Irony in the exam room

An exam on social welfare and benefits in Britain to be exact.

After revising for weeks the history of our welfare state, something that was once a great source of pride in this country, I felt a great sense of shame. Not because of the welfare system itself, but because of who orchestrates it, alters it, and the direction in which it is growing.

The culture of hate growing against a small portion of the claimant community is alarming. You would think that this is due to the economic climate at the moment, but historically the general populous is more inclined to support the benefits system and its aims in times of economic difficulty.

At present it seems the opposite is occurring, and this could be down to a number of factors. It appears that every time there is a conservative government, the narrative of ‘scroungers’ grows in strength, and the lexicon used to talk about the subject becomes increasingly pejorative. The group are then used as a scapegoat for all of Britain’s problems when in fact it is the way we fail to help them that is to blame.

Whilst revising, I broke up the book reading and the note taking for some ‘lighter’ revision material that I was hoping portrayed the welfare state in a slightly different manner to middle class academics and commentators. The Channel 4 documentary ‘Benefit’s Street’ seemed like a good idea, but conversely to expected; it further demonised the people and sensationalised the issue.

And so I asked myself – what is the problem here? And when I was sat in the exam room I had an epiphany… it is the university system. I am an anomaly in the system; the first in my family to go to university brought up in a council estate in a run down town, having to work two or three jobs throughout my time in education (since I was 13 to be exact) to keep going.

But the majority of my peers around me probably hadn’t worked until recently, or still don’t. Probably have mum and dad picking up the rent bill, the food bill, etc. This middle class enclave are learning about something they most likely have never had any real life experience of and almost certainly never will, and these are the people that will continue forth into the world to shape social security policy and mould our welfare state. That is the problem.

Now I don’t necessarily think these people go into such work lightly, or with the wrong intentions, or without the desire to really know what a life on benefits is like… but all the material out there that tells outsiders about it is top-down, derogatory, and narrow. It often focuses on the purely financial aspects of poverty when poverty of opportunity is the most damaging facet at play.

JSA isn’t the most expensive benefit to the government contrary to popular belief. Unemployment benefits are actually responsible for less that 10 per cent of the bill. Pensions, housing benefits, child support, and disability benefits all take up more of the tax payers money but they don’t make for an interesting story. To scapegoat those groups would be considered inappropriate, even discriminatory. The scrounger ‘underclass’ narrative needs to be considered in that way; because the generational default is our fault.

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