I’m on benefits and I’m not proud to be on them…


Zoe Rooney

I am 35 living in Somerset, working voluntarily within my community. I have two children and one has special needs. I suffer with mental health but do not see that as a barrier to achieve.

I am on benefits and I am not proud to be on them, but I also acknowledge they are a support for which I am thankful for. There may be many who abuse the system but isn’t that the way of life? A few give the majority a bad name. The vast majority of people on benefits are in low paid work or retired. I never expected to be on benefits for so long, nor did I expect to find that I was unable to work due to health issues. I had worked for many years, in good positions, but overnight that all changed. If it weren’t for our country’s safety net, I hate to think where I would have ended up.

I try to give back and do voluntary work to justify earning the ‘wage’ that my community pays into. However, I refuse to be seen as a scrounger or a leech on society. Iain Duncan Smith announced his idea of prepaid benefits cards. I really question why the people with all the money decide what is best for those who have nothing. Have they ever had to wonder where the next meal is coming from? Had to make the choice to eat or heat? Searching for pennies to buy bare essentials? While the prepaid cards seem a good idea in regards to helping those with addictions, what of the thousands that do not have addictions and are forced into the same bracket?

The theory being that without cash, drugs cannot be bought… well I hate to burst your bubble Mr Smith but surely those with addictions can easily buy a product and sell it cheaper to get some quick cash? So now they are receiving less benefit money as they are trading down. So what happens next? How long before petty theft increases as they try to feed their habit? If you give me all my money on a prepaid card then how am I to pay for a loaf of bread? Give the children a couple of quid pocket money? My children do not take cards. All this is going to do is once again take more ownership of their lives away. We already have a nanny state and the whole premise in the last few years, with Universal Credit, is to give power back to the people and encourage them to manage themselves, so why now are we back tracking? Give with one hand and take with the other? Is there going to be a minimum spend in shops for these cards? What if a card is lost?

Those with mental health problems struggle at the best of times but giving them a card that is so easily abused is simply farcical. When will the government come down out off the pedestals and hit the streets and really see what is happening? Food banks are being accessed more than ever. Children are going to school hungry and relying on funded dinners. Parents choose to go without meals in order to provide for their loved ones. “This is a change for those families that we as a Conservative government will be proud of.” I am sorry but I do not need you to feel proud of me… I need you to be realistic when you decide these short sighted changes. The bedroom tax is forcing families out of their homes where generations have grown up. I understand the housing shortage but perhaps if the government gave housing associations more money and backing to build new homes, which in turn would put money back into the economy, then a start would be made to really changing lives for the better. Why is the housing crisis not significant in any party’s main pledges?

Maybe the way the housing shortage will be resolved is to have more desperate people sent to prison, as they steal to feed habits or feed their family. Funding is being taken from all NHS budgets, including mental health. Beds are so few and far between. With the poorest in society already being stretched to their limit, when they are forced into depression and despair, there will be no where for them to go for help. We need greater opportunities, a decent living wage, adequate pension provision and more affordable housing for all of society, not just a select few.

Gary Orr (Chief Executive of Yarlington Housing Group) has ideals that sound far superior to the damage control being ploughed out by the government- “an affordable warm home in a community that offers opportunity for people to realise their hopes and dreams, for themselves and their children is a fundamental right. Today too many are excluded that’s why we must back the Campaign to build more homes and create opportunity for those that face our nation’s housing crisis. Yarlington, like many other organisations, provide a raft of employment, training & education services to actively assist local citizens. We are in the residents’ corner; we are on the side of the vulnerable; we demonstrate our independence by championing our residents rights.

For me we need a welfare system that is on your side, that starts from the premise that you have hopes and dreams and recognises that you are not the problem but an opportunity in what is a challenging and competitive environment ” This kind of opinion on a political stage would get my vote. Forget the way you pay people and provide more housing and better facilities and funding for mental health. In my opinion the major problem is that those at the top of the food chain, have forgotten those who are going to food banks to survive.