to a study carried out last year by PriceWaterHouse
Coopers, more than one hundred thousand people are
claiming disability living allowance (DLA) in Northern
Ireland. More are receiving job seekers allowance
(JSA) as well as housing benefit. A good proportion
of them will be doing so in the long term. The same
study noted that the vast majority of job applicants
in so-called target areas of social need
are not people who are currently unemployed, but people
already working elsewhere. The different government
initiatives do not seem to convince many people on
social security benefits to reintegrate the labour
market. The fact is that a significant proportion
of the population of Northern Ireland is deliberately
trying to get as much money from the state as possible.
Authorities blame them for the current social security
deficit. Who are those people? Why do they do it?
The Vacuum decided to send Liam O Ruairc to
meet some of those dossers and investigate
the problem. Those people are all from the greater
Belfast area, have different ages and come from different
backgrounds. But they all have at least one thing
in common: they see the state as their main source
meets us in his two bedrooms terraced house, rented
thanks to Housing Benefits. Dressed up in a track
suit with a baseball cap, rings on his finger and
a silver chain round his neck, the 25 years old explains
to the Vacuum how to get most of the brew. He got
injured a few years ago, and even though it hasnt
affected him for ages, he still pretend it does. The
DLA has sent him a letter saying that they were considering
stopping payments. He appealed the authorities
decision, so a doctor has to come to check him. Rab
goes to great length to look miserable. He swallows
anti depressant -- to look realistically unwell, he
explains. His sister Bronagh is with us. She will
tell the doctor that Rab is unable to cope with life
on his own and constantly needs support. They put
a plastic sheet on his bed -- they are going to tell
the doctor that he wets his bed. None of this true
of course. Rab tells us that he has been living for
most of his life on DLA, JSA and Housing Benefits.
If he loses his DLA, his income would significantly
be affected. JSA is a relatively straightforward affair:
you just need to sign on, convince Social Security
that you are genuinely looking for work, and occasionally
attend a job interview. To complete his income, Rab
works a few days per month in bars or on building
sites. Along with Housing Benefits, Rab has an income
of approximately £800 per month. Rab is quite
happy with his current situation. He thinks life on
the DLA is dead on, there are few worries. With the
exception of the few days where he is working, he
can get out of bed whenever it suits him, and do whatever
appeals to him every day: watching TV, standing drinking
with his mates on the street corner, going to the
local leisure centre. No stress.
has much in common with Rab: she is also living on
JSA, DLA and Housing Benefits. Recently, the Housing
Executive had supplied her with a two bedroom apartment.
The place was not furnished, and because she is living
on social security benefits, the authorities gave
her a couple of hundreds of pounds to buy furniture
and equipment like a washing machine. Tina has decided
to move in with her boyfriend nearby, while at the
same time be officially resident in the Housing Executive
apartment. She is subletting it out for £300
per month. She is renting it to a cousin of hers.
Her boyfriend is also trying to get his own apartment
from the Housing Executive. Once successful, he has
already decided that he would sublet it. It is easy
money, Tina says. Financially, it is more interesting
for them to be on various benefits than it is to work.
Tina is currently investigating what the various charities
have to offer. She says that more and more, charities
end up doing the tasks the state is supposed to look
after. She predicts that in thirty years time, charities
may well have to look after the unemployed.
Joe is a middle-aged alcoholic. He used to work for
Belfast City Council until he lost his job because
of his drink problem. He gets DLA as long as he goes
to Shaftsbury Square clinic. Once he is healed, he
looses DLA, so he has no incentives to stop drinking.
He said his wife kicked him out because of his drinking.
The Simon Community take care of him. They got him
his own private apartment. It is a brilliant place.
It would probably be £400 rent per month. But
he doesnt pay a penny, as he is on DLA and JSA.
He doesnt even have to look after it a
cleaner comes every day! He tells us that he has no
intention to look for work. If he gets a job, he would
have to pay between a third and half his wage to the
Simon Community, so it isnt very interesting.
He has his own little television, and the brew gives
him enough money to buy a bottle of Vodka and two
or three bottles of Buckfast every day. He doesnt
eat much. Too much heavy drinking has killed his natural
appetite. Paddy Joe tells us that he hopes that within
the next 10 months, the housing executive will supply
him with a small flat. Those housing co-operatives
have built nice flats, he says. For an alcoholic who
left school at 16, Paddy Joe can be very surprising.
He knows all the clauses and subclauses of the social
legislation and of the different benefit systems,
and knows every penny he is entitled to receive. His
knowledge of the subject is probably better than that
of most law graduates and social workers.
is a different story. He would sincerely like to work,
but he is too old. He says that being close to fifty
years of age, it is very difficult to find work. After
a certain age, it becomes increasingly difficult to
reintegrate the labour market. He thinks of maybe
applying for a grant to start up his own business.
The alternative he says is low paid jobs. He wants
to work, but turned down a number of jobs he was offered
by the authorities. The reason is that with a job
paid £5.10 per hour, with taxation, he would
end up with less money than he would have if he is
on the brew. He says that this would make his life
more difficult than it already is. He prefers to be
unemployed than to be a working poor. Johnny has four
children. He does not want them to be long term unemployed.
He encourages them to study and hopes that they will
go on to higher education. Does he believe that education
is the solution to unemployment ? He replies that
if everybody had a degree, there would still be unemployment,
as it is necessary for the economy that there is an
industrial army of reserve. He says that too many
have a complacent attitude towards unemployment. People
grow up with their friends and families trying to
get as much money as possible from the state, so they
think it is normal to live on like that. Not that
suppressing benefits is the solution. Johnny worked
for a few years in the USA, and points out that cutting
social benefits did not make things better over there,
it actually made things worse. Besides, he says, if
all claimants disappeared tomorrow, many jobs would
be lost: all the social workers, claims advisers and
so on would themselves become unemployed!
was an explosion at Neils workplace. One person
was slightly injured and Neil happened to be about
fifty yards from the explosion. A few weeks later,
Neil went on the rip and did not turn at work for
a few days. As he had no valid excuses, Neil said
that he had been traumatised by the incident, and
was drinking heavily. His employers werent convinced
and he got suspended. Neil then devised a strategy
to get as much money as possible from the DLA. He
went to great lengths: he managed to get the Sunday
World to do an article on him ! With such evidence
he got enough money from the DLA for his girlfriend
to open a flowers shop
What is surprising is
that Neil was the only one at his workplace to have
exploited this event, as such incidents are golden
occasions to claim compensation money. When a bomb
went off near Caffreys Bar, the authorities
received more compensation claims than there were
actually people in the bar when the explosion happened.
alternatives to life on the dole are often very grim.
Going on bogus Job Schemes, Work Track or Training
Schemes, paid between £3.60 and £4.20
an hour is hardly appealing. And who wants stressful
jobs paid just a little over the minimum wage in the
likes of call centres? Sometimes the alternatives
are so bad that it is preferable to stay on the brew.
This is something those criticising social benefits
claimants for not wanting to work should think about.
There is a certain hypocrisy when the authorities
encourage DHSS touts to denounce false
claimants, when at the same time they do not encourage
Low Wages touts informing on businesses
paying salaries below the minimum wage. Or rogue
business people employing people illegally.
They should realise that there is a correlation between
the perspective of working for low wages, poor working
conditions and the refusal to take up employment.
Is a culture of working poor better than
a culture of long term unemployment? Instead of blaming
benefits claimants for social security deficit, authorities
should look at tax evasion by the business community
Why are all those respectable people not
stigmatised like the false claimants are? Is there
one law for the rich and another one for the poor?
All the above people and their stories are real, but
their names have been changed.
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