How our benefits system costs the tax payer more money
Last weekend I watched I, Daniel Blake (late to the party, as always). It was moving and beautiful, but I’m aware there are many people in this country who think that a film about benefits does not apply to them. So, using this film as inspiration, I wanted to point out a couple of things to those people:
Our benefit system is costing you more money by punishing claimants.
- The benefit system makes sick people sicker for longer, so they claim for longer.
- The benefit system creates benefit cheats.
The benefit system makes sick people sicker for longer
We all know that stress is a killer, but stress also makes sick people more sick, so they can’t work, for longer. I had a brain injury, but what really prolonged my ability to get better was extreme stress. The stress was rooted in the accident, however, I didn’t show any symptoms of it until I tried to claim for benefits and that was clearly a trigger. One of the most stressful things you can experience is to have your survival in the hands of lying, incompetent people who don’t think of you as human. The film explores how this feels, how it destroys vulnerable people, breaks them down.
While claiming I found the system so relentlessly illogical and devoid of a duty of care that I became convinced that the government was trying to kill me, that was first sign of psychosis I experienced, after that it got worse. I was on benefits for six years, I think if I hadn’t been pushed to that point by the benefits system, if I could have relaxed, safe in the knowledge I was cared for and concentrated on recovery, I could have gone back to work in a year.
This may sound like a one off extreme experience (or maybe melodramatic), but it has happened to every genuinely sick person I have known who has tried to claim; because all illness, mental or physical, is made worse by stress. And everybody, no matter how ill, goes through the same system of being treated like a scrounger, lied to, tricked, dismissed.
Add to that the situations shown in the film – people being sanctioned and then not being able to eat properly or heat their home – all these things increase stress, prolong sickness and lead to the claimant needing benefits for much longer.
The benefit system works better for cheats than for the seriously ill – so the sick become cheats
The system is designed to be illogical and exhausting in order to put off benefit claimants. The problem with this is that benefit cheats have the mental and physical resources to deal with endless nonsensical and wrong instructions, they have the energy levels necessary to spend hours on the phone and they know the system so know just how to play it. People like Daniel in the film have never claimed benefits and don’t understand the system. They tell the truth (because they assume that is the right thing to do) and they are short on the strength necessary to play the game, all of which means they will not get money.
As a result, many seriously ill people give up trying, they rely on friends and family to survive or they kill themselves (see below for some info about casualties). Dan sold his furniture and went hungry; and this is a seriously ill man who has just had a heart attack. I was lucky enough to understand computers (which Dan doesn’t) and I had a good friend to take over filling out forms and calling up advisers. Even with this help, I learnt that if I was to get money to live, I needed to change how I acted. Honesty and doing what I was asked to do, simply didn’t work. So I learnt to lie and cheat and manipulate, and that was how I got the money I needed to live.
Which is where the problem lies for the tax payer: The benefits system creates cheaters because honest people don’t get money. And being a cheater doesn’t just go away when you get better. If you have ever had someone repeatedly screw you over when you are at your most vulnerable you will perhaps understand: it changes you, it creates a cynicism and an anger that don’t vanish, and cynical, angry people, who have learned to work the system, aren’t good for society.
This blog was originally going to be a review, but there are plenty of excellent reviews about this important film and I had nothing helpful to add. In case you missed them…
Some facts about the system:
- True Story that mirrors that of the film
- Some research into the possible effects of sanctions here
- Calum’s List – an attempt to keep track of people who have died as a result of people beaten down by the benefit system.
And finally a quote taken from the review above:
“I must emphasise one point. I, Daniel Blake is not a “poverty flick”, nor even a film about poverty. It’s about dignity, about society recognising you as a human being and not as a number. It’s about the relationships we create with one another to save us dying from state-imposed loneliness. The way we treat people on benefits becomes a metaphor for our society’s radical failure to recognise the humanity in others.”