Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The perfect benefit claimant

Loosely defined, welfare refers to the statutory procedure or social effort to promote the basic physical or material well-being of people in need. Although the welfare reforms fall under the discipline of social policy, it draws on elements of sociology to explain the social milieu of welfare provisions. 

Mooney et al (2006) argue that social exclusion is prominent in the world of social welfare, this exists within the themes of family, work and national identity. I support this wholeheartedly...

A range of welfare policies are developed around the idea that families exist as a man, a woman and child/ren. At the turn of the twentieth century, during the first and formal implementation of welfare support, women were exempt from receiving benefits as the man was viewed as the breadwinner-however nowadays typical deviances to the normal framework of a family exist and are catered for to an extent. It still appears that social policies seek to reinforce the normal structure of families by rewarding normal conducts and deterring abnormal ones e.g. two separated parents claiming housing benefit, one would have to forfeit their spare bedrooms (which they use to accommodate their children on the weekend) so as not to rack up rent arrears. 

The concept of work is framed within the welfare world through benefits such as job seekers allowance, income support, budgeting loans and pension credits. National Insurance is deducted from a worker’s wages in order to contribute towards certain benefit entitlements-including a hard earned state pension, eligible only if you have contributed to the state for over thirty years.
However it appears that the concept of work is in the midst of a definition shift, the economic marginality (being economically insignificant, working hard but still not making a dent in the system) we are currently experiencing has led to social instability which in turn has resulted in a working culture of a precarious nature including shifting between casual and part time work and joblessness aka post-fordism. Economically marginalised individuals often do not have a formal employment history and may fall into the informal economy; this in turn may affect their ability to claim job seekers allowance (willingly leaving your job means that you have to wait six weeks before you can start a claim). The current instability also adversely impacts individuals claiming housing benefit, housing benefit rates are not adjusted in real time, making the transition from worklessness to work increasingly complex.
Ideally a claimant should not attempt to find work unless they are being threatened to do so, attempts to rock the (figurative) welfare boat may have adverse consequences e.g. benefit sanctions, trips to food banks, homelessness...

A claimants national identity is particularly important when attempting to make a claim. The mere phrase ‘welfare state’ suggests that welfare is constrained to one locality, more specifically the indigenous population of the said state. For example, European migrants have been subjected to stricter rules and regulations regarding claiming benefits, as of April 2014 those from A2 and A8 countries are not entitled to housing assistance if they become homeless. Similar to this, was the development of the Aliens Act 1905, although not directly linked to welfare, served to restrict foreign paupers from entering the country, thus denying them any welfare support. Despite the animosity, immigrants tend to be younger and more mobile than the majority of their host population, their overall contribution to the economy relies on their relative status and the resources available to them. However at this precise moment in time, available resources are scarce, so being a non-Brit is a distinct disadvantage to claiming welfare. 

Ultimately the key themes of family, work and national identity highlighted above serves as a reminder that a particular ideal of a benefit claimant exists. One that is part of a cohabiting family, is not economically marginalised and who is a British national. Difficult considering that 98% of under 25 benefit claimants are single parents with children.

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