UK
08/10/2013 03:15 BST

Benefits Stigma Means a Quarter Lie When They Receive Welfare Payments

Alamy

The vicious stigma of a life on benefits means more than a quarter of people have lied when they are forced to use government safety nets, worried that people will think them scroungers.

Around 27%, of those on benefits keep their situation hidden, according to the findings of a new report from a coalition of poverty charities, rising to 47% of 16 to 24-year-olds who have been supported by benefits.

It contrasts with a generally sanguine view of the welfare system from the general population, 81% believe that benefits are an important safety net to support people when they need help, with two-thirds, or 64%, agreeing that benefits paid to those in need are good for wider society.

More than half, or 51%, of all those who had never been supported by benefits also said they would feel embarrassed to claim.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "We are very clear that it is the benefit system itself that is at fault, trapping the very people it was designed to help into cycles of worklessness and welfare dependency.

"Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the universal credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty."

The online research into the views of 1,955 adults conducted last month was released to coincide with the launch of a campaign backed by charities and community groups aimed at countering negative views of people who claim benefits.

The campaign, led by the Children's Society, Crisis, Gingerbread, Macmillan Cancer Support and Mind, has backing from 75 charities, faith groups and community groups.

It comes amid claims that the Government's ambitious programme of reforms to the benefits system has been reduced to a debate over "scroungers versus strivers".

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, led Church of England bishops earlier this year in attacking ''rhetoric'' that accused people of choosing a life of idle dependence on the welfare state.

He said it was an "insult" to claim that poverty was caused by people choosing unemployment as six out of 10 families in poverty have at least one adult in work.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "Life is full of ups and downs, it can be unpredictable. But no one should go hungry because they lose their job or go into debt because they are on such a low wage.

"And it is reassuring to see that the public support this view.

"At a time when families up and down the country are feeling the squeeze, it is important - now more than ever - that society supports those in need.

"The overwhelming majority of people who get benefits really need them; whether they are working, looking for work or unable to work."

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, which works with the homeless, said: "At Crisis we see every day how support from benefits lifts people out of homelessness, or prevents them from ending up on the streets in the first place."

Fiona Weir, chief executive of Gingerbread, a charity for single parents, said: "None of us know what is around the corner for our family, which is why it can come as a huge blow to someone who's already having a tough time to be labelled or stereotyped."

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind the mental health charity, said: "Support from benefits makes a huge difference to the lives of many people with mental health problems, allowing people to stay well and retain their independence; or help with the additional costs that come from having a disability.

"Lots of individuals with mental health problems face stigma and discrimination, as their condition is less visible than a physical disability.

"These new statistics suggest those who claim benefits experience double the stigma."