The twin chants of "too many immigrants" and "we're too generous with our benefits" are the all too catchy mantras composed and facilitated for the packed terraces of public opinion by the Agents Provocateurs of Government and Media.
Yesterday, the game reached a critical point as the authors of these mantras, brought on their star French Striker, in the form of Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart who, seemingly, slotted the winning goal with her claim that the UK Benefits system is indeed "too generous".
That definition is subjective though. After all, the Victorians considered themselves so as they shunted the poor into workhouses. Maybe Mme Bouchart would be happier with a floating holding pen "mid-Manche"? If £36 a week and a life away from abject misery is generous, then we should, all of us, across Europe, examine what we can do to try to negate the reasons that drive people in our direction, rather than simply pulling up the drawbridge, and hoping the problem goes away, like Vincent Price in Masque of the Red Death
My brief story is completely tangential to this, but it did illuminate me as to how "generous" the system is. and just how easy it is to claim from it. I had never- like many; I was an observer- with opinions that labelled me as one of those "middle-class lefties".
The fact I have never claimed before is not a badge of false pride, I have just been lucky enough to have always been, since the age of 16, in employment, or gainful self-employment, until recently. I have also always lived and worked in the UK, save for nearly 2 years in Spain (more of which later).
Although I have not had any work for quite a while now, it never felt like I was out of work, I have been trying to get some- until the money ran out that is. Friends and family had said to me " you should claim, you're entitled to it...". Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I had to admit they were right.
I decided to make my claim online and, a few days later, I received a text with an appointment at the Job Centre. The staff were very friendly and my assessor went through my claim. I had to agree to a "Job Seekers Commitment" which, essentially, is what I have been doing anyway.
All in all, the staff were helpful and empathic, and not at all patronising. I expressed surprise at how quiet it was. "Yes, the jobs market is quite buoyant at the moment", I was told. The irony.
I was given a set of instructions as to what I needed to do to ensure I was keeping my side of the commitment. This was principally to create a Universal Jobs Match profile, and use that system to record my efforts; all perfectly reasonable. I have been diligently doing this, but, last week, I received a letter informing me that my claim had been disallowed because I had not been credited with enough Class 1 NIC contributions for 2012/13. This is true. I was in Spain then, and had said so on the claim.
I telephoned the office to get clarification; Simon confirmed that they only use the previous 2 years NIC contributions; so clearly, I was bang to rights. Never mind the previous 35 years though?
Simon was helpful, " You can make an income-based claim". "Yes", I replied, "I know, but that is means tested isn't it". Simon confirmed that, indeed it was and, "...if your partner works more than 24 hours a week, you do not qualify for income-based JSA either".
She does, so I don't.
I can't really argue with the letter of the rules, but I think I can say that the spirit stinks somewhat. However, the facts that I am able to write this on a PC, with a roof currently over my head, mean, that I am not entitled to any form of benefits. Again, opinion on how fair that is will, I am sure, be divided.
There you are. I was not able to just "turn up" and claim (actually, I turned up in January last year, and have worked since- notwithstanding the aforementioned 35 years). Although my circumstances may be different to many of the infamous "benefit scroungers", not forgetting the legions of immigrants who, allegedly, just turn up and are supported by the State. How do they do it then?
My guess, when I knew nothing about the system, was that they are partly a creation of the Right Wing media, useful "bêtes noires" to distract us from the real issues. I believe that even more strongly now- unless I really am the world's worst benefit claimant?
Too generous? All I can say, from my experience, is that I would not like to have to throw myself on the mercy of the UK system- and fully intend that I never will. Not everyone has that luxury though.