Why is being in receipt of benefits so stigmatizing? Surely it’s a good thing for the whole of society…..

Since when did being in receipt of a welfare benefit become such a crime against humanity in the UK?

I feel like I have been transported somehow back to the 1980’s with all the nastiness of Thatcher and Co. Most of the time these days I am either ranting at the radio/TV/Twitter/Blog because of the governments distortion of the facts or holding my head in my hands as I read the Daily Mails latest inflammatory headline. My blood pressure must be sky rocketing!

Why does this get to me so? Well I really believe in the ‘welfare state’, probably due to personal experience. My Dad was a dock yardie in Plymouth working on the lagging side, which meant lagging pipes on ships with asbestos. He was very hard working, did overtime and was getting on well but then he was involved in an accident in the dockyard and he damaged his spine and was disabled. This must have been a blow to my family as my Dad was only in his late thirties and he had a wife and three young children to support. Fortunately the welfare state was there for us, he never worked again. Later he developed Asbestosis and died when he was 59 years old. Presumably my Dad would have been assessed by ATOS today and found fit for work!

Did growing up in a house hold where my parents did not work affect me? Yes it did, however, it did not turn me into a ‘skiver’ and I have never claimed a welfare benefit (that’s not to say I have not benefited from living in a society committed to collective provision of a publicly funded ‘welfare’ state i.e. education,health care, social care etc). What it did do was enable me to understand that at any point in any of our lives our circumstances can change in the proverbial blink of an eye, and when that happens you need long term support to get back on your feet, and infact sometimes people can never get back to where they were. You do not need stigmatising or shaming, you do not need to be marginalised by the rest of society because you are down on your luck, you do not need to be made to feel you are worthless and committing a crime against humanity for claiming benefits. What you do need is support and a future, you need hope to be able to see a way out of the situation, a way forward. The constant negative stream of abuse from this government toward those who use the welfare state is creating a society that is so divided feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are turning into resentment. This does not bode well for the future, building anything on just the negatives will not serve us as a nation well.

We see the consequences of such an approach already in the way the government is using ‘austerity’ in a cynical manner to ensure we turn on one another in the blame game, diverting attention from the real issues – under regulation of the financial sector, free market failure, profits put before people, low living wages, lack of housing etc etc.

The real victim of austerity is our compassion toward one another. I wonder what sort of person I would be if such compassion had not been shown to my family all those years ago?

What would the UK be like without a collective system of ‘welfare’? Is this how we want future generations to live?

About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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