Questioning The Benefits…

I watched a television show this week that explored the benefits system here in the UK which pitted public opinion against the benefits culture.

I’ve never been on benefits although I have been in the position of scrimping to pay my bills and feed myself as the result of my job being made redundant at the end of 2008 followed by the a**e falling out of the job market in 2009. So as everything from the weekly grocery shop to the job hunting behaviour was scrutinised, I did have some sympathy. But I was definitely on the side of the tax payer who was stunned to see how cavalier other people were being with ‘my money’.

One of the people receiving benefits was a young guy on the dole who had graduated from University with his degree. He received a visit from a tax-paying nurse who works long hours to earn the money she needs to get by. She asked some pretty tough questions and pointed out to him that his situation in having a supportive family – living rent-free with an aunt and uncle who also co-fund things like his iPhone bill – surely meant that he should be working to contribute, albeit at something that might not reflect his degree qualification.

Granted, this guy only received something in the order of £3,600 per year and was doing some volunteer work at the local Youth Centre but in doing the job-hunting rounds of the retailers in the town centre, there was very little enthusiasm demonstrated around find a job to pay his way, let alone fund his hi-tech paraphernalia or brand-name shoes. He’d worked his way through Uni and he felt he should wait for a career job.

I remember leaving Uni in 1991, a rare (for then) duo of degrees in hand, expecting that my choice to double the workload and fees over my four years of study would yield the kind of career prospects I’d been promised when I had first enrolled. I had worked to pay my way throughout and also had a mountain of debt to pay back at the end.

As I sent off applications, phoned recruitment officers and generally chased as many opportunities as possible, time after time I was met with ‘you’re over qualified and under-experienced’, something I found – and still find – to be a ridiculously circular argument. (How can a graduate with any promise get the essential experience for an ‘entry level’ position in their chosen career?) So after leaving my put-myself-through-Uni job, I worked as receptionist, then moved to a sales admin role with a sales brokerage firm six months later and worked my way into my marketing career from there. Life being what it is, I have found myself back ‘at Reception’ several times, temping to make ends meet after moving to London. But that’s a whole other story.

It’s been demoralising each time and there was many a time I thought to myself, what am I doing and how did I get here after all that hard work? But I always wanted to earn rather than receive the handout. Quite frankly, it also kept me sane: to be learning about a new business and meeting new people rather than dwelling on the situation I was in.

There’s a big part of me that can ‘see’ the logic in waiting and taking what one can get. And I understand the disappointment of feeling that years of hard work to get a qualification is being overlooked or even dismissed. But I am pretty put out that my taxes are paying for his gadgets. I’ve blogged about ‘entitlement’ before so I won’t get on my soapbox (for now anyway) – maybe the fault also lies in a system that is ill-equipped to validate need versus ease.

What do you think? Is there anywhere that has gotten this right?

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