THE BLOG

Not Everyone on Benefits Is Trying to Cheat the System

20/01/2015 17:11 GMT | Updated 22/03/2015 09:59 GMT

"Are you fed up with your hard-earned wages being given as 'benefits' to individuals in society who don't deserve them?"

"Zero tolerance against the work shy, freeloaders and benefit cheats drinking cheap ale, lapping up the sun rays well we slog it out in the offices and factories..."

"Keeping Jeremy Kyle on the tele..."

The inaccuracies I read online about people on benefits can sometimes be amusing, but also sometimes makes me quite angry. I am on Job Seekers' Allowance and have been for the best part of three years, but I do not drink ale, have not had a holiday abroad for over four years and have never appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show. These particular quotes come from groups on Facebook against people on benefits, but I have read similar comments on internet forums, on comments to newspaper articles and even heard people say things like this in person. I think in the last few years since the recession the comments about people on benefits have got nastier and more frequent. I think this has been fuelled by both politicians and the media.

The government needed something to cut in the budget, they tried cutting public spending on things like the NHS and education, but this was unpopular with almost all voters from every walk of life. What they needed was something they could cut spending on that did not affect their main core of voters, so they turned their attention to benefits and in particular those for the disabled and jobless. Statistically this makes little sense as the biggest benefit expense is in fact pensions, but no way were they going to touch pensions when older people are one of the main groups of people to vote. The disabled and the jobless are a lot less likely to vote, so the government have less issues with cutting their money. Now the government just had to get the rest of the general public to agree that cutting these benefits was a good thing. So they turned to their friends in the media, and boy did the right-wing press do them proud.

Tabloid newspapers love a benefit cheat story. They love to point out all the people who are able to get money whilst still working or living abroad. If you type 'benefit cheats' into the news section of an internet search engine you would think that an awful lot of people are defrauding the system. However, according to Citizens Advice Scotland, benefit fraud represents only 2% of the estimated total annual fraud in the UK. In fact the amount of money paid to fraudsters is less than the amount overpaid or underpaid in error by the government. All this negative reporting of benefits seems to be working.

To be on benefits long-term is seen as shameful to some people. These people have never had to be on benefits or at least not for more than a few weeks. I am on long-term Job Seeker's - the way some people talk you would think I was a career criminal. I am trying very hard to get a job and do everything the job centre ask of me, even the stuff that makes no sense whatsoever. This is the only income I get and not that large an amount of money either. Without this money I would struggle to have any kind of life. I don't want a fancy life, just enough of one so I do not go stark raving mad with boredom and loneliness. If more of the public were aware of what being on Job Seeker's is like long-term, they might be less negative towards us. This coming week for example is not even a sign-on week and I still have to go to the job centre twice for meetings.

I also used to be on Disability Living Allowance, which seems to get very negative reporting. A lot of people claim they know a neighbour is cheating the system, but I bet nine times out of ten that neighbour is fully entitled to that money. Not every disabled person is fully wheelchair bound and some have conditions that fluctuate giving them good and bad days. People see you on a good day and assume you are faking being disabled or ill. Getting money when being disabled was always fairly tricky, now Personal Independence Payments, replacing DLA are making it even harder. If someone gets PIPs you can rest assured they have probably been thoroughly checked out. No system any government can come up with will be totally fool-proof, someone will always find a way to cheat it for benefits, but the alternative of paying no benefits at all would be way more costly long-term.

Now I think one way to stop benefits being seen as so negative is for more people on them to vote. If the jobless and disabled voted more at elections the government might be less keen to cut their benefits and make them seem so negative. I call on all the disabled and jobless out there who can vote, to do so at the next election and show people that we are not all lazy benefit cheats and that we can and will stand up for ourselves.