Life on UK benefits is hard. Make no mistake in thinking anything else. To say that a person who is living life on the UK benefits system has it “easy” is nothing but a lie. So, they may not have to get up every morning and put on freshly ironed clothes, they may not even have to get up before breakfast – have you considered that they may not have a suit? Maybe they don’t even have aniron, and it’s possible they don’t even have any breakfast.
When I left school at seventeen, after a continued downward spiral of mental health problems, I quickly discovered that something inside me was making it extremely hard to cope with a regular input of work. This was work of any kind, and far from a normal teenage reluctance and angst, I was becoming increasingly distressed with the simplest of things. Getting out of bed and dressing appropriately was a challenge most days.
I tried to join the hallowed “work force”, this mysterious class of proper people who have proper lives, but unfortunately I found myself struggling. From being a Grade A student in all areas of academia, I found myself washing dishes at a local football ground. I kept that job for a year or more however, there was this one day when I simply couldn’t face it. After a sleepless night of hallucinations and anxious thoughts, it was decided that I had to see a doctor. I subsequently lost the job at the football ground, receiving no sympathy for these “issues in my head” which caused me to let everyone down.
At this young age, receiving a few pounds a week seemed like a good deal, but when I began paying for fuel and electricity I quickly discovered I couldn’t afford to eat what I was used to. Resorting to bargain shops, I had many unpleasant experiences trying things I’d never had before. Chicken paste being one of the most disgusting, and a tin of Irish stew that smelled so terrible, I refused to eat it.
I had no furniture, or white goods. Luckily, on the block of flats that I lived on, many people would leave their old furniture outside for the bin men in the morning. Myself and many others of us in the same position would go out at night and ‘recycle’ much of this second hand stuff. I occasionally found electrical goods as well, and with only a few minor incidents, mostly everything was fine.
It is easy to be judged, when our clothes have been clearly washed in the bath with a stick and some soap, our shoe laces have several knots in them and our hair tie is a piece of string. It’s not because we don’t want to be better dressed, it’s because we have no option. When we are on a basic government income because we have no choice, and the route to having more is by doing something we cannot do, the only thing we can do is continue with the laboriously slow medical assistance provided. Counselling and therapies are eventually made available but the waiting list is long and the options are small. The pressure to go back to work is increasing every year, with the media bombardment of shaming claimants and promoting the forty hour week as the nectar of human righteousness, with the politicians using some of the most degrading language they are legally allowed to, to describe the people they were elected to support, with the neighbourhood of people who simply do not realise how hard it is for you to continually offer bemused stares and occasional verbal jibes, life on UK benefits is not an easy one.
The things that working people take for granted; like a car, a holiday, a home with nice things in it, insurance, meals out, fancy clothes, shopping sprees, for most benefit claimants are not possible. Some of us are lucky, and have lots of support, family friends and understanding support workers are often able to give a little to help, but for many it is simply not done.
I’m lucky, having found my niche in life things have slowly improved over time but I certainly wasn’t able to take the traditional road. Having been in the breadline basket for many years, experienced first-hand what it is like to be there, and the wonderful and mixed characters we find on our way through life, I have a unique understanding of this social phenomenon. There are real people out there, behind the propaganda and the leagues of windows, people live their lives to the best of their abilities. This is the understanding that I have written into the lines of Scum: Behind the Concrete Curtain, a fictional story based on real life feelings and experiences. Unlike the infamous poverty porn we have all heard about, this story doesn’t influence anyone’s lives directly, it doesn’t interfere and it doesn’t produce a target for the professional critics to turn their often well used guns onto those who are vulnerable and in need of support not exposure.
Rowan Blair Colver