I read David Cameron’s morally repugnant ideas on welfare ‘reform’ this morning with disgust. I immediately decided to pen an article ranting about how his priority should be closing tax loopholes for big business and his rich mates, deriding the scapegoating of those on benefits, highlighting overlooked facts such as that only 1 in 8 housing benefit claimants are out of work and slamming policy made on the back of a fag packet to appease po-faced backbenchers and right wing rags.
Then I figured lots of very clever people would probably already be in the process of writing those articles, so I thought I’d just tell you my story instead.
I grew up in Whiston near Liverpool as the eldest of five children to parents who for a long time didn’t work, through no fault of their own. We lived in a succession of council houses – some not so bad, some pretty awful. Rather than the flat screen TVs and holidays abroad three times a year that the Daily Express seem to think we had, I remember getting bullied at school because my coat had holes in it. My mum couldn’t afford to buy us all new clothes every year, we had to make do. I spent all year collecting two pence pieces to use in those amazing slot machines for our annual holiday in Blackpool. (I’m not going to lie, I was an expert. I always left with more 2p’s than when I arrived!)
When I was forced to leave home at the age of 18, I was lucky enough to find a job making stationery folders on a production line in a factory and later on I worked on the checkouts at Tesco and so I didn’t have to claim housing benefit or any other sort of welfare. However I know many people who had no other choice. These people were not scroungers sponging off the state, but often young people who were forced to leave home because of their sexuality, or because of violence, or simply because their parents couldn’t afford to look after them.
It was tough for me in a part time job on the minimum wage with bills to pay, I can’t even imagine how tough it would have been in my situation with kids on top. I managed to get a better job, then another and then another and work my way out of poverty, but it isn’t so easy for everyone.
For the millionaire Prime Minister – who has never suffered a day’s hardship in his life – to label such people as scroungers and benefit cheats sickens me to my core. The Labour Party should not be afraid to come out and say that this is wrong. Yes work should pay and it should never be the case that people have a financial incentive not to get a job, but we tackle this by ending poverty wages and clamping down on soaring rents in the private rented sector, not by removing benefits from some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in our society. So much for compassionate conservatism.