I’m lucky enough only to have signed on the dole once in my life. I had just graduated from university and, while I started my job search, I found myself seeking benefits as a means to providing some sort of an income.
It was a huge comedown to spend one day at my graduation ceremony - being told the world was my oyster - and the next filling in forms at the ‘brew’ and being handed my allowance to last me two weeks.
I hated signing on every fortnight. I found the entire process utterly depressing and even then (16 years ago) to me it felt just a couple of steps away from walking up to a grumpy man with an empty bowl in my hand and begging “Please Sir, can I have some more?”.
It was not - and never could have been considered for me, anyway, a lifestyle choice. It was not something I enjoyed. I didn’t whoop with joy when the £60ish quid a fortnight landed in my bank account. I didn’t think “Woohooo! Free money!”. I wondered, as I searched for work in what was already a tough jobs market, how I would ever make a life for myself on a few quid a week?
I wasn’t a dosser or a wastrel. I had worked hard to get qualified for a decent job. Now I just had to wait for the decent job to come about - and yet I found the experience of signing on every fortnight - and justifying my existence and my entitlement to a few quid every week soul destroying.
It’s worse these days, of course. Benefit claimants are demonised day and daily in our media. The stereotypes come thick and fast - layabouts who spend their days smoking, watching Jeremy Kyle on 47inch TV screens and playing online bingo.
No-one is interested in the truth, it seems. They don’t care what people really do as they look for work that simply isn’t there at the moment.
When the government suggests making these “layabouts” work for their benefits, the chattering classes shout “Hurrah!” and “About time!”
They don’t perhaps think it through - that forcing people to work full days’ work for a pittance is not giving anyone a step up. It’s simply looking down on them.
Not to mention the real worry that employers - who will now have access to teams of lowly paid benefit claimants for workers - may be more reluctant to pay decent wages to anyone else.
They perhaps don’t think that we are perilously close to the top of a very slippery slope where the days of begging to survive - where the workhouses return - may surface again.