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I was a benefits scrounger and I’m proud of it!

September 1, 2010

The world’s economy is in crisis because of the profligate and reckless behaviour of the financial sector. Does this mean that the tabloid press have the world’s extraordinarily wealthy bankers caught in its cross-hairs? Does it fuck! Instead the press has declared it ‘shooting season’ upon people claiming state benefits, the overwhelming majority of which, contrary to what you might have read in The Sun or Daily ‘hate’ Mail, are not living it up in 5 bedroom houses in Knightsbridge or Kensington.

However, it seems that if unemployment is going to rise dramatically (and massaging the figures by parking young people in universities isn’t an option this time around) then making it nigh impossible to claim benefits might be the preferred solution of the present government.  Time then to set lose the tabloid attack dogs, barking and yapping about benefit cheats, spongers and the undeserving poor.

This is what I like to call the ‘Witchfinder syndrome’, after Mathew Hopkins who was appointed the Witchfinder General in 17th century England. It was Hopkins’ job to visit towns and villages beset by famine and pestilence, and destroy those evil doers under whose spell the locale had fallen. Hopkins’ victims were almost invariably strangers, beggars or unmarried women. Well, let’s be frank, its easier to blame people of lowly status for a catastrophe than to stride up to the castle of Lord Muck and lay the blame at his door. At best, he’d probably set the hounds on you; at worst, you’d hang for your insolence.

Hopkins set a precedent that others have followed. Indeed, you might recall that when times got hard under the last Tory administration, it was patiently explained to us by an number cabinet members that immigrants, ‘squeegee-merchants’ and single mothers were undermining the fabric of British society.

Let’s be serious. There are many things that might bring the UK to its knees, but people cleaning your windscreen are not among them. In fact, it is more likely that dismantling the benefits system will do more damage to the national cause than all the immigrants, beggars and single mothers put together.

That’s why I say lets have more benefits and make them easier to claim. In fact, I have a proposal for a new benefit to join the ranks of job seekers, incapacity, child and what-have-you allowances. It’s called the Benefit of the Doubt.

The new Benefit of the Doubt is were we don’t assume that everybody claiming dole is a feckless waster. Instead, we work upon assumption that the overwhelming majority of people want something more in their life than an addiction to day-time TV and the listlessness and ennui that comes with long term unemployment. This is predicated upon the notion that if people are supported and encouraged, rather than patronised and bullied, then most, sooner or later, will make something of themselves no matter how unpromising they appear to start with. As an example, I humbly offer my own story.

I was a benefits scrounger, a dole cheat! After leaving school, with precious few qualifications, I drifted in and out of low paid employment, labouring under the delusion that rock ‘n’ roll stardom was just a power chord away. Employment, when I had it, served no other purpose than paying for guitar strings, but eventually I ended up in job that barely covered even that meagre expense. In fact I was earning so little money that my employer wasn’t even obliged to put me ‘through the books’. In the end, by mutual consent, my employer and I part ways. I didn’t want to work for him and by a happy coincidence (not the last in this story) he didn’t want to employ me. So I left, signed-on and enrolled at the local further education college. And for the next two years I claimed the dole under the pretense that I was seeking employment, when all the time I was singularly pursuing two A Levels and a City and Guilds.

When at last the snoopers caught up with me and I was hauled in for an interview at the local social security office, it was only another happy coincidence that spared me from being forced into a job collecting shopping trolleys in a supermarket car park. The administrative officer, whose responsibility it was to conduct my interrogation, took one look at me and asked: ‘Weren’t you the Best Man at my sister’s wedding?’ I had indeed been his brother-in-law’s Best Man and for this sole reason he let me go.

‘I see that you’re about to sit your A Levels in a few weeks’, he said. ‘I suppose you’d rather be revising at the moment than working as a trolley boy? Look, I’ll push your file to the back of the cabinet. That’ll buy you a two or three weeks grace.’

I sat my A Levels a few weeks later, passed them and got a place in university, which is quite a turn around for a guy, who two years previously, had been sliding disgracefully into personal dissolution and social oblivion.

The lesson for me is simple. Give people money. Spread the love around.

What we have at the moment is a system designed to stigmatise people because it typically associates benefits and allowances with being ‘down and out’, dependent and/or lazy.

In fact, welfare is potentially transformative, providing people with the time and means to turn their lives around. If we could see welfare in these terms, we might stop behaving like 16th century witch-finders.


Ye olde Daily Mail method for divining benefit fraud...


25 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom permalink
    September 1, 2010 4:18 pm

    Welcome back! I have missed this blog more than I thought I would 🙂

    • Rabelais permalink*
      September 1, 2010 4:24 pm

      Shucks, Tom, get outta here…

  2. September 3, 2010 3:44 pm

    Is that new picture in the banner your ass tatooed with a barcode so you can be identified by the Daily Maily dole scrounger clean up squads when they finally get permission to get the death camps up and running?

    • Rabelais permalink*
      September 3, 2010 3:52 pm

      It is.

      But I have one concern. Do you think that photograph makes my bum look big?

      • September 3, 2010 9:25 pm

        I don’t think I can look at it again now after that remark.

  3. wartimehousewife permalink
    September 5, 2010 7:05 pm

    Sorry Rab, I meant to comment on this item days ago but stuff got in the way.

    I am completely with you on this. Most people are honest and would far prefer to earn their own money rather than take handouts from the DWP. Others, particularly single parents with young children find it impossible to look after their children and work, if for no other reason than that childcare is prohibitively expensive. Inevitably there are going to be some people who slip through the net, who exploit the system or who are lazy bastrds who don’t want to work. There is also another group of people who are either unemployable or who come from families where no-one has ever worked.

    I would far prefer to allow a proportion of people to slip under the radar in order that people wh genuinely need it are supported.

    And if the DWP really want to make a difference, they should employ people in the job centres who have training and experience in careers counselling or, heaven forbid, people with imagination and compassion who could truly make a difference. There is a woman at a nearby Job Centre who is exceptional. She’s leaving because her boss told her there was no room for morals and compassion at the DWP. Arse.

    • Rabelais permalink*
      September 6, 2010 2:51 pm

      Hi Wartime,
      Yes, isn’t it preferable that a few lazy gits slip under the radar than we penalise and stigmatise the overwhelming majority of people claiming benefits and allowances. As a friend of mine often says to me, once you get to the stage were policy and legislation is passed with an eye only for the inglorious few, everyone suffers.

      I also recognise the absence of compassion among those who work with the unemployed. I wonder to what extent the popular image and reputation of people claiming benefits and allowances as being feckless and hopeless colours the attitudes of those who administer the system?

  4. Dr. Disco permalink
    September 6, 2010 12:16 pm

    Indeed, Rab, I remember reading a reader comment at the bottom of a Daily Mail article, in which the reader was complaining (in the Daily Mail? Never!)… not about us dole scroungers stealing money from the state, not about what is says for British society that we cannot get jobs and have to rely on taxes to survive, or that, as you rightly say, we are increasingly being farmed into universities to get hastily put together derees… but… well, our fashion sense! Because, according to this well informed reader, our preferred attire while spending our days watching Jeremy Kyle and eating pringles is a tracksuit.

    So that, Rab, is what is wrong. Ban the tracksuit and Britain will once again be great.

  5. Rabelais permalink*
    September 6, 2010 3:03 pm

    Hello Dr D,
    There was a piece of research I read recently that looked at public attitudes towards the so called undeserving poor. It found that, were in the past people on low incomes were considered disreputable because of poor education, low skills, and their association with work considered menial, today the undeserving poor are ridiculed for their poor consumer choices. This includes the sin of failing to adhere to appropriate dress codes – tracksuits, baseball caps, bling etc. Social status is increasingly dependent upon knowing what to buy.

    I remember when people in denim jackets (like me) were considered yobs and people with dreadlocks were a threat to national security. Today denim is very chic (or so I’m told) and dreadlocks are part of Britain’s multicultural landscape. (On the way home today I saw a guy at a bus stop with a lovely head of blond dreads.) In their place we have tracksuits and burkas. Give it 15 years and these to will be part of the national heritage.

  6. wartimehousewife permalink
    September 7, 2010 5:29 pm

    PS. A propos of your ‘Listen to This’ column. ‘Handmade Life’ is absolutely terrific. I saw Chris Wood in concert a few months ago at The Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham and he was absolutely mesmerising. Have you listened to ‘The Imagined Village’ where they do a very visceral, bhangra-style version of ‘Cold, Haily, Rainy Night’?

  7. September 7, 2010 9:13 pm

    You’re at this recommending listening to stuff too are you? Bad enough when it was just WBS at the weekends! I’ll say the same thing here I said there. Check this out instead.

  8. wartimehousewife permalink
    September 7, 2010 10:55 pm

    Garibaldy! I LOVE that! And I want one of these green dresses but oh, hang on, will that mark me out as a dole scrounger or not? (see how I’ve neatly brought the conversation back on track?)

    • September 8, 2010 8:24 am

      It is great. As for the green dress. Only if you get whatever the DHSS is called these days to have a shell suit the same colour specially made for you at the taxpayers’ expense.

      • wartimehousewife permalink
        September 8, 2010 1:51 pm

        I’ll ring my tailor at once.

  9. Rabelais permalink*
    September 9, 2010 4:24 pm

    Brilliant Garibaldy. Why can’t all songs be this frank.

    I was at the Imagined Village gig in Northampton at the time of their first album. Chris Wood opened for them. Both sets were electrifying. Love him and Eliza Carthy.

  10. September 10, 2010 5:27 pm

    It is a superb and entertaining song. Like the video too.

  11. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    September 13, 2010 11:18 am

    Why can’t all songs be this frank? Ah, you’ve not heard of TISM then…

  12. wartimehousewife permalink
    October 6, 2010 10:35 pm

    Rab? Rab? Where are you? I miss your wit. Hope all is well.

  13. Rabelais permalink*
    October 9, 2010 9:03 am

    Hello Wartime,
    Thanks for asking after me. I’ve been overwhelmed with work recently, which for self-confessed loafer is an awful state of affairs. Things should improve soon… I hope.

  14. June 26, 2012 9:55 am

    i like your sentiment about spreading the money around,and ultimately it’s the only thing to do…but i can’t help thinking about my own time mostly growing up in northern ireland…sometimes it’s the ones who had nothing who went on to garner real cultural currency for themselves.. they travelled..they were less smug and more absorbent … and then there was the comfortable ones…many of them now are complete trainwrecks..ex owners of car showrooms and the likes…flatliners…homes characterized by bland brand new polished reproduction furniture and a distinct absence of books…

    the dole is a funny old thing..i recently heard a great take on it by jarvis cocker…he was talking about thatcherite britain and the early days of his band pulp in sheffield…he liked how thatcher just handed out this dolecheck and would pay rent for some awful box left artists free to die or get on with work which would eventually become a part of the countrys musical canon…
    my own time on benefits was short lived..i’d just left my first band and ended up back on my arse in northern ireland…i walked up to the counter of the ballymoney dhss where the bitch behind the pen said “weellll….were the bright lights of london and the MAINLAND to much for you then?”…in full fagg fashion i started crying and bawling my eyes out, and ran out of the dole office in a strop ..everyone thought i was a fool for buggering up my precious dole money….but it was the best thing…money can be such an opiate,and i’m thinking that’s maybe why the most interesting people i know went through long long periods of not having any..they understand that there are other currencies besides money…and they are always more anecdotal company than the ones who had a life neatly monied out for them…i wish money for everyone in the end..but i also wish the young the sensation of having to live by their wits,and not to feel beholden to the system

  15. Rab permalink*
    June 26, 2012 1:00 pm

    I don’t think money ever compensates for a lack of talent in the world of arts and culture, although that’s a lesson I’m not sure some of the luminaries of the so-called creative industries have learned. But at the same time the problem with the current distribution of wealth and resources in the world is that they are concentrated and inherited, and that in itself is a huge hinderance to human potential.

    There is an argument to be made for art that emerges from hard times and poverty but by the same token, if just trying to secure a subsistence to live takes up all your time, then that doesn’t leave much time for creativity.

    God, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall of that Ballymena dole office!

    • June 28, 2012 12:10 pm

      even though i guess i’ve just trotted out the idea,i never feel completely comfortable with that argument that great art[or anything] comes out of poverty feels like too much of a lazy cliche and damns those struggling and stretching even with money…….those ones i talk about with their clean polished reproduction furniture have no money either..they just think they do…..but in truth they’re just worshipping at the alter of the stuff…they take no risks in might cost them money.

      it was ballymoney …i was 21…for me the dole looked like a bit of a heat scared me how they’d readily hand out this money to the likes of me, provided i fell into line and pushed my tail between my legs..i didn’t like that one little bit…….it all felt like a bit of a conspiracy in my mind…i bawled my eyes out in pure frustration at how nearly no one understood where i was coming from…they all thought i was just being a snobby little poof…
      in the end it was the local hippies who i found solace in..they really helped…they shared their marijuana with me to get me working…put me in touch with hip people who could maybe get things to happen….that’s one of my favourite thing about northern ireland..the baby boomer era hippies.

      • Rab permalink*
        June 28, 2012 12:46 pm

        Jesus, I’d have been a fly on the wall of the wrong dole office. Isn’t that just like me?

  16. August 16, 2013 4:05 pm

    Great article!!


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