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“Benefits Scroungers” Who Will Defend Us?

Monday morning. Up and ready for my ambulance car to take me to St. James Hospital in Leeds. To the Bexley Wing, an amazing facility built by a Labour Government where I have my twice weekly cycle of plasma exchange which has not only save my life, but given me at long last some semblance of a live worth living. All is well.

Until I turn on my TV to be greeted with Sky News paper review which has in glorious full screen the front page of the Daily Express: “WAR ON BENEFIT SCROUNGERS!” it screams.


I feel suddenly like I’ve been hit by a train, short of breath and panicked. This is followed by a slow, sickening feeling in my stomach and a horrible sensation which is hard to describe.


Because there is a daily diet in our media of stories where you hear of the most diabolical cases featuring chronically ill and dying people having their social security (not “benefits” which makes it sound like it’s a perk such as a company car, or that horrid American word “welfare”) stopped completely. They call the offices of the company that does the Work Capability Assessment (a firm brought in by New Labour minister Yvette Cooper) a private operation called ATOS “Lourdes”. This is because people go in chronically ill or even dying, and come out afterwards cured and fit for work.

Logically I know I have nothing to worry about. This is due to the supreme luck of having an aggressive and incurable condition that requires constant hospital treatment of three hourly sessions on a plasma exchange machine. I am fortunate to have experienced long periods of total immobility and having to literally crawl out of bed to use the facilities. Heart problems, complications with diabetes, uncontrollable limbs, the list goes on. I am truly blessed as this means I can’t be messed about with any longer by the system.

But anxiety, depression and the sheer debilitating affect of my condition make me vulnerable to paranoia and the feeling that something must go wrong. As if enough hasn’t already. It’s hard not to let your thoughts run away with you sometimes.

All joking aside. I AM lucky. To be intelligent (stop sniggering at the back), to have a loving and secure family, great friends and above all the confidence to challenge when things get tough with the NHS or indeed the DWP.

Many of our fellow travellers in this life don’t have these advantages.

Who will stand up for them?

“Many people on the doorstep at the last election felt that too often we were for shirkers not workers.” Then: “Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this happen?” Also: from the Guardian front page, “Labour will be tougher than Tories on benefits, promises new welfare chief”. Unemployed people would not be allowed to “linger on benefits”.

Emotive and carefully chosen language from leading figures in the Labour Party cancelling out all the hard work put into helping their constituents up and down the country by Labour Councillors. Said Councillors who are working night and day to try and mitigate any way they can the devastating effects of savage Tory cuts.

Where is the challenge to the Tories on the disgusting way in which they frame the debate? Instead this from the leader, “‘Successive governments did not do enough to deal with the rise in people on incapacity benefit. The last Labour government should have acted on it sooner.’ The implication is clear that many on social security were not “deserving”.

Someone needs to stand up and question the whole way in which the nation discusses this issue. Instead we have gawp fests such as “Benefits Street”. Then there are respected programmes such a Panorama discussing what those in receipt of Social Security spend their money on. I seem to remember an absolute furore from MP’s when it was them under the microscope. Where is Banker Street? This is just as “valid” as it’s public money that saved the banks, and quantitative easing that has caused record highs on the Stock Exchange, lining the pockets of financiers and hedge fund managers. £375 billion spent on tax credits for the rich whilst our young people suffer and house building is at an all time low.

Someone from the Labour Front bench needs to tell the country the facts. More goes unclaimed in Social Security than is paid out falsely. According to the DWP themselves, 2.1% of the Social Security Budget is mis spent. But due to the putrid atmosphere the public think it’s 27%.

We need a message of hope and not despair from our politicians. We need to stop being scared. We don’t need Osborne’s Plan A, or Clegg’s Plan B. We need Plan S, Plan Socialism.

We need properly paid jobs for all who need them. We need a mass house building programme to provide homes that we can afford and can be proud of, and we need democratic control of all our public services where the workers run things for the benefit of the people, not fat cat public sector bosses or private companies.

This includes Parliament which needs to look and sound like the country it is meant to represent rather than be stuffed with privately educated middle aged men. I don’t want my MP to represent Virgin Healthcare, or a hedge fund in the city. They should be of, and for the people because this country belongs to us, not the Cabinet of millionaires in London, Barclays Bank, Starbucks, or those multi national companies that are holding our country to ransom.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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