Personal reflection and glimpse of life on benefits in Belfast


When most people think of benefit fraud they usually think of the ‘solitary criminal figure’ that doesn’t want to work and who continually pockets more from the benefit system than they have been allocated. This vision is primarily the image conjured up by the mainstream media, politicians and the gutter press such as the Sun. It’s ok if your filthy rich and wealthy such as the Murdoch mafia who can afford to hire lawyers and keep their money in offshore accounts away from the public gaze.

There is however, a face more sinister than you can possibly imagine that has been hidden from view by the powers-that-be in order to persuade the common citizen that the real spongers are among the population at large. The face in question is the face of the corporation, the property developer etc; the anonymous gate-crasher that has been slinking in the shadows for far too long, now needs to be brought into view for all to behold.

When I think of benefit fraud I do not think of the average person on benefits that receives £56.37 every week. No, I’m thinking of the average corporation that introduces itself to a run-down community and instead of using its enormous profits to lift the local population out of poverty by creating long-term sustainable employment, bleeds the place dry. Belfast is no exception to this! As Irish News columnist recently pointed out, “Thatcher here is remembered here for her free market philosophy and her hostility to the hunger strikers seeking political prisoner status. Our assembly’s adoption of her economic philosophy suggests we are all her political prisoners now.”(p10, 13/05/08)

When a corporation opens up in a new area it does not solely use the profits it has made to do this. What it does is simple. It contacts the local council or state quango such as Invest NI with a business plan that will ‘regenerate’ the area in question. Then it requests that the local council –with tax payers’ money- foot the bill. Does the recent economic conference in Belfast ring any bells in which nearly 1 million of tax-payers money was used with no immediate benefit?

Granted, there are some people on benefits who try to get an extra few quid from the social services. Well wouldn’t you if you only received £56.37 a week? Let’s take a couple of typical examples of ordinary people that are supposed to be the main defrauders of the benefit system.

Well, there’s usual culprit; the single mother with two kids. After paying all the rising living costs and bills such as gas, electric, groceries, not to mention clothes that the children need as they are constantly growing- there is basically nothing left for her, therefore she is not even living; she is merely existing and struggling to make ends meet each day.

Or what about the single man that, supposedly, doesn’t want to work. Usually he is either divorced or separated from his wife and has to worry about getting access to the kids. He also has the same bills to pay as the single mother, with the added expense of living separately. He is also merely a spectre of a human being waiting for death.

These are two examples of ‘typical’ people who are on benefits. There are others who try to defraud the system though they are few and far between and good on them. The real drain on the benefit system in terms of cost and social impact comes not from these sparsely scattered individuals. It comes from the welfare taxes that are distributed to multi-national corporations as a sort of lure in order to attract these parasites while keeping us in line.

A majority of this money is taken as tax revenue from ordinary people each year and given to these corporations completely free. This money could be better spent on reducing fuel poverty or improving our schools and hospitals or getting rid of the incoming water charges but we don’t expect anything less from the state in which prioritises the needs of capital. Economy minister Nigel Dodds and Economy minister could not have clarified the issue any better in the last investment conference stating, “You will find a province which is open for business and a government which is deeply committed to working with business, for business.” Stacking shelves for a fiver-an-hour or scanning items into a till is not my idea of a good job. In fact, the opposite could be said. That these so-called ‘good’ jobs are, in essence, nightmare jobs. I’d like to give an example of what I mean by ‘career’ jobs and ‘dead-end jobs if I may and use myself as the individual that wants to better his current circumstances.

In 2005 I had had enough. I was on Incapacity Benefit for personal reasons and was simply rotting away. I wanted to change this. To do this I first had to sign off Incapacity and sign up to job seekers. This I did. However, what the interviewing officer neglected to mention was that I would have to take whatever job that came up regardless of how tedious it was.

What I had originally planned was to go to college for two years. If I got the results I wanted I could then go on to University to do a degree or maybe even a masters’ degree depending on the costs. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch!

To my surprise the plans I had for the future where almost immediately knocked-on-the-head by the civil servant that took my interview. I protested, saying that I had had enough of menial labour and that I wanted a chance to develop my intellectual capabilities.

I believe the interviewers’ next phrase was that I would look incongruous in that sort of atmosphere, that I should be realistic about my future endeavours. I took this remark as a personal insult and said that I would not sign any of the documents that they wanted me to sign until I had seen my solicitor.

Can you guess what she did next? Yes. She folded like a cheap suit. As soon as I mentioned that I would contact my solicitor for advice I was immediately, without question, allowed to partake in the course I had applied for and was virtually guaranteed that I would not be interfered with until my schooling was complete. This is not all we can do, as a class acting collectively and in solidarity we can organise occupations, strikes and other means at our disposal to get across the message.

Now, I am pleased to say that I gained the qualifications I required and will be entering Queens University this September. If, however, I hadn’t had mentioned the possibility of action being taken against the social services for trying to sabotage my future prospects then I know for certain that I would be working in a Mc job for the rest of my life.

It was surprisingly refreshing to look up the definition of the term Benefit fraud on the internet and find this little statement, “[b]enefit fraud is falsely claiming money from the Government. Typically defrauding a government by falsely claiming state help or money.” (Wikipedia).

Look at that statement again. Do corporations need state help? Do they require state money? If a person can be punished for trying to get an extra few pounds a week to live on then what should we -in a supposedly free and equal society- do to a multi-national corporation that enters an area, pockets all the resources then leaves the community ten years later, jobless, broke and fighting for the pension they were assured of?

With all this in mind, now, who do you think the real benefit fraudsters are?

"To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed,
law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached
at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded,
by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the
virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every
transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured,
numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented,
forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of
public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed
under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted
from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then at the slightest resistance, the
first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harrassed,
hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned,
judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to
crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is
government; that is its justice; that is its morality."( P.J Proudhan)