My thoughts are with benefit claimants. All of them. 39 years of experience working for the DWP under its various names and guises has taught me that the vast majority of people who claim benefits would rather not be. There are exceptions, of course. There are people who are career benefit claimants but trust me, with the exception of those who supplement their benefits via fraudulent activity, few people on benefits lead lives of luxury. The reality is the complete opposite.
Having to claim benefits will have been a shock to hundreds of thousands of people who never thought they would ever have to claim them, but now find themselves in lengthy queues, trying to speak to hard-pressed benefit advisors who were already working at full capacity before many of their colleagues became ill or were forced to self-isolate.
Friends who know what I used to do for a living, have reacted in only one way when I have told them the benefit rates they might be entitled to. “Is that all? How am I supposed to live on that?” The only answers are: “Yes it is and no, you’re not.” Naturally, I am far more sympathetic than it appears from my glib style illustrated here because this is heartbreaking and it is frightening. Benefit rates are pitiful.
As Polly Toynbee pointed out in yesterday’s Guardian, people who are benefit claiming virgins are now finding that the so-called safety net of benefits is full of holes. It is almost impossible to claim and when you finally leap all the high hurdles, the tiny amounts you are entitled to come as a shock. If you are entitled to anything at all. And don’t forget, first time benefit claimants are unlikely to suffer the Orwellian sanctions regime that existing claimants have been forced to deal with. If nothing else, the enormous stresses and strains of claiming what are in essence tiny amounts of government support will challenge the Sun/Daily Mail narrative that all benefit claimants are scroungers. Very few of them actually are. Most are people like you and me, except through no fault of their own, they have run into hard times.
I have worked with benefit claimants in one way or another, more on than off, since 1974. if nothing else, the Covid-19 crisis will teach us all that actually they are not scroungers and parasites. In most cases, they were unlucky to be sick and disabled, to be caring for loved ones, made redundant, have terrible addiction issues, have learning difficulties and all manner of unfortunate circumstances.
Now we are all in it together, attitudes might change, as well as the pernicious benefits system and its draconian system of penalties and sanctions. And in future look at benefit claimants in an entirely different way, especially if those claimants are you and me.