Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Who Benefits from Benefits?

Here's something else we never talk about.

I am lucky. I am privileged. I am blessed.

Sometimes I think I'm so lucky, I worry it can't possibly last. I was born in the top 1% of all lucky, into one of the richest areas of the richest countries on the planet. Though "poor" here, I always realised (we were the Band Aid generation....) that my poverty was incredibly relative. I was born to loving parents who encouraged and inspired me to be the very best I could be. I met that special soul wating just for me, to love and cherish me for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. I have 2 healthy, bright, funny children. I live in a beautiful home in a beautiful tree lined avenue. I have enough to get by with a little more than I fundamentally need to survive. I went to university despite poverty. I've travelled. My husband works in a stable job.

But I'm luckier even than that. Luckier than most of you. Because I'm sick. If I lived almost anywhere else on the planet, I'd have died when I was nine and my tonsils sent me into toxic shock, long before I ever developed Crohn's disease. Then, I'd have died when I was 16 and my first real Crohn's crisis took hold. Then, if by some miracle I'd survived those little deaths, I'd have certainly died at 21 when my bowerl burst under the strain of a 12 inch abscess, rotting my appendix clean away.

Almost everywhere else on the planet, if I HAD survived any of those events, broken and septic, I'd have almost certainly been disowned or abandoned or left to beg on the streets.

But I live in a country - so prosperous and privileged - that developed beyond the point of living to eat, to be able to live to care. We decided long ago that people like me were as valid as everyone else.We signed up to the UN principle that all people - broken or whole - had the right to a home, to live independently free from persecution. We're the only country in the world that doesn't discriminate on provision of healthcare in any way. Say it again? Every time it makes me proud.

And so onto privilege. I am uniquely privileged. I live in a country where I can speak freely. I have countless opportunities to express myself and the freedom to know that others will be free to listen and read if they choose. I am kept alive in comparative comfort and enabled to parcipate in society in a million different ways. Members of the Spartacus Network changed the debate on social security from their beds, proving no-one but no-one is barred from taking part in our society. The government I oppose keep me alive to do so. That's almost miraculous by global standards, but we forget.

In return for the compassionate support of a country I love, I have given years of my life and thousands of hours of my time trying to make this privileged corner of our planet even better. I'm no saint, I won't list how here, but I've tried to give back as much as I've taken in as many ways as I can whenever the opportuniy offered itself. I sort of made it my "job".

So when some sneer about "welfare campaigners" or imply that defending basic human rights is somehow "degrading", perhaps this post explains why I fight so hard for what they see as a demeaning status quo. Call it "welfare" if you like, dream of Halcyian fields where perfect access and an end to all prejudice makes social security unnecessary.

But we had it right. A lot of it at least. We did a good job. Of course there would always be new steps forward to take, but on the whole, we weren't moving backwards and hadn't been for some time. We were making progress every day towards the inclusion and acceptance of those living with illnesses and impairments. People like me. I want everyone, regardless of accidents of birth or circumstance, to be treated with the respect and care I enjoyed, that allowed me, despite all the odds, to be the best person I can be.

Yes. I am aware every day that it is an enormous privilege to live in a country that values me, keeps me alive, encourages my voice and allows me some comfort. Unlike some, I find it squeamishly hard to see any of that as a "right" when most of the world starves and suffers.

That was the value of our welfare state. For every 1 scrounger story there are 1,000 like mine. For every NHS failure, there are 1,000 successes. And here we are. Blogging and tweeting and telling our stories. Not waving but drowning, trying to warn you all not to throw it all away.

You've kept me alive, in dignity and (globally speaking) comfort in the understanding that if, one day, that headache turns out to be a brain tumour or that skiing or rugby accident means you never walk again, every last "taxpayer" knows that in a little way, it's them too. By keeping you alive, they keep themselves alive. Maybe. One day.

Isn't that worth fighting for?


14 comments:

  1. I have tears in my eyes reading this post. Tears of gratitude and pride for my country and the people who live here and a lump in my throat that despite your problems you are so hopeful and optimistic.
    I lived recently in the United States. I was there for 15 years until I could return in 2012. This is not the country I left, unfortunately changed in many ways. However, I cannot tell people enough how lucky we are to have the NHS and the Welfare System. It is a pearl beyond price and we cannot allow this Government to privatise one and dismantle the other. My Health Insurance, when I could afford to buy it, cost as much as my mortgage. People go bankrupt through medical bills. We cannot let that happen here.

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  2. Absolutely Sue - even when we try to hold the system to account for what they get wrong, they do get a lot right. #Dani would not have lived past the age of 10 in very large parts of the world, kidney failure would have meant her death in 1991.

    But in even some of poorest parts of the world Edward would not have died as they would not have induced me because some obstetrician decided to argue with me about my dates he was induced 6-7 weeks early and they had been arguing with me for 4 weeks before I gave in.

    I do thank the UK for where I am - my father came and fought for freedom here during WWII in the SOE and then after that in the SIS - I have much to tell about that - but I am thankful for being born here on the whole with some reservations.

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  3. People who need benefits will benefit. They SHOULD benefit more than they do though and be treated with more RESPECT, but as we know that is still something that divides political opinion and unfortunately the current government is RUBBISH at resolving benefit issues. Credit to you as usual Sue for showing humanity, kindness and common-sense in whatever you say.

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  4. I have just discovered the site and read what people have said. I agree with Sue. However, I am disgusted with the new PIP benefit which replaced DLA. My son applied for it in July 2013, as he is an amputee. Having his right lower leg off due to Diabetic complications. Finally got out of hospital and started ringing them to come and see him to be assessed. They have cancelled twice and made another appointment. He explained he is in a
    second floor flat and cannot get out, he cannot get anymore money to help him with things he needs until the assessment.

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  5. Thank you! Totally agree, we often don't see how lucky we are. I hate how the press (ie. Daily Mail) talk this country down for all the things I think it should be praised for-the welfare state, the NHS, civil freedom, even the BBC. We need to keep fighting to preserve these things.

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  6. Dead right Sue. We've only had these wonderful things for less than 60 years - a tiny part of our history. People just a few years older than my parents would have had to pay to go to secondary school. My great grandfather died of pneumonia at 48 from standing in wet kale in the field he was paid a pittance to guard, with no money for doctors.

    There are people in this country who regard these wonderful gains we have made as a blip which should be eradicated. We mustn't underestimate what they want, while recognising that most people in this country do want to keep what we have - although they don't know how much it's under threat.

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  7. Did you see about the chap in America selling his cafe to fund treatment for one of his waitresses. She has a brain tumour but can't afford the treatment bills!
    The whole point about Social Security in this country is that we all pay into an insurance scheme (N.I) and if one then needs help it pays out. It is not our business to operate this insurance scheme, but up to those in power in Westminster.
    As other people have commented, we are so lucky with our system that includes our precious NHS, and to those messing with it at the moment, you will go down in history.........for the wrong reason!

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  8. MW - Unfortunately NI is a misnomer as the money we pay into it is not set aside to use as insurance but is just an employment tax, and only those employed, self employed and employers pay this tax. NI is not charged to those who live on investment income or the super rich. NI goes into the same pot as any other tax and has never been invested or set aside to pay any of us when we need help. This may have been the intention when it was first started, but it has never happened. Those with the most do not pay it except in so far as they may have earned income - income from wealth doe not attract this tax.

    Wish they would be honest and change its name. Those with least pay the most taxes, PAYE, NI, VAT etc. I do not mind paying as I believe we are an under taxed nation for the way we wish to live. If we wish to continue providing for those who need we need to pay more not less when we are in work and we need to tax those who have more than they need, those with obscenely large earnings - footballers, politicians, the bankers - I am sure every one can think of a few more. And forget about trickle down as any one can see that has never worked.

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  9. Yes, I realise that NI has never been used properly, that was why the bit about it not being our business as to how it's run.
    The most tax always ends up being paid by those with the least; those who can afford to pay the most are also those who know how not to pay it. Look at the billions not collected for many reasons.
    Unfortunately we do not live in a fair or just society.............

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