Recently, I came across a video on Facebook about a man in India faking his disability to claim benefits. Through this, he managed to grant his family a better lifestyle. The friend who shared this video was outraged.
My reaction was sympathy and concern. What kind of situation would someone have to be in to fall as low as to fake physical ailments for a living?
India suffers from much disparity between the rich and poor, an abusive labour market, lack of trade union influence, and overall political apathy towards the lower class. These root causes are what lead the destitute to forego their dignity through such extreme means.
The video reminded me of shows like Benefits Street. Shows which reinforce a narrative aimed entirely at marginalising the poorest, most helpless people in our society. Thus justifying, even trivialising the cruel measures imposed against them.
This narrative stems from crude generalisations, based on isolated incidents and anecdotal fallacies. Notions of "having children for benefits", "using benefits for cars and holidays", and "they sit at home and do nothing while I work all day" develop into a mindset. Whether someone is a genuine benefits claimant or a "fraudster" becomes irrelevant. The underclass are merged into one despised entity. Scroungers. The pretext of benefit fraud becomes a heavy weight, a concern to the common citizen.
Yet in reality, benefit fraud accounts for just 0.7% of the welfare budget.
Compare this to estimated losses of £80billion a year from tax evasion and a further £19.1billion a year in tax avoidance by transnational corporations. Unpaid tax which could be claimed yesterday, today, or tomorrow if our legislatures would simply reform statute to improve enforcement and close proven loopholes. Corporations use the British workforce (who in turn use the government-funded NHS), British roads, and rely on the efficiency of British financial infrastructure to make massive profits- is it not reasonable to expect them to pay British tax?
Compare, again, to £3billion annually on Trident, a nuclear programme rented from the US. It has never been used, and maintains no proven deterrent effect since the Cold War. Also, consider the government's post-financial crisis £1,162billion bank bailout sum- sponsored entirely by the taxpayer.
If it is "cost" that truly concerns us, why do we focus so much attention on "benefit fraud" or even welfare, which relatively have an invisible economic impact? Is our concern genuine, or is it more an issue of bitterness? Since when did another human being's attempt to live to the next day represent a prerogative for hatred?
Especially in a climate where there is indeed ample cause for serious concern. Our minimum wage is so ridiculously low that "in-work benefits" exist. Is it not a bizarre concept for taxpayers to literally subsidize employers by topping up any shortfall in wages? What about the ongoing privatisation of essential public services? Cuts in healthcare? Poverty? Child poverty?
Our anger is misplaced, hypocritical, and only serves to maintain the status quo. Is this because we feel so helpless in face of overwhelmingly exploitative corporate interests? Or do we simply need a human form attached to our judgement?
If that is the case, are we not scroungers too? Are we not scrounging on the feeling of superiority gained from vilifying those less fortunate? Surely such an attitude only festers animosity and distracts from the real problems. How can we feel any good in our condemnation, then? True heroism punches upwards, it does not kick those already down.
The truth is, social security is a fundamental human right. The United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights provides that everyone has the basic rights to an education, housing, food, and adequate lifestyle- regardless of who they are and what they do. We seem to put so much weight on political and civil rights, while neglecting fundamental social, economic, and cultural rights.
Yet what use does one have for the right to vote if they cannot feed themselves to survive until May 2015?
If someone has gone so low as to scrounge for benefits which just about cover the cost to eat and pay for rent, it does not say anything about them. It says everything about the society they are living in.