I read this great post called I’m A Welfare Mom, about the myths surrounding (USian, but a lot of it is universal) mothers living on social benefits. Paige Stannard talks about what ‘welfare’ actually entails, and touches on some of the comments that people make about people, especially mothers, on benefits.
Now I make no secret of the fact that I live on benefits. I am physically and mentally disabled and my husband is also physically disabled, and there is just no way either of us is well enough to sustain even part-time employment for any meaningful length of time. So we live, with my son, entirely on money awarded to us by the government so that we can live our lives in relative comfort.
Paige’s post made me think about my experiences of living on benefits, and I’d like to expand a little on what she said in her post. She talked about the three forms that attacks on mums in receipt of benefits came in.
The first was that food stamps shouldn’t be valid for ‘unhealthy’ items like fizzy drinks and biscuits. I’ve read many similar comments when arguing with people who were very anti-benefits on a well known forum, many of whom told me that people on benefits shouldn’t be able to buy luxury foods. I would ask these people, well where do you draw the line? I assume it wouldn’t be acceptable for me to live on, say, smoked salmon and caviar. But is it all right that I buy Tetley tea bags, or should I only be able to buy Asda Smart Price? Come to think of it, should I be allowed to afford tea bags at all? Tea, after all, is not a necessity; my body’s needs would be met perfectly adequately by the water that comes out of my kitchen tap.
The second attack Paige wrote about was “I hate when I see someone using food stamps with their hair and nails done and on their iPhone and driving a Range Rover” and she does a good job of deconstructing this one; not only do we not know if they paid for their hair, nails, iPhone or Range Rover, if someone else gifted them those things, if they bought the phone and car before circumstances necessitated the application for social benefits – it’s also none of our damn business.
The third attack was the complaint that seeing as the writer works and can’t afford healthcare for their children, people on benefits shouldn’t get healthcare for their children either. Here in the UK it’s “I work full-time and can’t afford a holiday for my family – why should someone on benefits be able to afford it?” The problem with this one is that they’re attacking from completely the wrong angle. If person A is happy and person B is sad, we don’t look for ways to make A as sad as B. We look for ways to make B as happy as A! Instead of saying “Why can they?” they should be asking “Why can’t I?” Ask why you’re not better rewarded for the hard work you do. Demand that your quality of life is raised, not that the quality of life of others is decreased.
The thing with these arguments is that, as Paige says, they’re policing. People are free agents, and the poorest of us should have every bit as much right to choose what to do with their money as the richest of us does. Where do you draw the line? The answer is, of course, you can’t. You have to just educate people about proper nutrition and housekeeping, teach them to budget and then let them alone, free to make their own choices about what they spend their money on.
I’ve been accused of “doing poor wrong”. When I smoked, it was the accusation of spending “[someone else's] hard-earned taxes” on cigarettes instead of, I don’t know, organic kumquats or something. When I bought, in a fit of bipolar hypomania, a large flat-screen television, people demanded to know how I could afford it when I lived on benefits (answer: none of your beeswax, keep your sticky beak out). I have an iPhone, I have a car. According to the naysayers, the fact that I’m too disabled to work somehow means I don’t deserve these things, or that for some reason I deserve them less than a person who works for a living.
Of course, I do have a full time job; I have a young child and a household to run. I challenge anyone who does a 9-to-5 who claims they work harder than I do or that they’re doing a bigger service to society than I am by working my arse off to provide society with one of the next generation’s hard working, intelligent and socially aware adults. This is another thing that bothers me about the people who denigrate ‘welfare moms’ or ‘single mums on the dole’ as it’s known here in the UK. Raising children into decent human beings is one of the, if not the, most important jobs a person can be doing right now. If only these people could see benefits as the wages paid to mothers for the work they do raising the next generation of doctors, lawyers, teachers and other necessary people, perhaps they might just understand that benefits aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity.