I consider myself to be the left side of liberal. I was brought up on the mantra that the Tories help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I am from a working class background and the chip on the family shoulder is bigger among some of my family members – its more of a ding with me.
So I am caught in the middle on the whole benefits argument that is raging at the moment. I do feel that there are some changes that need to be made to the welfare system. For example, a couple of years ago, my friend’s sister, a single parent, managed to find a nanny job that meant she could earn and look after her child at the same time – ideal situation. However she was advised by the benefits office that she was better off remaining on benefits rather than taking the job because she would be financially better off. That is just wrong. Another friend, and single parent, was recently told that she had to drop her course to be a teaching assistant, which combined well with her part-time role in a school. The reason? because she could get a full-time cleaning job thus putting a tick in the JSA box of ‘back in work’. This would be no good because she would have to fork out on childcare meaning her earnings would be negligible. That was why she was pursuing a career in childcare to earn around her daughter’s education. Not the case with today’s JSA – they just want you to up the full-time employed figures regardless of your situation and how much you will realistically earn at the end of it.
In contrast to Daily Mail rhetoric, it is not easy to claim benefits. I used to claim JSA when my daughter was of pre-school age and I had to drive 30 mins twice a week to wait for what seemed like ages in a soul destroying environment to tell someone who was not particularly interested what I had done to search for a job. In my case, because of the industry I work in, they didn’t know anything about it so they were even less interested in my job search. They just ticked the relevant box so that I received my cheque. So many people, particularly young people, many of whom have low self esteem, look so helpless in the queue – with the expression and stature that shows very clearly they have already given up hope before they have even started. My youngest cousin has never held down a full-time job and he is in his twenties now. His schooling was shocking, he had so many learning difficulties the teachers just left him in the corner of a classroom to fend for himself in a packed classroom.
My other cousin, in his thirties, has five children and his girlfriend has just announced she is pregnant with number 6. They have a 3 bedroom house and they sleep in the smallest bedroom and the other kids share the other 2 rooms. He has a job but they obviously have state help. I also listened to an interview with a 21 year old on the radio who was a single parent and is expecting number two – she argues that it is hard for her and that she doesn’t want things to be any harder following more benefit cuts.
My granny had four children without state help, apart from a council house and was a single parent. She managed to sustain her family just about. My mum had an orange crate as a bedside cabinet so they did without life’s luxuries but she managed. If she had the option of contraception, would she still have had four children when there was no state help?
My argument is that we are in the luxurious position of being able to control conception. It makes sense to have a baby when you can afford it. Of course life has a way of screwing up plans and hard times can seek you out, but if you are a single parent struggling on benefits does it make sense to conceive another child? I watched a programme of a couple who were clearly in love but had a shit education and came out with no decent grades, no further career options to pursue, so were living on benefits. They were debating whether to interrupt the tedium of their day by having a child so that they would have to ‘change nappies every now and then’. What chances does that child have if the parents haven’t got jobs?
With many people on benefits for longer than they should be, it is a case of building self esteem. So I think anyone who has been on benefits for too long should do compulsory charitable work so they get valuable experience, gain confidence in their own abilities and help good causes in the process.
I am blogging every day for Unicef to help children and families around the world who are not lucky enough to have a benefits system and do need help. Please visit my page on the Unicef site for more info.
Thanks for reading.