Channel 4's Benefits Street = Life at the Bottom

Thoughts on the welfare state and the British underclass

Re: Channel 4's Benefits Street = Life at the Bottom

Postby Yessica » 26 Feb 2014, 12:35

Paul wrote:Disability Allowance is still paid in the UK, though it may have undergone a name change (at no doubt great expense) and has definitely been tightened up from what one hears. When one also hears (and as TD once pointed out) that the number of 'disabled' in Britain now outnumber the same class of people as the aftermath of the Great War, then it's inevitable that questions would eventually be asked and action taken.

On the one hand disability is probably overdiagnosed those days. It has become trendy to "suffer" from something and sometimes also well paid as you said. Which are the chages they made?
On the other hand disability might have been underdiagnosed after the great war. At least in Germany being disabled was a reason for deepest shame those days. You did not want your fellow citizen to think that you were sickly, had a weak physique. PTSD did not exist as a diagnosis those days but the people were shot for "cowardice".
That must have let many persons, who really needed help, left uncared for.
This attitude still is present in parts of the population, for example men but not women from rural places. My husband still seems to hold the opinion that the one who misses a day at work because he is sick is nothing short of pathetic. I have met some like him.

I think that disability could be overdiagnosed in some subgroups and underdiagnosed in others. Both is not healthful for the person.

Just to infuriate you: I've heard of a local case where 'disability' is paid to a young man because he can't read and write properly. That's because he never went to school much and came from an underclass family who won't have cared much. There's nothing wrong with him on a physiological or mental basis. He's just not educated to basic levels. No doubt 'dyslexia' is involved in the claim so he's determined 'disabled' and gets £200 per month ON TOP of normal unemployment benefits. Read it and weep.

What a great motivation for the underclass to do well in school!
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Re: Channel 4's Benefits Street = Life at the Bottom

Postby Paul » 26 Feb 2014, 22:37

As it happens I was talking today to two chaps I know and see intermittently. I saw them in town and thought to waste twenty minutes and pick at their scene.

They are both unemployed and have been for some time. Some considerable time, one more than a decade I suspect (how time flies). One is a year younger and the other three years younger than me, hence 50 and 48 or thereabouts.

It turns out their excited topic of conversation together (in progress already) was about the latest Call of Duty PC game. I'm not sure of the exact title. It comprises four DVDs (surprised me) and then there is additional content to be downloaded once the game is registered on the web. About 60GB in all apparently, a huge game it seems to me.

There's a fee for the web content (of course) in addition to the game purchase, or so one of them said. It's about £80 in total though they were discussing various chicanery and 'ebay' and the like as a means of reducing this.

They can both afford it. They must be able to because they both have the game. And there is the matter of possible further (or larger) hard drives to be fitted, to supplement the enormous capacity they already have. There followed a satisfied reverie about the many hours lying on the sofa that there was to follow. This afternoon in fact. All afternoon.

It's none of my business. But they aren't starving. One of them mentioned some beers. I said I would have them both whipped and then put in the stocks on this very town square, but with a twinkle in my eye - so they think I'm joking!

By contrast the conversation moved onto Vehicle Excise Duty (the dreaded UK tax disc which we have to pay to license a vehicle on the road), mainly because I had just been to the Post Office to buy one (a disc). There ensued a minor argument about the comparison between buying a six-month license and a twelve-month one. It's slightly more expensive to buy two six-month licenses than a twelve-month license. It is in fact according to a standard formula and always has been. A six-month license costs eleven-twentieths (11/20) of a full twelve-month license, rounded up or down to the nearest five pence (I think it's five pence). Hence it costs 55% or as close as makes no difference

They couldn't get this and were prepared to argue the point. They couldn't understand how 11/20 (a mystical fraction one would imagine) was 55% and how I arrived at that figure. I tried to demonstrate and also to ask them to remember when twelve month discs were £100 ( a long time ago) a six-month disc was £55. But they can't remember this - or even events of last week I'll be bound. But they couldn't do the maths either. I'm not sure if this has always been the case. They were educated in the same era as me. I think they've just forgotten it. They're more interested in levels on COD. There are absolutely dozens of people like this around here, slowly vegetating.

Edit: Just to add that these two chaps in particular are quite likeable and are in now way undesirables in the usual ways. They wouldn't steal from someone or commit acts of vandalism or breach the peace. Those things would in any case shatter their comfortably numb existence. One of them (the beer-lover) is quite jovial in the way some beer-lovers are. He's quite a geek at IT and PC stuff too and this subject is his first love. I don't know why he can't get a job. The other chap is maybe more unfortunate and did once work in a textile mill (though now decades ago). It's doubtful however, if they can get away with it, that they will ever work again.
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Re: Channel 4's Benefits Street = Life at the Bottom

Postby Paul » 26 Feb 2014, 23:27

At various points in the last twenty-five years, I would say three or four, there has been previous 'attempts' by the government of the day to reduce the number of benefit claimants to to make it tougher and more demanding for those claimants to satisfy the conditions of their claims.

The first I vaguely remember would have been the late 1980s, possibly under a Margaret Thatcher administration. Two or three more came along in the 1990s, one of which may have been in the very early years of Tony Blair's (Labour) government, the remainder being certainly in the tenure of John Major's (Conservative) government. The pressure was applied by the benefit authorities directly, by way of demanding more proof of job-seeking by the unemployed.

There may have been some minor anguished cries by the media at these times, but nothing sustained and certainly nothing like the ongoing calls for relaxation such as we are now hearing. Having said that there were loud howls of outrage throughout Thatcher's tenure from various angles, including the regular archbishops and charities, such as is the case today.

But these 'attempts' were cursory and not very long-lasting. For a very brief period it seemed that claimants were in a panic about having benefits cut if they weren't (unfairly they said) heckled into seriously looking for a job. I think they all may have got a letter (at huge cost) or been handed a leaflet warning them about sudden increased requirements for continuing a claim.

The reason I mention this is how uncannily coincidental it was that I suddenly got a lot of visits and calls (at work mainly) from unemployed males (a lot of a very similar age to me at those times) pretending to be looking for a job.

Some of them I knew, others I knew of, yet others were friends of a friend (or even vaguer than that) and yet more knew of me. Most all of them admitted they didn't want a job, understood I had no jobs to offer (I didn't include that I wouldn't employ them even if they paid me) and confided smilingly (as if I would see the funny side of it - the deceptive of course) that it was all just a 'scam' to keep the DHSS (as it was then) off their backs. What they all wanted me to do was lie on their behalf should the DHSS contact me and ask if the said claimant had been job-hunting. Of course, said I, eager to get rid of almost all of them as swiftly as possible. Unfortunately the DHSS never once contacted me about a single case. The whole scheme on each occasion seemed to peter out quite swiftly and I saw people back to their good old selves within weeks. If I may have asked had anyone had their benefits cut (I'm sure I would have done), they would have laughed at me - probably did. The long tradition of this kind of thing is now so great and of such longevity that many details have got lost in my memory.

The main thing about each occasion was how regularly and suddenly I would encounter a rash of conniving claimants. It was so predictable it became, to me, almost grimly humourous. There may well be many far more genuine claimants and have always been so, but there have been and are very many people for whom it is very difficult to have any sympathy for. I've seen and met dozens of them, hundreds even.

The DHSS, which stood for the now defunct, but original welfare state department - The Department of Health and Social Security.

Once wittingly related to me by a comic malcontent as - The Department of Stealth and Social Obscurity.

One has to smile at the common wit of the happy-go-lucky Englishman.
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Re: Channel 4's Benefits Street = Life at the Bottom

Postby Gavin » 27 Feb 2014, 08:53

Interesting, Paul, and it reminds me of the way that a million "sickness" benefits claimants were recently found to be actually fit for work.

I think authorities should treat such claims with suspicion and test them, because people are inclined to take advantage. There's a big difference between "really cannot work" and "can't really be bothered" (to get skilled or find work or make work). And why should industrious taxpayers (who probably don't like working either) finance any of the latter? It isn't even helping them, ultimately.
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Re: Channel 4's Benefits Street = Life at the Bottom

Postby Paul » 01 Mar 2014, 21:12

Gavin, I agree with much of that.

Given that there is now a shortage of industry (and I don't see how that will return) and that much work is in any case mechanised or computerised then it seems to me that all able people should otherwise contribute to the community in other ways, in return for the community feeding and housing them.

Community service then, except for the howls of outrage because those words have (unfortunately then) been used as a criminal justice term. So we'll think up another name for it......

Cleaning the streets, the parks, restoring worn infrastructure that requires little skill, such as painting and gardening. There are endless things that need doing. I don't see what's so outrageous about that. To complain or refuse can only be because of idleness and selfishness.
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