I am highly educated, possessing 4 degrees and having studied at private school over 8 years when I was younger. There is an assumption for some reason in this country that if one is educated then one must be ‘well off’ financially. I also have the best credit rating one can have – 999 – and people seem to think I must be ‘well off’ because of that too. Many of these people are ‘Champagne Socialists’ – that is they live a good lifestyle and talk about the poor without doing anything as a kind of social ritual of pity.
The fact is, my income at the end of the year is less than one quarter of the national average. But for some reason when I try to have a sensible conversation about welfare reform people who have never been as financially poor as me, living financially secure lives scorn me for trying to tell them some how truths. They claim I ‘attack the poor’ for wanting a voucher system to support responsible purchases among parents to end child poverty. I would say it is their ignorance that is keeping people poor.
Over my life I have claimed these various out-of-work and in-work income assistances:
- Income Support
- Incapacity Benefit
- Housing Benefit
- Council Tax Benefit
- Working Tax Credit
- Access to Work
The first one, Income Support, I only got around £3,000 a year from and was only allowed to earn £30 a week and work no more than 8 hours. On Incapacity benefit I got no extra money, only my stamp paid. Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit helped a lot, but I was forced off these when my Incapacity Benefit was cut off because I did ‘permitted work’ and was told if I can work 8 hours I must be able to work more.
This short sharp shock, broke me out of my comfort zone where I was afraid to risk coming of benefit (someone if one says benefit claimants think one gets attacked for because of their snobbery about benefits). This meant I went onto tax credits, which I have had support from since, building my way up from working 16 hours in 2009 to 48 hours in 2012.
Even so, if I were not able to live with family, and housing benefit was not available, then right now I would be homeless. From my point of view, a responsible society would replace financial hand-outs with vouchers. It is snobbery to see food vouchers as degrading, when at least they give the person in poverty choice over what food to buy. I would be happier giving a homeless person a food voucher, as I have done with McDonald’s tokens. I fear all too often they want money for drugs or alcohol which are the easy option out.
I have in my possession right now a voucher – a NHS Optical Voucher so I can purchase spectacles. I get this because I am on tax credits. I don’t feel it is degrading to have such a voucher. Those who say they are have probably never been on benefits – they are the Champagne Socialists who act like their heart is bleeding, but are still living their relatively luxurious lifestyle.
I in fact think even the most financially wealthy should have vouchers as part of universal healthcare. People may not see it as choice to give people vouchers for certain things rather than give them money for anything, but the way I see it, targeted help through vouchers will better tackle poverty than say giving someone money to spend on things like cigarettes and alcohol which do not improve their situation.
So in essence, anyone who says I am degrading poor people when I call for a voucher system is directly insulting me by saying it is degrading for me, as I would be eligible for vouchers under such a system. Social mobility is restricted by ones ability to pay for certain things like education , especially where one cannot save for an education on benefits due to means testing. I would prefer to replace means-testing with ‘needs-testing’, where people regardless of income get the support their need in the form of a voucher that can only be spent on the specific good or service. This is what happens with opticians with the free-sight-tests and prescription glasses one can get, just by presenting one’s Tax Credits Exemption Card.
If all children are ‘born equal’ then they should have equal access to public services throughout their life. Whether their parents are rich or poor, I think a voucher system would be the fairest way to ensure social mobility is improved, especially if catchment areas are removed and people can send their children for education outside their county – as my parents managed to get for me. Personally I don’t see how money printed by the Bank of England in the form of cash is better than money printed by the DWP/NHS in the form of vouchers. Providing one can access the goods or services one needs to enjoy one’s life, then it doesn’t matter how much one has coming into the bank.