Unemployment in UK is currently at 7.4%, seeing 2.39 million Britons out of work. This has lead to more people seeking the help of the benefit system in order to live, but the UK is divided as to who they believe is deserving, branding those who do not fit accordingly into that category as thieves: ‘[Benefits] should help people through misfortunes, not subsidise slobbery’ says Conservative writer Michael Portillo, ‘They should go to the deserving, not the undeserving.’ But is the rise in benefit reliance down to ‘slobbery’, or lack of opportunities?
More than ever, people are being stigmatised for claiming benefits. Right-wing politicians are working hard to create an image of scroungers and layabouts, like that of the fictional character Frank Gallagher in Channel 4’s Shameless, to distract the public from why they have become jobless in the first place; because of our capitalist government and their policies, which put investors before it’s people.
Although there are some that do abuse the benefit system, the majority of people who use it simply cannot find work and rely on it to survive. However, due to these sweeping generalisations and comparisons to alcoholic television characters, people are quick to assume that all the young and able, who rely on it, are benefit thieves. Ralph Lee’s recent reality television series Benefits Street, which follows the lives of residents on James Turner Street (Birmingham), bursts full of negative stereotypes associated with benefit recipients. The show has been heavily criticised for using the most extreme of cases, to attempt to portray an entire social group whom rely on benefits. Owen Jones, columnist for The Independent, says: ‘The Programme hunts down the most negative examples, portrays them in a negative way, and then on social media people call for them to be gassed and shot.’
The Conservatives ‘back-to-work’ scheme, whereby claimants are ordered to do voluntary work in order to continue receiving their benefits, further highlights the opinion of our government; that the problem is laziness, as opposed to lack of work opportunities. After all, it is a lot easier for Cameron to justify benefit cuts when taxpayer’s believe the jobless are all layabouts that sponge off the government and run our economy into the ground. As if to twist the knife that little bit further, MP’s are to receive an 11% pay rise in 2015, while public sector wage increases are capped at 1%.
All Cameron’s severe cuts are going to result in, is a greater feeling of inequality and helplessness in Britain’s underprivileged young adults, encouraging crime and more national unrest. Cameron’s elitist policies look only to further disengage Britain’s youth from politics, who are feeling let down by their government and powerless to change anything. Since tuition fee’s were raised, they cannot even afford stay in education; in 2010 Ipsos Mori questioned 2,700 people aged 11-16 who were likely to apply for university. He found only 68% would still be keen on applying if fees were raised to £5000, which fell to just 45% if fees reached £7000, meaning the divide between the rich and the poor will only increase further. With tension like this building, is it any wonder that rioting dominated the streets of London in 2011?
However, David Cameron refuses to accept his policies had any influence; speaking during the rioting, Cameron said: ‘this is not about poverty, it’s about culture, a culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.’ However, the timing of the riots, and even interviews with some of the rioters, make this well rehearsed speech somewhat hard to believe. They were frustrated, desperate and felt they had no say in their own futures. Though I do not seek to condone the behaviour of the individuals involved, I do not believe it was simply an act of thuggery or just gang members that participated in the London riots – some university students were also trialled.
Although Cameron is quick to bash our generation, he is not so quick to mention those who, after leaving university or college, have no choice but to work long hours in an apprenticeship. Individuals working in apprenticeships can be paid nothing or less than minimum wage, just to gain experience in a field vaguely connected to what they have just spent several years studying for – and are still not guaranteed them a full time job at the end of it! Cameron likes to talk about rights and responsibilities, but isn’t it our right to have fair pay and job security, and is it not his responsibility to ensure we get it?