Thursday, 23 January 2014

Challenging the Benefits Street stereotypes

The Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street focuses on people living in one particular street in Birmingham – a city where we, the Accord Group, work.

It has immediately become the subject of hard hitting headlines, the hot topic on Twitter and Facebook and reignited a topic that polarises Britain – the benefits system.

Having worked in social housing for 25 years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of people in Birmingham and across the Midlands from many different walks of life.

I’ve met pensioners, young single mothers, women who have fled domestic violence, ex-offenders, people with disabilities and people in low paid jobs, just to name a few.

What do all these people have in common? They’ve all, in some way, needed state support to get by in life and a helping hand at a difficult time. Should they all be labelled as 'scroungers' as a consequence? We don’t think so.

Here are some facts you may find interesting:
  • In 2012, 18% of working-age households were workless, but only 2% of cases demonstrated that no one had ever worked – dispelling a myth that we are overrun with generations of feckless families who have never had gainful employment.
  • It is estimated (for 2011-12) that 0.8% of total benefit expenditure was overpaid as a result of fraud, again challenging a common view that benefit expenditure is high because of fraudsters and cheats.
  • Interesting, the proportion of housing benefit claimants who are in work is rising to fast approach the one million mark. These are those people who work but are on low pay. A sign perhaps that wages are not keeping up with the ever increasing cost of living?
  • It is estimated that over 55% of the local government workforce are entitled to some form of in-work benefits* and yet help to provide some of the most essential services in the country.

There will also be a significant percentage of health services workers also in receipt of state benefits. Are these people 'scroungers' too?

It’s time to put down the labels and challenge the knee-jerk assumptions and stereotypes about people who claim benefits.

Concentrating on creating sustainable, well-paid jobs, economic growth and affordable housing that really is affordable, would be far more profitable than constantly attacking those individuals and households for whom a benefit claim is the only way they can survive.

Dr Chris Handy OBE
Chief Executive of the Accord Group ( - @theaccordgroup)



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