I don’t usually touch on national issues but two events over the weekend struck me as being a good example of political rhetoric over actual reality.
The Government announced last week that many benefits will go up by 1% next year rather than by inflation. This appears to have played very well with many right wing newspapers who generally believe that such people are “scroungers” or “skivers”. Indeed, it plays well with the public generally who often think that people on benefit sit around all day watching satellite TV, drinking and smoking on their hard earned money. This is often reinforced by some extreme and completely unjustified example of people apparently getting huge amounts of money to live an exotic lifestyle. All in all, politicians of any colour cannot sound tough enough on this so-called benefits culture.
The reality is however somewhat different even here in leafy Surrey Heath. Earlier today, I saw the first two Christmas hampers being packed for a Lightwater household and a Camberley household with at least another 50 planned. These are to go to families, single people and couples throughout Surrey Heath who have little or nothing of their own. Whilst confidentiality means that I can’t share individual stories, the background always contains tragic and sad circumstances. Typical themes would be leaving a violent partner, redundancy or health issues for them or a child. Contrary to the media myth, many of these people are working albeit for very low pay or have had to accept reduced hours or short term contracts. These are our so-called “strivers” – people who want to improve their life and that of their families trying unsuccessfully to do so.
Some people when they arrive in our borough will have virtually nothing other than items provided for them by local charities. In short, they are usually in a desperate situation – relying totally on the kindness of others. They do not deserve a further kick in the teeth by being publicly demonised by those who have no understanding apart from lazy stereotypes using extreme examples.
Benefits can often take several weeks to come through whilst the household have no financial means of their own. The temptation is therefore to approach short term financial lenders to tide them over and of course then end up owing much more as a result making their situation worse.
So who will actually lose out under the Govt proposals – will it be scroungers and skivers? It appears not at least according to the Resolution Foundation who have found that the biggest losers will actually be single parents to the tune of £330 over the year – not a group known for being rich. In fact, 60% of those affected are already in work so already trying to contribute to the economy as a whole.
The answer here is not to cut individual benefits in real terms as many believe. To do so, will punish those already on the breadline and their children. If you think that is the answer then a short time learning about some of the hidden reality in Surrey Heath and how some will be “celebrating” Christmas might change your mind….