After Rowan Williams’ article in the New Statesman this week, there has been much comment and lots of govt ministers going on the radio talking about how wrong he was wrong etc. Iain Duncan Smith was on World At One and he was completely missing the point. I know he was missing the point because I’m one of the people that is worried about the policies the government are implementing. (In fairness, I was pretty worried about the way things were going under Labour, am I more scared now…yes but this isn’t really party political). Apparently, the government isn’t demonising people on benefits but “there are people living in houses that they wouldn’t be able to afford if they were working”
Now bear with me because this is going to take a while…but I will get to a point honest.
On Friday I went for an interview, it’s good news, they want me, I start on today. Yay.
It’s not a permanent job. I won’t get paid for holiday or sick leave, there are no benefits and it’s going to pay about £5k less than the last job did. It’s going to be a struggle financially, when I was at Peabody, I was ending the end of each month in the black but only just, so losing £5k is going to hurt. However, it’s a working, I have to believe that working is better than not.
I’m good at what I do, I work hard, I’m professional, I was made redundant when the company I worked for went bust and the next job I took was to cover maternity leave. I want to work, I didn’t like signing on, I want to support myself. In the last two years, in order to keep working, I have taken a £10k paycut. I’ve gone from being comfortable and able to save and have holidays to barely making it. I don’t pay into a pension, I can’t save, I really have to think about how I spend money. (Lots of the things that I love and write about here – skincare products, theatre, drinking in the OXO Tower have, in the last 2 years been paid for by someone else and yes I do recognise how lucky I am to have people, ok a mum, who will take me to the theatre and so on).
My point is this, the problem isn’t benefits, the problem is work.
Work should pay enough to support living. Work should cover the cost of things like rent and food and bills and saving for a pension. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, not all of us can be bankers not all of us have parents that can set up trust funds or buy us houses.
Government could built more affordable housing, that means building houses and selling or renting them at a price that suits the average wage, not the ‘market rate’. Maybe they could do something to reduce the cost of commuting (my new commute is going to cost over £100 a month). Maybe you could legislate to ensure that employers offer a living wage.
The truth is that if work doesn’t pay enough to make someone feel like it gives them a future, then that’s how people feel. Like they don’t have a future. Hell, I do work and I feel that my future is bleak, so why bother? I bother because I hope that at some point it will come around that it will change, I have earned more, hopefully I will again, I feel I have to try.
Accepting that you will live your life on benefits, is really about despair, it’s about believing that your life will never get any better, that you don’t deserve any better and that even if you had a job, it wouldn’t help, life would still be rubbish and you’d still struggle. No amount of telling people in that mindset, that they are sponging, that they are useless is gonna get them to work. (On a side note, bankers bonuses – if you work for a company that makes a £1.1 billion loss, why would you be paid a bonus? RBS made that loss and paid £950 million in bonuses, the govt subsidises that loss – that’s not sponging?)
So maybe the government could start by building more social housing, or actually doing something useful for 1st time buyers, or perhaps giving private tenants more rights. Maybe you could do something to reduce the cost of commuting. Even ensure that employers offer a living wage.
Living on benefits is not the problem, how not to live on benefits…that’s the issue.