Sunday 21 June 2015

The UK: Our welfare system stripped of its humanity

Death helps the system
I caught a glimpse of the news but never really paid much attention to it until I saw a situation developing before my eyes.
Since 2010 starting with the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition and now with the slim majority Conservative government, there have been reforms to the benefits and welfare system, many of which will make the bean counters happy, but leaving real people in dehumanised situations.
In May, we learnt that 10 out of 49 benefit claimants had died possibly due to a regime of benefit sanctions where their payments were stopped.
It is not working
To say one cannot believe that this is happening in the United Kingdom of 2015 is typical of not having had to run the gauntlet of the system to see the strictures, the hurdles, the encumbrances and the demands made on people barely able to pick themselves up because of all sorts of adversity.
There is no doubt that some abuse the system, but they are very few, quite in the minority, only 0.7% of the welfare budget is lost to benefit fraud, many do genuinely need help and I have twice resorted to the system for help in resettling back into the UK and for times when I was out of work.
I can say that my ability to endure the humiliation that the system weighs upon you came more from an inner sense of self and abiding hope that things will change all coupled with the help and support of friends and family. The system is soul-destroying for the want of a better phrase.
He had no voice
I was out for a social event on Friday when this man who apparently was epileptic collapsed and was helped by bystanders to settle down and recover. I did not see the fit, but as I sat around, I heard the whole tale of his troubles.
He had taken seriously ill in a number of public places and his doctor gave no heed to his condition, this meant he missed critical meetings with Job Centres and consequently his payments were stopped.
Besides, going by what I could observe of him, the man was in no state to do any of the things of demanded of him. Like making 30 applications for jobs every fortnight, there is no way he would have been able to hold down any of those jobs down for any period of time with that state of mind and possible medical condition, complicated by the demands of the system on him.
At one point, he said he wished he were dead. That really cut to my heart because a whole set of circumstances had militated against him to create a situation of desperate hopelessness. A life that has lost hope is a difficult one to continue.
Anything but welfare
Now, one would think the welfare system was about welfare, about understanding, about humanity and about compassion, but everything that makes us genuinely human has been ripped out of the system to cater for ticking boxes and meeting targets to cut costs.
The goal is to frustrate you off the system and if by any unfortunate set of circumstances you are unable to assert yourself when abused, you so quickly become a nameless victim, a shell of yourself and worse might be in store.
I could see that the man made many others uncomfortable, but this was something I had personal experience of, what looked to others like a weak man in need of sympathy and playing it up for pity, to me looked like a man at the end of his tether.
This is our society’s shame
This bothered me for quite a while until the man left and as I said to the people left behind, the so-called safety net we believe is out there to catch people who need help really has holes big enough for elephants to fall through. Whatever the case, this man had fallen through that safety net and will probably never get picked up without some serious intervention.
That I live in a country that such heartlessness can be meted out to the vulnerable in the name of reforms and cost savings is deplorable, shameful and quite a crime against humanity, because we have the means and the wherewithal but have crafted ways to deny the needy their needs.

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