Where is the fairness for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour, sleeping off a life on benefits?
“Here, fucking here,” said Simon, tipping his mug in agreement at the television.
“You know, Linda told me that him next door was found fit for work after all,” said his wife in a hushed tone motioning with her head.
“I fucking knew he was just a lying scrounger. And it’s our taxes that pay for him to sit about all day watching telly, in that house that’s got more rooms than ours! Most of the people on the sick are just playing the system. It makes me sick.” Simon didn’t realise that only 0.3% of disability allowance is claimed fraudulently. Simon is not alone. On average, the general public think 27% of the welfare bill is claimed fraudulently.
Simon was running late for work. He hurriedly gathered his things, kissed his wife goodbye and made a quick exit. He walked a mile and half to his job at the Ford factory to save the petrol money. His hours had been gradually reduced over the last couple of years. He now came out with just over £1000 after tax every month.
He’d had to apply for housing benefit to help cover the £800 rent on his 2 bedroom family home. He’d hated doing it, but he consoled himself with the fact he wasn’t a real scrounger. At least he worked. What Simon didn’t know was that only 3% of the welfare budget goes purely to the unemployed, and that the welfare cuts he so applauded affect people in work as much as those not working.
Meanwhile, Brendon from next door was just waking up. He had awoken in a cold sweat, his heart pounding and he felt dizzy. He’d never felt the same since that stroke he had a year ago. He’d had to stop working which felt wrong, but he was partially-paralysed down one side of his body so he needed a wheelchair. Luckily, he’d been able to claim ESA. It wasn’t much but it had helped.
But a month ago Brendon had to undergo a work capability assessment. The stress of it all had made his symptoms worse. His heart was having palpitations more regularly. The woman who’d deemed him “fit for work” was abrupt in her manner and had made him feel humiliated. His advisor at the Jobcentre was more sympathetic, she’d seemed genuinely upset when she informed Brendon he’d have to do a workfare placement at Tesco or else he’d lose his JSA as well.
Like the vast majority of people on JSA, Brendon had worked more than three of the last four years. “They won’t make you stack shelves or anything, you’ll be working on the tills so you can be sat down the whole time,” she’d said, apologetically.
Last night was Brendon’s first shift. He’d found it hard to motivate himself because he wasn’t getting paid but he tried his best. Still, it was busy and he got really worn out. Brendon dragged himself out of the makeshift bed that his son had set up in his living room; he couldn’t get up the stairs to his bedroom anymore. He wheeled himself to the front door to check the mail. There was an ominous-looking yellow letter with his name printed in capitals.
I am writing to inform you that your entitlement has been changed due to the new Spare Room Subsidy, this will become effective as of 1/04/2013. You have the right to appeal against this decision if you think it is incorrect…
An indescribable combination of fear and hopelessness engulfed Brendon. He felt it in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t know whether to cry or scream. Instead he did neither. He felt numb. Here came another palpitation…
Later that evening, Simon was returning home from work with the same numb feeling wrenching in his gut. They were closing the plant. How could he face his wife? He slowed his pace to put off that awful conversation, she’d be devastated. Turning the corner onto his street he saw blue flashing lights. It looked like they were coming from outside his house. He was gripped with panic. He started tearing up the street, telling himself that he was just fearing the worst. As he approached he realised it was for next door. Overwhelming relief swept over him momentarily. It was fleeting, as his own bad news came flooding back.
His wife greeted him, she was stood on the doorstep. “He died of a stroke apparently,” she said, in that same hushed tone, motioning with her head to next door again.
Simon felt a little bit guilty about what he’d said about Brendon from next door. The way he’d sneered at him on the street a few times began to haunt him more frequently. Simon found that life on the dole was no picnic. There weren’t any jobs that matched his skills, and he spent hours searching. His jobcentre advisor had told him he’d have to be “more realistic” and go for part-time shop work or cleaning. He sent off hundreds of CVs but never got a response. He didn’t have any experience in those areas.
The months rolled by and Simon’s self-esteem was at a nadir. He felt useless, hopeless, pointless. But he knew it wasn’t his own fault. He was ashamed whenever he thought about Brendon from next door. He’d get up early every morning to check the jobsites while he had the news on in the background.
We are still all in this together. We speak for all those who want to work hard and get on. We know what the British people mean by fair…
Simon threw his mug at the telly in disgust. “Oh fuck off you public schoolboy prick. What do you know about hard work or fairness?”
This is a fictional story but it is based on real things that happen to real people.
Brian McArdle died of a second stroke shortly after being found “fit for work”:
There’s a whole list of people like Brian:
Alf and Laurie an old couple who are facing eviction from their family home because of the bedroom tax:
Widow, Julia Jones, who will have to leave the tiny bungalow where her husband’s ashes are scattered because she can’t afford the bedroom tax out of her £53 a week: