People on benefits? They’re all scroungers aren’t they?

This article was written for The Broken of Britain.

In spite of all that I have written on my blog about wanting to work, about my efforts to keep working even as my body fails on me, about how my wife (a qualified science teacher) is doing cleaning work that pays less than Job Seekers Allowance and creates havoc with our other benefit claims, I often receive criticism for my views. People think that because I fight against benefit cuts, I support lazy people that simply want handouts and expect a free ride from the state. That could not be further from the truth.

I can’t deny that there are lazy people out there. While visiting the job centre in the past I have talked to people that see having to sign on as the height of inconvenience, that complain about the job searches they are asked to do. And quite honestly, with the attitudes I have seen, I wouldn’t employ some of them either. But they’re a minority. Living on benefits is hell. There is never enough money. You never know when someone might decide that you have been overpaid and start clawing the money back. For Job Seekers Allowance, you have to sign on every fortnight, attend meetings seemingly at random, and take training courses that you could teach. You can be “fined” for being five minutes late to an appointment. You are only allowed to miss an appointment through sickness twice in your whole claim. For sickness benefits it isn’t any better. While on incapacity benefit in previous years I had to attend regular meetings to discuss the possibility of me finding any work at all that I could do with such poor health. Those meetings and travelling to them made me ill for a week each time. The whole system could have been designed with the express intention of utterly destroying your soul. Most people hate claiming benefits, and most people would actually like a standard of living that is not attainable on the meagre amounts that benefits pay.

The infamous “families with 3 generations unemployed” do exist. Perhaps that does affect the attitude and desire to work in the youngest, I couldn’t say. But there is a reason that these people are unemployed. There are no jobs! There are approximately 2.5 million unemployed, and an estimated 0.5 million jobs, most of which are only part time. However you look at it, 2 million people will not find work. Some may argue that they should take responsibility and start their own business, however most people simply don’t have it in them to come up with a business idea, or have the knowledge and perseverance to run their own business.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

The Department of Work and Pensions keeps official statistics on levels of benefit fraud. Here are the figures showing the total amount of expenditure on benefits that is fraudulently claimed.

  • Income support fraud: 2.8%
  • Job Seekers Allowance fraud: 2.5%
  • Housing Benefit fraud: 1.3%
  • Incapacity benefit fraud: 0.5%
  • Disability Living Allowance fraud: 0.5%

Total benefit fraud is estimated to be 0.7%. Total error by claimants is also 0.7%. And error by officials? Another 0.7%. So administration error costs the same as fraud. That’s not to mention the 0.3% error causing underpayments, or the 0.9% (£60 million) that administration errors deprive incapacity claimants of.

Ultimately, the vilification by the tabloids of everyone on benefits and everyone who is sick and disabled is incredibly harmful. Public opinion is shaped by the lies and the twisted numbers put out by the tabloids which cause the public to back the government in cracking down on benefit fraud and in ruthlessly cutting benefits. In the end that causes great hurt and anguish for the vast majority of people that genuinely need the help.