At a recent demonstration against austerity in Eastbourne town centre an angry elderly gentleman told me that people on benefits should “sort themselves out. Why should we pay for ‘them’?” Well the simple truth is that there is no ‘them’, just ‘us’. There is a lot of hatred directed towards those on state benefits from a certain sector of the public, fuelled by the media who are out for a headline, but when you understand the reasons that benefits are necessary surely as good people with intact moral standards we can only be compassionate?
Firstly, when we talk about people needing benefits we are really talking about people in our society who need support. People who do not have jobs make up a very small percentage of the figures, although they need support too and are entitled to it. This is why we have a welfare system in this country and I for one am glad that we do. In Eastbourne for example, Job Seekers Allowance costs the taxpayer 6.9 million, Income Support 5.7 million, Disability Living Allowance 23.8 million, whilst the State Pension costs us 187 million.
When we talk about people on state benefits then, the majority of claimants are actually pensioners who have worked all of their lives for the right to their pension. A lot of people claiming JSA have also previously been in work and contributed to the right to support when they need it. (Figures taken from DWP Statistical and Accounting Data 2014). Cuts in benefits take food directly from the hands of people living in poverty. Changes in the way benefits are assessed often mean that people are left without any support for days or even weeks and the number of people having to use the Eastbourne Foodbank is rising. Austerity should not just cause concern to those reliant on benefits, it should cause concern to anyone who cares about our society and our fellow man. Sometimes I read articles attacking ‘benefits scroungers’ and I despair. Where is our compassion as a nation?
Any of us could lose our jobs, become disabled or find ourselves struggling and in need of help, and we will hopefully all grow old, so let’s change our language when we talk about ‘state benefits’. Change the term to ‘state support’ and we start to talk about it for what it really is. It is necessary, we need to ensure that those in need of support get it. We are all in this together! A cross party group has emerged in Eastbourne in order to question austerity and protect the vulnerable, if you want to join the Eastbourne People’s Assembly their Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/890376414357498