Americans might not have heard about people living on benefits, but such cases are more or less common in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, over the years, various TV channels have taken the opportunity to describe the cases of multiple individuals, but the fact of the matter is that the so-called ‘truth’ exposed by the media couldn’t be farther from reality.

In an attempt to grow their audience, many TV channels from the United Kingdom have showcased some circumstances where people receiving out-of-work benefits were even more privileged than those who are forced to take a traditional 9-to-5 job.

Of course, such cases are spectacular and have somehow managed to convince the public that it is only due to a failing benefits system that these people are allowed to avoid work altogether and worse yet, even be paid for it.

The hard truth? Living on benefits is definitely not a lifestyle choice

Most of those watching these TV shows or the producers themselves have somehow gotten it into their heads that living on benefits was a personal choice of those shown on TV. In fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most people on benefits need a loan today, and that’s because it is virtually impossible for them to survive on as little as forty to fifty pounds per day.

What’s more, many of these individuals have a hard time coping with the situation from an intellectual standpoint. Many claim that they feel useless and that they constantly have the feeling that, just because they are walking down the street on a workday, passersby will know that they’re living on the social aid offered by the government.

While most of the TV audience for these shows have made the call to ignore the cases altogether, others have decided that they can’t keep quiet any longer. The critics say that living on benefits is a decision that anyone can take with ease. In actuality, more than half of those who receive any type of financial aid are job seekers just like any other random person down the street.

But who makes up the rest? Some are single parents who can’t cope with taking care of their children without providing them with the attention they require. Others are disabled individuals, who make up another important part of the percentage of people living on benefits. And finally, there are people whose pensions just aren’t enough to provide them with what they need.

As some of the resources we’ve come across have pointed out, the system is failing in one respect, and that is that it is incapable of removing the stigma around this type of living. Both the politicians and the media have somehow ended up in charge with the role of stigmatizing those on benefits.

 

It’s not only happening in the UK

In the spring of 2016, VICE published an article about a 31-year old Frenchman, Benjamin, who had decided to quit his job and start helping the people around him. The French have a unique benefits system of their own, although it might be slightly more intelligent compared to that available in the United Kingdom, which is to say that not anyone can receive financial compensation from the government.

Benjamin was a young individual who had worked long hours at a startup for approximately two and a half years before becoming a part-time worker. After standing up for an employee who was being ill-treated by the bosses, he made sure everyone at the office started to know that he hated his job and wanted to be fired.

And fired he was, after sending an email to a shareholder with all of his bosses on cc inviting him out for a meal to tell him his perspective on his job. The VICE article was written in April 2016 and Benjamin hadn’t had a job since 2014. Guess what? That wasn’t because he was looking or because people weren’t willing to hire him — but because he wasn’t.

The man claims that he now has time to pay attention to the people and things that truly matter in his life. Whenever he gets too attached to the idea of having money, he starts reassessing his personal needs.

People quit their jobs because of burnouts

For people who have never worked in the IT and online marketing environments, it might be more or less difficult to understand the concept of burnout. In fact, it might seem like a grave exaggeration, especially in the eyes of an individual who has to make a lot of effort to get through a day’s work.

However, the hard truth is that surviving in the corporate world is very difficult. The first time you apply to a job for a big company, the ad might appeal to you because of sayings like ‘office perks,’ ‘flexible schedule,’ ‘great pay,’ or whatever else recruiters might use to lure in the candidates. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take more than two to three months for things to turn sour – overtime, not as many perks as you might have thought, and hardly any free time because you also have to work from home or on the weekends.

Of course, this isn’t the case of all corporate environments, as there are happy cases such as Google, which is a company that obviously cares about its employees.

The same VICE article we were referring to earlier mentioned the case of Vincent, aged 37, who was used to making 4,800 pounds per month as a project manager in information technology. In 2008, he left the company he was working for after attempting to kill himself. He had already suffered a burnout in 2003, but he received only three weeks of sick leave.

Cases where people working for various corporate companies either die from exhaustion or suffer burnouts are extremely common nowadays, and some have even died at the office. In October 2017, a Japanese woman died from overwork after logging 159 hours of overtime in a month.

The common signs of burnout range from severe exhaustion, cynicism, and emotionally draining work to a complete absence of positive emotions and dire thinking, also known as catastrophic thoughts. It’s very easy for other people to judge individuals who are caught in a vicious circle that entails overworking day in, day out, but the truth is that not many of us could do it without suffering a burnout ourselves.

 

Let’s talk figures. What is it like to live on benefits?

Whether they were laid off or they now receive benefits because they are single parents, most of the people in these situations find it difficult to manage their money and will often end up in debt. The cases where these individuals have to live on less than 100 pounds per week are extremely common, with many of them having to do the same for not just one, but two persons.

Most people living in the United Kingdom will know that it is often difficult to rent a room in a house or flat with a minimum of 300 to 400 pounds. If what you receive per month in benefits is about 600 pounds, that 100 pound-figure we were mentioning earlier on isn’t even real. You’ll have to live with approximately fifty pounds per week, which is virtually impossible as a daily trip to any supermarket might cost you at least ten to fifteen pounds, and that’s only if you stick to the basics for yourself — not for your family, too.  

 

Prejudice makes it worse

There have been cases where people have tried to get a job time and again using their local Job Centers. Unfortunately, upon being unsuccessful for several weeks, they started becoming depressed, and once they manifested their concerns to the counselors at the centers, they were looked down upon and were even removed their benefits.

The reason why this has happened to so many people is that many consultants don’t have the open-mindedness that’s necessary to manage such circumstances and they fail to manifest an empathy toward the person who is in dire straits.

A small study performed by Robert de Vries in Oxford has revealed that people are far more tempted to associate benefit claimants with words like ‘useless,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘dirty’ than they would with ‘wonderful’ or ‘clean,’ for example.

What’s the progress?

According to the Quarterly Benefits Summary published by GOV.UK in November 2017, things aren’t so bad as one might think. In fact, the jobseeker’s allowance number has decreased from 1 million in 2000 to 460 thousand in May of 2017. The same happened for those claiming income support, as there used to be about 2.5 million in 2000 and in the month of May 2017, there were only 600 thousand.

The areas where we’ve noticed an increase in numbers are Universal Credit, Carer’s Allowance, as well as Employment and Support Allowance. Both the pensions benefits and the housing benefits figures have remained somewhat stationary.

So, as much as the media might like to hyperbolize the whole situation, it isn’t as tragic as one might be tempted to believe it is.