Between the bedroom tax, cost of living and the media showcasing of extreme examples of people taking advantage of the system, welfare has developed a bit of a bad reputation at the moment. People who are struggling to make ends meet, whilst holding down jobs, are questioning why others only have to sit in front of the telly all day and receive benefits that, if you read the daily mail, will keep you in the lap of luxury.
Between political infighting, using benefits as a weapon to showcase how badly the last party dealt with things and the media’s recognition of public hunger for people to name and shame, I can’t help but feel it’s all gotten a little out of hand. That maybe we need to step back, take the emotion out of it and consider why benefits exist in the first place – and what value are they to those of us that work in the construction industry.
Firstly, I support the benefit system - I know that 0.02% of claims are fraudulent and whilst I would prefer that that number was zero, no system is perfect and constantly flouting small flaws as a means of undermining an entire system won’t get anyone anywhere.
Whilst the media has encouraged us to look at those who claim benefits as work-shy scroungers there is a bigger picture and it includes me and you. In a transient, project-based industry that is now predominantly dependent on self-employment, labour gaps in employment can be frequent and, occasionally, long. Many save for the low periods but that’s not always enough to get by, especially when there are commitments and dependants to keep. The benefits help to cover that gap; they mean that you don’t fall at the first hurdle in the down-period, but instead, have the chance to pick yourself up and carry on. They mean that people do not have to sell the tools of their livelihood to get by and that makes it a little easier to get back to work - it also means that when we, as an industry, need the workforce they are ready to start.
I know a few people who feel they are owed a living by the state, but the majority of people I know will avoid benefits till the last moment, only to find that when they do claim (out of necessity not apathy) they are vilified and made to feel somehow unworthy, which is not conducive to raising self-esteem and helping people to win work.
Let’s try and appreciate the scaremongering of Benefits from a different perspective -what if it is simply a political smokescreen to stop us talking about Starbucks not paying tax, or the media taking advantage of our desire to prove we are better than other people. If these things are true we need to fight for, and protect, our benefit system by refusing to further accept the myths that are sold alongside the welfare state. Instead we should be proud of our heritage of helping those most in need and look at ways of getting people back into work.
Make no mistake, if the system is allowed to degrade in this manner, it is not just the fabled work-shy scroungers that will suffer; it is society as a whole.
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