‘The Benefits Mess: A Personal View’ – Response

July 11, 2012 10:22 pm

Firstly, I am not condemning the benefits system in its entirety; please do not mistake this. I am criticizing the approach toward work Sallie Bruce purported to have in her article. I am compelled to post a response as I am concerned many think her argument is logical and valid. It is neither.

Secondly, I do not know the personal circumstance of Ms Bruce and make no comment upon them. Nevertheless, I inferred from her article and its title that she has been or is on benefits and has or would refuse a job if the pay was not a significant amount more than any benefits she may receive or has received. My response is a criticism of this thinking.

I read the article with some interest as the subject is so contentious. Although loathe to share my political leanings with the world, I feel bound to address Sallie Bruce and briefly offer my perspective on certain aspects of her article. It was a depressing insight into a struggling stratum of society.

This is a hint.

If you haven’t read the article, please do. It certainly is compelling. It does contain unsupported allegations that the benefits system favours non-British citizens and follows this by comparing the United Kingdom to the third world, trivialising the plight of actual third world countries in a manner which is disturbingly careless. However, I attribute these fallacies to over-emphatic rhetoric and cannot believe Ms Bruce sincerely thinks this way.

The salient point within the article is summarised in a sentence close to the end:

‘…there is absolutely no reason to go out to work and pay transport costs to get to there, when by doing so you’re making yourself no better off financially than staying in and doing nothing all day.’

It was reading this that my interest was overrun by nausea. It may be one of the most abhorrent, selfish sentences I have read in some time; it suggests the only reason to work is to earn money and if the money earned is no better than government hand-outs, then there is no purpose to employment. I am writing to emphasize the selfish, self-serving offensiveness of this view: I cannot fathom that Ms Bruce believes it morally acceptable to refuse a job and rely entirely upon the obliged generosity of her fellow citizens.  By doing so she changes her status from someone who contributes to society to someone who is simply taking from it. In short, it is greedy.

By working (and earning) a person becomes a member of the workforce and serves a purpose as a citizen. If a person is given the opportunity to earn £X working or can instead claim the same money from the government, it seems to me obvious the person should feel compelled to work in order to become someone useful and valued. If they choose not to, they act purely for themselves and without any consideration for others. The money which makes up unemployment and housing benefit does not materialize from nothing; it comes from all those pay tax and the large majority of tax is claimed from wages. By refusing work, a person becomes a burden on the rest of society. If a person is trying desperately to work but can’t make it on their own, I applaud our society for its kindness and willing to walk them forward. But should a person be able to accept a job and decides not to, they ask us to carry them because they just don’t feel like walking. It is lazy.

Consider it another way; A goes to his best friend, B. A explains he is currently out of work and needs help. B generously says to A, ‘I’ll give you £70 to get through the week, until you get a job.’ They meet the next week and B asks A; ‘Did you find a job?’ A has; ‘Yeah, in a café. But it’s only part time and it only pays £75 a week, so I’m not taking it. Then I’d lose the £70 from you. So I’d be working for a fiver.’ Doesn’t that seem unfair? Would a person treat their friend that way?  It should be no different when considering benefits; it isn’t rationalized by thinking ‘it’s the Government’s money.’ There is no such thing as ‘government money’ – it’s all tax-payers money; the Government are simply responsible for handling it. So if a person is buying food from the supermarket using their benefit pay-out, they should remember the girl or boy on the till has effectively helped them pay a little part. To you directly, Ms Bruce: when you complain about the staff at the job centre, just know that if people like them weren’t paying taxes, there wouldn’t be any benefits to hand out. By refusing work offered, you are a burden upon the rest of us.

Go out there, start living how you want to. Take the job and be successful.
Would five year old you be proud of you now?

This means anyone who doesn’t consider anything but the fiscal advantages when they choose to work or not is inflicting selfishness upon the rest of us. If more people accepted the jobs offered to them then there would be a higher rate of employment. More people in employment could mean the budget wouldn’t need to be so large for unemployment and housing benefit. That money could be spent on other more useful projects, perhaps giving the NHS more cash to help them save lives, or giving more money back to businesses so they can expand and create more jobs, or simply helping the council support schemes to keep the young people occupied. I am not naïve enough to think this change would be instant but if we are to avoid a state where many are dependent and work-shy, change needs to occur now. That change isn’t simply the responsibility of the government—it is the responsibility of everyone who agrees to be a part of society by existing and engaging with our world.

Finally, I take issue with the simple slamming of our government policy and the way the benefits system works. Ms Bruce, you offer no alternative. If you want a change you should consider what exactly needs to be done and how it could be achieved. Otherwise, it is passing the blame; another person going ‘I wish things would change; oh well, not my problem!’

(N.B -Views expressed in content published are those of the individual writer and may not represent the opinions of  MoonProject or any member of the MoonProject team. – Ed.) 

  • Sallie Bruce

    In my article I was pointing out why there is a problem with people on benefits not finding work which has been highlighted in the media throughout the year. I was also highlighting what actually occurs when somebody is actually on benefits. I do work everyday 6 days a week & earn minimum wage but do not & have not turned this down. I also contribute to my fathers cancer treatment in Australia & assisting in raising 3 children who’s mother died in childbirth. So before judging me & writing a scathing article on me you should think that maybe I am not the person you have made out I am.
    I don’t believe from anything you have said that you have been in the unfortunate situation to be in temporary housing, on housing benefits or on job seekers benefits I may be wrong however.
    I believe people should know what it is actually like when you are in the situation of needing temporary housing etc as it defiantly isn’t what it is made out to be.
    In regards to being a 3rd country when you are having to prove you can not live on the street & look after yourself but have previously been a tax payer I would like to know how this is ok? I have also seen non English & EU people use our benefit system like it is a joke and a way for them to make a lot of money & seen first hand how they get priority over British people whom paid tax only a matter of months ago.
    I’m sorry if you have taken offence to what I have written but everything is fact from first hand experience.

  • David

    Hi Sallie,

    The conclusion you reached was that there was no point in working if you didn’t earn more money than being unemployed on benefits. This is what I was replying to, I hope this is clear. You did not write an article on the difficulty of finding employment and the reason why people do not work, in your opinion, is that there is no financial incentive. My writing addresses this.

    As I said at the beginning of my article, my intention is not a personal critique of you; I am not criticising your personality but I do disagree with your view that it is not worth working if the government can provide the same financial benefits. I have not made you out to be anything at all, I don’t think. What have seen in the above to make you say that?

    I think it is clear that I have made no judgements about the lifestyle of those on benefits. I am not in any way suggesting it is an easy ride. I am simply condemning those who choose benefits over work when they may have work available (as discussed in your article.)

    I am not commenting whether this is an ‘ok system’ or not. I simply think to compare Britain to a third world country is a tad unrealistic; in some countries workers survive on less than a couple pounds a day and here we receive £70 per week while unemployed. I think most people in Britain are more fortunate that many in the third world.

    Kind regards,


  • John

    David, I agree with your sentiments entirely. People would rather sit there taking benefits than work for only a little bit more. What they don’t realise and a further point you didn’t make is that, of course as a starting job they get paid minimum wage or badly, but everyone has to start, and after a little bit of hard work and time they would get a pay rise and move up in the world and be better off. Or at the very least add to their C.V. I think it is shocking the way people use and abuse the system and other taxpayers money – I dread to think how much has been wasted by idle and lazy people – probably enough to fund the entire Olympics…. I don’t know what the solution is because if it is made much harsher, then there are those who are genuinely seeking jobs who might suffer, although I do believe that anyone can find a job if they try hard enough. Still, something must be done to stop this culture of living off the hard work of others. Laziness is too far ingrained in our society – and it is these people that complain about our government not helping them and the economy – it isn’t the government, it is them and people like them who take benefits instead of jobs that are part of the cause of this problem.

  • David

    Hi John,

    Just to clarify, Sallie Bruce suggested people preferred to claim than to work and I have taken her at her word. It may not be representative of many people. But, in the case where it is true, my opinion is different to Sallie’s because she thinks it is justified on financial grounds whereas I think it wrong for people not to contribute to society where it is possible.

    It can be extremely difficult to find a job and many are working hard to get one. The article is aimed at those who aren’t.

    I like your comment regarding the wage increases as a role progresses. I think people often look for short term fixes and we should instead be balancing this against long term answers.

    Kind regards,


  • Sallie Bruce

    I had my original comment deleted as I wanted to put more thought into a response.

    I agree with your comments that it is wrong for people not to contribute to society, however the way the benefits system is set up I personally don’t feel it encourages people to get a job no matter the pay so they can contribute.

    Myself & how I personally behave is different to so many that I have first hand seen not want to work cause it’s ‘not worth their time’ That’s the culture we need to break & by paying the people not working the same as people working it doesn’t help in that cycle.

    Jobs are exceptionally hard to come by & personally I would never think to turn down a job due to pay. My current job started out only 10hours per week & the hours have increased due to my want to work more.

    My complaint about the job centre staff is that rather than acting like an atm should they not be helping people find jobs or furthering their skills so they can get back into the workforce & therefor begin paying tax again? 

  • Sallie Bruce

    Regarding my third world country comment. I have seen first hand in my short time on benefits where I was in Temporary accommodation that non British citizens do get pushed through the system quicker & also I can give you at least 3 specific examples of non British citizens who were exploiting the system & opening told certain people of this. My reference to a third world country relates to the need for British tax payers who get in trouble & require help, needing to provide evidence they can not look after themselves on the street. I think people would agree that is absurd

  • David

    Hi Sallie,

    I appreciate you taking the time to get back to me again. I’ve been told you are planning to write a response article and I am looking forward to it.

    We agree that the culture of people thinking it ‘isn’t worth their time’ must be broken and that someone should never turn down a job due to pay. I think it is interesting you would never dream of doing so but understand it is ok for others? And that you blame the system for not encouraging people? If you motivated yourself to get up and get out working, why is it ok that other people don’t?

    Regarding the staff at the job centre, I agree with you to an extent. But I still feel the individual should be taking responsibility for themselves- they are adults and should behave as such; the staff aren’t meant to be parents pushing them to achieve their best.

    Kind regards,


    • Sallie Bruce

      To a point I can understand why some people may not actively look for work when they will get the same per week as on benefits. Surely people should get more by working than by not & being on benefits?? That would encourage so many more people to find wok of any kind & therefore lower unemployment & the amount spent by the government on benefits.

      Regarding the job centre staff, isn’t that there job to help the unemployed back into work?? Why is it called a ‘Job Centre’ and why are they called ‘Job Centre Advisors’ if they don’t do that??
      Yes people are ultimately responsible for helping themselves, however when finding work especially with how things are now you can never have enough people on your side helping you & giving you the confidence needed.

  • Sallie Bruce

    Some of this response has been said in parts which I apologise in advance for.
    Firstly in response to my approach to work. I have never nor will I reject a job offered to me due to its pay not being more than what I could earn on benefits. I do work currently and have worked for more than ten years, I have also volunteered my time to assist those less fortunate and will continue to do this for many years to come.  When I was offered the job I am currently doing it was exceptionally low hours, low pay and extremely hard physical work yet I didn’t think once of turning it down.
    Every situation highlighted in my article is what occurs when you are faced with the unfortunate situation of being on benefits. I can only assume from your naivety that you have thankfully not been in this situation, however I might be wrong.
    I have seen firsthand in my short time on benefits where I was in temporary accommodation that non British citizens do get pushed through the system quicker.  Also, I can give you at least three specific examples of non British citizens who were exploiting the system and openly told certain people of this.
    My reference to a third world country relates to British tax payers who get in trouble and require help, needing to provide evidence they cannot look after themselves on the street. I think people would agree that is absurd
    My complaint about the job centre staff is that rather than acting like an ATM, should they not be helping people find jobs or furthering their skills so they can get back into the workforce and therefore begin paying tax again?
    Benefits should be in no means a way for people to earn a living, however the way it is currently set up it does not provide a disincentive for people not to use it that way.
    If somebody said to you:
    “go and work a 38 hour week earning your normal wage, however we will not only take out tax, but take everything else you earn and leave you only with £70, which has to pay your transport, food, TV license etc”;
    would you do it week in week out when you knew you could get that exact amount of money with subsided transport by not working? Honestly I doubt very much many people would.
    The higher cost of living in this world means that what you earn is a critical factor of how you live, and what you spend, which essentially keeps the economy moving, keeps people in jobs and creates the possibility of new jobs.
    By you saying if people did not look at fiscal advantage there would be more people working is a ridiculous argument, as you also said take a job and be successful. People have different means of measuring success, none of which can be criticised be you nor me, but keeping a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food on the table, heating on, ability to get around on transport, all would be deemed necessities which do not come without fiscal expense.  So of course people think about how much fiscal advantage working gives them.
    Businesses can only expand if there is a market for them too, through people spending more money from their wages, plus it is the banks the give loans to businesses for expansion. Why aren’t the Council Support Schemes aimed at getting people back into work or young people to work for the first time? In that way they would be kept occupied plus pay taxes to the government.
    I am not pretending to be an expert in this field and therefore do not have the answers to how best to fix the system. All I was trying to do was highlight areas where it does not seem to be working, and that I believe have been ignored when looking at the system.
    In saying that I also do not see you offering any other alternatives other than to say people should go out, work and pay taxes. If it was this easy the system would have been abolished years ago.

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