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Let's dispel the myth of the 'benefits scrounger'

Posted by David Eyre UK Poverty Press Officer

27th Mar 2013

After George Osborne's budget announcement last week, now seems like a good time to dispel the myth of the 'benefits scrounger'. Here are David Eyre's thoughts on why it's about time we dismiss the idea that hordes of people in the UK are taking advantage of the system.

Find out more about Oxfam's UK Poverty Programme.

Social security in the UK is founded on a simple human value - we care for each other.

Together, we made a conscious decision as a society that the days of the Poor Laws and the workhouses should be abolished. We no longer wanted the well-being of our neighbour to depend on the uncertain charity of others.

And so, we created a national system that provides a minimum level of income to help us when we need it.  In times of crisis when a lost job, an illness or a death in the family threatens us with financial hardship - we know we have this social safety net to depend on. But for how much longer?

Social security in the UK is currently under fire and facing the worst cuts in its history.  In order for this to happen the basic empathy we have for each other has been undermined. Efforts have been made to stop us caring for one another, to divide us. Firstly, the myth has been peddled that social security is now unaffordable. It's not. The truth is that spending on welfare as a proportion of our national wealth has fallen massively.

So having failed on the first line of attack, another tactic is tried; to persuade us that hordes of people are taking advantage of the system. But research now available from the Department of Work & Pensions shows that is simply not true. As this piece in the New Statesmen highlights, the vast majority of claimants of Job Seeker's Allowance have spent at least three quarters of the past four years off the dole, in work.

This research also supports work by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which found that there is no culture of worklessness in the UK. Despite strenuous efforts, researchers were unable to find one example of a family where no-one had worked for three generations.

Perhaps now, we can now put to rest these damaging, divisive myths. People work when they can. And when the economy can't provide them with work, they rely on social security to provide for themselves and their families.

It's not a perfect system. For example, benefit levels are far lower than people believe is needed to live a decent life.

But all the evidence shows that our social security system is not only easily affordable, but largely does what it set out to do when we created it together.

So it's ok. We can carry on caring for each other.

Blog post written by David Eyre

UK Poverty Press Officer

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