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Poverty and Benefits

My Mom says I shouldn’t talk about being ‘on benefit’ (welfare). She feels this admission will hinder me getting jobs. She highlights a truth, there is a stigma attached to being jobless and ‘signing on’. It doesn’t matter what circumstances landed you there in the first place. You are, according to society, a failure. It doesn’t matter if you’ve paid taxes since the age of 16 when you got your first job, or that expected work came to an end, or didn’t materialize. Or that you expected to be in Argentina by now with a savings in the bank from the sale of your property dancing the tango, but that your buyer backed out at the last minute, and so as a freelance person you had not set up work for yourself. For example.

It’s not fun to be on benefits. I am thankful for it but the process is of itself, a lot of work.

There’s a certain nobility to speaking about going through chemotherapy and surviving, but to speak openly about ‘being poor’? Nope, keep that hidden, it will taint you leper-style.

Everything about poverty is demoralizing; you are tested and assessed at every turn. What of dignity?

I called one of my debtors to inform them about ‘my situation’. After being directed through an automated system (over an 0845 number I was being charged for) for a few minutes I found myself addressing a customer service person in India.

The irony of that situation, with me having memories of the poverty I had witnessed over there, knowing full well me saying to the representative that I ‘couldn’t get work’ would be totally absurd to her ears. Another five minutes of being on hold and transferred about I got through to a UK representative. So thirty minutes of my life with every debt, ever bill I’ve been paying. It’s like reciting a monologue again and again for character I don’t want to be.

“Focus on the positive” is difficult when you constantly have to prove (you have no money) in order to survive. I can understand why people ignore letters and phone calls.

I am emotionally aware of the repercussions of these activities, and also know my house will sell shortly and I’ll be on my way.

On the other hand, this experience has offered me tremendous insight into ‘the system’.

We’ve created these complex infrastructures to ‘deal’ with the poor, the debted – and they are their own economies. I have two young neighbours newly graduated from college (accountancy and architecture respectfully) and their first jobs, ‘debt recovery’.

Similarly money shops are popping up everywhere; payday loans, short term, high interest loans to the vulnerable. I can understand the temptation. I get £65 per week from the system; the gas/electric board are taking £20 per week, leaving me with £45 to survive on. Without my friends and family, I’d be lost.

I’d like to see a ‘get out clause’ for these businesses for when this is all over. I’d like to know that the debt management/recovery businesses that are booming hope not to be there someday. They are businesses that are dependent on misfortune. This bothers me. It bothers me in the same way charities whose reach and financial capital has reached epic scale. I want to know that every cancer, homeless, animal welfare… charity has a ‘get out clause’. I don’t want them to be self-sustaining. They need to NOT exist. They need to plan for that day. Otherwise their existence is ethically and morally jaded.

And I want to witness a world where income in money terms is not seen as being a reflection of worth, value, success.

Yes I did make £3370.77 last year; this is not a reflection of my life, but a singular piece in the varied puzzle. It does not measure who I am, or even what I did; is no indication of the impact I had on the world, or how much I learned.

That said I look forward to being debt-free. It’s just taking too much of my time – time I’d rather spend doing something truly worthy.


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