Published on 8 Jan 2013

Give us a job: no skivers here, say families desperate for work

So, the whispers are – according to my well informed colleague Gary Gibbon – that the government wants to tone down the language it’s been using to win support for its welfare reforms.

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You’ve got to hand it to them  – it’s been catchy stuff.  The strivers and the skivers… the workers and the shirkers.

Throughout the coalition’s efforts  to reform the benefit system, they’ve constantly been reminding voters it’s all about fairness. Why should hard working families (Mr and Mrs Striver, say) pay for the lazy so and so who’s lying on the sofa watching daytime television, and generally  living it up on benefits (old Johnny Skiver)?

The beauty of this sort of stuff  is its  simplicity. There’s a goodie and a baddie and only the insane would put their hands up to say “yes – I’d really like to pay more tax so someone else needn’t bother shifting their backside to go out to work.”

Come to Newcastle for the day though and the simplicity of the argument becomes its undoing.

Here in the north east unemployment stands at 9.5 per cent- the highest in the country. People move in and out of employment – on and off benefits.

The line between those in work and striving  and those out of work – skiving? – is clearly more blurred.

Single parent Lee Davison was unemployed for years. Unable  to find work which allowed him to look after his daughter at the same time, he relied entirely on benefits.

He’s been working full time since April and would doubtless now count as a fully paid up member of the “strivers”. But the bruising experience of life on benefits – financially paralysing and personally isolating, he says  – means he’s not willing to castigate the men and women he’s  left  down at the job centre.

“I think the government are unfairly stigmatising the ones that they’re calling skivers and scroungers, ” he told me. “I certainly don’t think I was a scrounger when I was out of work. I am absolutely appalled that the public are swallowing this. It beggars belief.”

And talking to the public  in Newcastle town centre, quite a few people did seem keen on the government’s plans to cap benefit rises.

“If you’re working, you’re contributing. If you’re not working, you’re scrounging,” said one woman with the certainty of an ad agency slogan writer.

But what about people who’ve worked all their live sand have been made redundant? I asked.

“That,”she said, with rather less certainty, “was a different situation.”

And that’s the difficulty of the striver/skiver argument. How many of the unemployed are the sofa huggers watching day time telly? No one questions that they exist but do they represent ALL  the unemployed ?  Some?  Who knows? If the Government have figures it would be helpful to see them.

Because for Peter Matson, a single parent of two young girls, the idea of being “lumped in” with people who don’t want to work, is “cheeky” , he says, determined not to be rude.

He’s been made redundant twice in four years and has seen his income drop from a salary of 30,000 a year to around 200 pounds a week. Under the cap he  stands to lose around 5 pounds a week.

“I’ve put a lot of money into the system..all those years of national insurance and tax. I’m not one of those who lie in bed all morning. I would love to get back out there and get a job.”

Now Peter does buy the government’s fairness argument – he says if they want to cap benefits they should look at doing it differently.

“I’ m getting the same as someone who hasn’t worked for ten years. I think they should sit down and have a think about those people who have put in for years and those who can’t be bothered to work.”

Ministers  have been out and about all day saying the cap is fair and right. Labour oppose it but – the government argue – offer no credible alternative.

The cap will raise £1.9bn. But for the families it will affect, the hundreds of pounds they will lose may seem to dwarf that.

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5 reader comments

  1. Exsugarbabe says:

    Agreed, single parents, are contributing, they are bringing up children, as a single parent you scrape by, you are left with insecure part time work and you’re in competition with people who don’t have kids who get sick and will work any hours. I only half joke that when I tell people I’m a single mum I have to convince them I don’t spend my child benefit on vodka. The job centre speaks to you as if you are scum and don’t take any notice of your problems getting work. As usual the government lump everyone on benefits as all the same, we are not all skivers, where’s the proof?

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    It hasn’t been “catchy stuff.”

    It has been cowardly ultraright neocon lying garbage. Typically it is aimed at the most vulnerable in our society.

    Just yesterday we actually had one tory gimp claiming “We have the lowest ever unemployment figures.” This, with over 2.5 million unemployed! He wasn’t even challenged on the claim.

    Add to that the fact that a quarter of our population live in poverty, and the manifestation of food banks (read: soup kitchens) and the reality begins to catch up.

    Sooner or later you people in the south east will get the same treatment because capitalist greed won’t stop. It NEVER has enough. At that point the propaganda and short term bribery will fail. It can’t come soon enough.

    The Big Lie is that of “public debt.” The present depression was caused by the failures of international banks and capitalism – now they seek to loot the lives of even our poorest citizens. Don’t kid yourself they won’t come for you and your family sooner or later. By then I doubt you’ll be calling it “catchy stuff.”

  3. marco says:

    Iam a carer, I want a job, but it is now easier and cheaper for me not to bother. Thank you Condems. Rob from the poor to give to the rich. How the hell is this going to help. Workers, unemployed ,elderly are all paying for the mistakes of our banks.. our police, fire service, nurses, council workers all paying for the banks mistakes. The banks have shafted the people of Britain and got away with it.

  4. Frances Mannion says:

    Now that we’ve equality and diversity laws, its no longer acceptable to treat huge sectors of society badly. So now society needs new victims; new people to pick on and put down. What better than the sector of society in financial difficulty?

    Some of society is unemployed due to public sector mismanagement; huge amounts of cash wasted by central government on initiatives that were not followed through on, including expensive unused databases. Some struggle with unemployment due to the effects of mismanaged crime and poor health services. And second rate education and expensive university places. Fair enough, not all the uemployed are suffering from government failures of one sort or another, a percentage are. Maybe the ill will about ‘scroungers’ should be seen for what it is; diverting attention from the fact the economy is a shambles. And its a far from Christian attitude.

    The negative attitudes towards those on benefits aren’t helping. Don’t think they’re meant to. Think they’re meant to provide a new sector of society as fair game for abuse.

  5. Hugh Dunlop ACIS, FFA, FIAB says:

    I agree there are numerous people out there willing to do an honest day’s work. So how is it that we have read many times in recent years of accounts clerks stealing thousands of pounds from their employers. Only yesterday we read of a woman who had stolen £200,000.00 from her employer and was made to pay back a laughable £17,000.00.
    This was certainly dishonesty on the woman’s part, but the fault is not hers alone. when she was interviewed, were no background checks done on her? With such a sum, and ability to cover it up, it is safe to assume that this was not her first venture. And what of her employer’s vigilance. Being able to steal such a large sum would mean that she controlled even greater sums. Was she left to do as she pleased, with no checks on her work by the financial director?
    As it was such a large sum, it probably took more than one year to acquire so much. Were there no audits in the interim?
    I would suggest a complete lack of control is as much to blame as a dishonest woman.

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