huge HUGE admin issues which can end up with a person not having money awarded to them then clawed back when they need it the most.

      I’m sorry you have to survive on so little, and i wish that our system would help people in positions such as yours much more. YOU should be recieving the benefits you are entitled to because your wage is too low. You are being penalised by the system for doing exactly what the system wants you to do – and more and more people are going to be forced into this situation as the government removes each support your friend currently has.

      Articles like this arent taking the mick. we’re fighting for people in your situation too. you shouldnt be ‘punished’ for trying to support yourself.

    2. If your friend truly has similar issues to your own, then it would seem that you should also be eligible for middle-rate DLA. Claim it. Not only because it’ll stick an extra £45 in your pocket immediately, but also because it gateways you to the disabled element of working tax credit (for which you only need to be working 16 hours a week) and a higher income disregard for housing benefit and council tax.

      Of course, if you aren’t eligible, one has to ask – are you *sure* your friend’s problems are no worse than yours?

    3. I Joe,I think your friend is telling you pork pies. He is not getting these things you say because the amounts do not relat to what you can claim. He may have some payment from dwp but not based on your figures. He’s winding you up or worst still you are winding yourself up. Ask yourself do you realy need this rubish toworry about.

  8. I’m hoping that my failing hip will be recognised by DLA to get a raise in my allowance. If this happens I can continue to work but part time. I’m struggling with full time work and can’t afford to go part time, my failing health has put me in a trap of being unable to manage my full time work without further damage to my health and they system makes it difficult to prove that I have enough need to get the extra help that would enable me to reduce my hours. I love working, I love being part of a constructive society. The rules make it hard to do so.

  9. I saw this post earlier.  What can any of us add that is worthwhile.  Except to say this is one subject no one should have to write about except in some horrible history of the past.
    I be to differ on “Everyone knows someone that they think is a benefit cheat,”.  We all know people who are benefit cheats, they’re being jailed every week from the house of commons

  10. Having read the above I can honestly say you DO seem to be a well meaning and CERTAINLY well adjusted sort of person. And can write a GOOD piece. You also sound a little like myself, good sometimes and BLOODY awful also. But life is like that eh?

    The BEST ever advice I ever had was from a DSS Doctor. He told me this

    ” When you are assessed medically ALWAYS bear in mind what you are like on the ABSOLUTE worst day you have ever had, never mind how you are NOW ,TODAY. Then tell them about that day.”

    And THAT is how I approach each and every interview or anything else I have had to do with my accepted disability. And as for anyone else? I do not give a fig what they may think. It is of NO importance at all what others think, that is there problem to deal with. I KNOW what is wrong with me and how I get by, just as you do.

    BUT a fraudster is still a fraudster. However you paint it up! And if you commit a fraud then you should be well hung for that fraud! End of story! NEVER mind if you are a lord or a pauper, if you choose to play the system then you FULLY deserve to get hung out to dry for it!


    1. I was also given that advise Chris the problem with it is that noone should be asked to relive their nightmare’s of the past if it’s already proven within and outwith hospital treatment that the illness is long term and unlikely to get better.  The assessments are demeaning and wrong to ask someone on a specific day and time to recall a living hell.  The purpose of Medical Treatments is to move forward in life not be frozen in the past because of an assessment.  It’s a daily living nightmare even when found unfit for work just knowing that one has to go through that process each and every year. 

      There will be numerous people left actually depriving themself’s of essential items simply due to fear of spending any monies that they do receive in case of lossing benifits the following year.

      At least the criminal knows where he/she starts, the disabled don’t now.

  11. I hate having a disability(loss of use in left arm,for the record)but i hate being made to feel like a second class citizen due to aforementioned disability.my disability was caused by a work related accident,and the hoops i was made to jump through to receive a subsistence level benefit was quite frankly astounding.i would gladly return all the desultory amounts i have received for my arm back and a day without pain.a witch hunt against the disenfranchised minority is the easy option,A society that attacks its weakest and most vulnerable members is a society on a downward spiral

  12. spot on sir! my own elderly mother has experienced such ignorance to the point of being driven to tears. by neighbours of over 50 years! just because she has a mobility car and disabled parking spot. some nasty ignorant people out there!

  13. I take the point about the Daily Mail – always on about scroungers, addressing upright citizens, its readers. However, a few years ago I would have assumed that if you saw someone who is supposed to be disabled up a ladder painting the house, or digging the garden, or walking quickly along the street, they would be a fraud, not really disabled at all.

    That was before I developed Parkinson’s myself.  My medication allows me to be quite active -sometimes!  On other occasions, sometimes because I am late taking my medicine, or I have been unusually active and have “used up” the medicine quicker than usual, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all, I am bent over, walking with difficulty, leaning on my stick, my back hurting almost unbearably.  Standing is even worse – I end up sitting on the ends of display stands in shops or leaning up against a wall.  I get bags muddled up in my hands and end up dropping something.  I feel people are looking at me and thinking I am an idiot.

    As it happens, I retired before my condition got that bad, so I do not need to claim ESA.  I am not sure if I am eligible for DLA, but I do not need feel I need it at present.    

    My reason for adding this comment is that I now understand the difficulties of others far better, since I have had some experience of being disabled myself.  

  14. i have no problem with people getting new cars on disability but why are they allowed cars such as mini coopers which cost over 20,000 pounds to buy. surely it would be more cost effective to do a deal with say one manufactuer i’m certain that for 10,000 pounds you could get a really good and reliable new car with lots of guarantees thrown in

  15. Is there an amnesty for people who want to return to work after coming off high rates of benefits after an illness? 

  16. If there is someone out there with good health who thinks having DWP is great? Would you like to swop your life for mine so you to can have a so called hand out. I would give everything I have to have good health. When I hear the song by Jonny Cash I cry like a baby because for sure I would give it all.

  17. I get what I believe is the full monthly amount from DWP. I do not know if this also covers help to allow me to help pay my fuel bills. Does anyone know if these payments would be included or can I claim for further help? My meds leave me so cold I have to heat the house on what some would call warm days. Pease leave reply on the comments page thanks

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