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The human face of welfare reform

In the light of extensive plans from the coalition government to ‘reform’ the welfare and benefits system much has be written about it. Such a change in the current system has provoked a reaction from the entire political spectrum. Many of the radical left have looked at how this will affect working class people. Glyn Matthews interviews a benefit claimant living in Bridgend (who wishes to remain anonymous) to show the human face of the current welfare reform proposals.

Glyn: Firstly, can you just briefly outline your current circumstances as a benefit claimant?

Well about 15 years ago I had a slipped disc in my back, I had an operation to repair it but it has never been quite right since. About 5 years ago I found myself unable to cope with work as my back had deteriorated so much. I was assessed and started claiming incapacity benefit My back become allot better after awhile and I was much more active and mobile. The problem was there were still some days that I couldn’t physically move. I was able to go on to the back to work scheme and was able to get a job. I still took quite a few sick days due to back problems but as my sick pay was paid by the government and not my boss it was ok and I wasn't at risk of being sacked. I was made redundant recently though, I was just out of the 12 month period to go back onto incapacity benefit but not long enough to get any redundancy pay. At the moment I am waiting to be reassessed for incapacity benefit as my back problems have resurfaced and some days I haven’t been able to leave the bed.

So at the moment you are not seeking employment?

No I am, my back is causing me allot of problems at the moment but it is not all the time. I went to the jobcentre and explained that I wanted to go back to work but that I was not confident that I would ending calling in sick all the time, that I wasn’t sure if I could cope with it didn’t want to risk losing my benefits. I was hoping they would put me back on the back to work scheme again but they wouldn’t

What did they do then?

At the moment they have put me on this scheme for 10 weeks, I work for Tesco three days a week, I don’t get paid though I just collect my Job Seekers Allowance as normal.

How do you feel about this?

Well to be frank I feel used, I don’t see why I should be expected to work for free for a company with as much money as Tesco, and I do not see how it benefits me in anyway. They obviously need the staff they could either pay me or advertise a vacancy. I am only guessing but I imagine I’m not the only one doing this, so it could be thousands of extra jobs created, instead it just means Tesco are able to save a packet on their wages bill. I don’t see how this is fair at all.

You mentioned earlier that you are waiting to be reassessed for incapacity benefit; recently the government have announced new plans regarding this with the aim of getting more people off this benefit and into work. How do you feel about this?

I think it’s quite worrying myself, as I have already said I do want to go back to work but some days I am physically unable to even leave my bed. If they tighten up the rules and I am assessed on a good day then I will be turned down. I don’t see why these MPs should be allowed to rule over us and make us beg for the crumbs whilst they take anything they want from the table.

What are you referring to? The MPs expenses?

That is part of it yeah, but it isn’t just that it’s everything, their wages are really high as well, and they are all involved in business and stuff like that. They just look after themselves at our expense. At the same time they want us all to stop claiming benefits and work, but there are no jobs, it isn’t our fault there are no jobs it is theirs.

Well the government have recently revealed proposals to give incentives for people to move to towns or cities where there are jobs. What are your thoughts about this?

I am quite scared by this idea, I certainly do not want to move away all my family are in the area, my elderly and ill mother, both my son and my daughter and In the last 2 months my first grandchild was born. I have deep roots in this area I don’t want to move away from here.

You said you were scared by this idea, why are you scared? After all, the government have said this will be optional and they will just add incentives to people to help them move.

Well that is true but it depends what they mean by optional. I mean I have heard that housing benefit payments are going to be cut, if they are I won’t be able to afford to pay my rent whilst I am on benefits, that’s why I am on housing benefit in the first place. I might have a choice between being evicted and taking up the governments offer to move to where the jobs are.

Another thing which concerns me about this is that if people are encouraged to move out of areas where there are few jobs then it will make it worse and worse. I live in Bridgend and a few years ago there was a string of suicides amongst young people. I don’t know the reason behind it but it was clear that there is no future on offer to young people in this town maybe that had something to do with it. I have two children in their early twenties and a newly born grandchild, I am worried about the future on offer to them.

All the main political parties say that “we are in this together” referring to the economic crisis. Do you agree?

Definitely not and I don’t know anyone who does. I didn’t do anything to cause these problems neither did you. Yet the banks were given billions the MPs took as much money as they could get away with but its people like us losing there jobs, its us who suffer when they cut public services and its us who are made to feel guilty and ashamed when we can’t find a job.

You, like me, obviously disagree with the governments policies, what do you think should be done?

I think we need to say “NO” I think we need to say that we will not accept this, I don’t know how I just know that we should not accept this.

Okay, thank you for your time, as you know this interview is going to be published on Radical Wales, perhaps a discussion about how to take this forward will take place on the comment section. Will you be following that discussion?

Definitely, I am really interested to see what we can do, I haven’t been involved in anything like this before but I don’t think we have a choice anymore. We have to do something.