In recent years, a perception has sprung up suggesting that those forced to claim benefits to survive, regardless of whether they may be living with a disability that prevents them working or are unable to obtain one of the few jobs available nowadays, must be no good lazy ‘scroungers’. I recall, whilst a junior doctor, hearing the somewhat unpleasant conversations of a couple of my colleagues who never had much else to discuss at lunch apart from whine about the lazy, ‘live off the state’ characters they had encountered. Though I worked in the same trust, I cannot say that I ever had the pleasure of meeting any such mythical ‘scroungers’.
A book which goes far to smash the narrow-mindedness that seems to be infecting our society, across the board, has recently been published by welfare rights worker and unashamed formed benefits claimant Felix McHugh.
Mr McHugh explains in his book, ‘Damned Scroungers’, that the public are becoming increasingly negatively predisposed towards those down on their luck as a consequence of the torrents of venom unleashed by daily newspapers such as the Mail, the Express and the tabloid Sun. He reveals that during the 1980s when unemployment was high, those out of work were viewed with genuine sympathy and few then dared level the charge of ‘scrounger’.
McHugh begins his book with a series of sensationalist and absurd headlines that have featured in newspapers that are sadly read by millions in Britain. He points out that ”there is more rubbish spoken and printed on the subject of welfare benefits in Britain than on any other subject, with the possible exception of immigration from Eastern Europe and Asia.’
He proceeds, without too much difficulty, to analyse these headline claims of ‘lazy’ benefit cheats and immigrants getting vast amounts of freebies from a ‘generous’ state. With the ground work being laid down, McHugh discusses cases of people he has represented at appeals to show the difficulties and delays that mar the process of obtaining benefits; a far cry from the attention grabbing headlines and sound-bites of Tory politicians damning claimants. He gives examples of less than satisfactory fitness for work reports, compiled by assessors from ATOS Healthcare, and cites stories of the unfriendliness of tribunal panel members he has crossed swords with in the past at appeals.
I took special note when the author mentioned a study carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which found that an individual requires an income of at least £14400 a year to have a ‘decent standard of living’. McHugh points out that this equates to £276.92 a week; far more than most individuals on benefits receive. The title of the book is not entirely a parody of prejudice. McHugh does name and shame those who have ‘scrounged’ vast sums of money from the public purse – enter Messers Fred Goodwin, Phillip Green and friends. He muses on why one rarely sees these ‘damned scroungers’ being lambasted and hounded in the lesser quality newspapers, though the fraud of these few far exceeds that of the petty cash ‘swindled’ by the odd individual on benefits.
One of the chapters I found particularly useful was the one called ‘A brief overview of UK benefits 2011/12’. Whereas many newspapers cite the number of people claiming various benefits and grumble over the total cost, few explain concisely the various benefits available or the eligibility criteria. McHugh explains this clearly so that readers can have a better grasp of how the benefits system works and a greater awareness of the paltry sums available. As he sensibly points out, who in their right mind, being fit for work and having the opportunity, would seriously choose to sit at home all day with a double digit weekly allowance and the company of Jeremy Kyle.
A fine book that not only shines a much need spotlight on the lives of millions struggling to obtain and survive on their meagre benefits in a climate of public hostility, the welfare support workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to see that justice is obtained for the vulnerable and the unsupported, and a system that seems set to become even less generous in future.
Readers of this book will find themselves properly armed with the right facts and figures to challenge any tabloid reading bigot they may have the misfortune of encountering.
Free download of the book, courtesy of the author.
MOBI ePub format for Kindle, Sony eReader, KOBO, etc.
Word Docx version
Please note the above links are all to filestore site MediaFire.
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This post was written by Tomasz Pierscionek