If you’re entitled to it, you’re not a scrounger, yet hundreds of people within the UK would have you believe otherwise. The BBC’s ‘Growing Up Poor’ has brought the bastards out of the woodwork on Twitter, with anti-poor sentiment flooding the hashtag associated with the programme. Why? Because our country is in the midst of a financial crisis, and the majority of the media and government would have you believe it’s because the poor are taking what they don’t need. It sickens me to see people blaming the poor for their poverty, and judging the poor for what they spend what little benefits they get on, and their lifestyle choices.
“If they’re so poor, how can they afford to smoke?’, “If they’re so poor, how can they afford that new TV or their iPhone?”
Sophie Burge quite rightly pointed out that people in Slums and Refugee camps smoke, and yet somehow, are still authentically poor. Yes, it’d be easy to visit a Doctor and get free help with giving up smoking, but the stress and depression of being unemployed and in poverty often makes people cling to their vices.
Personally, I’ve never had it too difficult. I’m from a working class family who’ve never had much money, but my circumstances have never been as difficult as those of the girls on Growing Up Poor. However, between March and July in 2010 I found myself without a job. I had to sign on at the Job Centre regularly and complete a form that showed which jobs I had applied for and where I had looked for work, to prove that I was tying to find employment. In the four months that I was out of work I applied for roughly 350+ jobs of all descriptions because I was desperate to work. I lived at home, and even then it was difficult to get by on the small amount of money that the government was handing out to me.
I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been if I lived alone and had rent and other bills to pay. If I didn’t have the support of my family I’m pretty sure the downward spiral of despair and helplessness I felt in those four months would have damaged me for life. I cannot imagine how those who are worse off must feel with the reality they face every day.
Over two years after I found work I still feel a knot of guilt in my stomach if I spend more than £20 on myself, because while I was in receipt on state benefits I was made to feel that I owed it to society to not spend their money on anything other than the essentials. I wouldn’t sleep with worry because my bank account was close to empty. However I soon realised that I was entitled to the benefits I received, and I didn’t have to feel guilty. Occasionally I’d buy myself a chocolate bar. One month I even bought myself a pair of new shoes, and then felt guilty for days.
While I was on benefits we got a new television, and I had an iPhone. People would have you believe that this makes me a slacker, or irresponsible. However, I’d had the phone contract for months previous to becoming unemployed, and the new television was second hand and paid off in £10 installments every month. I never told those who judged me that though, because it was none of their business. It never will be.
I’m fully aware that they think it is their business what the poor spend their money on. They think that because they pay tax money that funds such benefits they have some superior right to look down upon those who get said benefits and what they use them for. I’m also fully aware that there are people who don’t need the benefits they get and falsely claim them. Yet, they’re not representative of all benefits recipients. Just as dodgy businesses not paying their tax aren’t representative of all businesses.
Many of those in need – who cannot afford food or who cannot afford to heat their homes delay asking for the help they are entitled to because of misleading news coverage of those receiving welfare, and the culture of judgement and blame this produces within society. As a tax payer I am glad that I contribute to a society where those in need will be given support, and I can’t imagine being the sort of person who would want someone to suffer a miserable existence simply for the crime of being poor.
With that in mind, I feel it is important to tell you that I will never be sorry that I spent your tax money on my phone, shoes, and sweets.