Should you claim unemployment benefits?

2 July 2012


By Barry Cashin

We live in times of great financial uncertainty as well as job insecurity. The days of working in the same job from the age of 16 to 65 are long gone and there is less of a taboo today in accepting a helping hand from the state in times of mass unemployment.

Indeed, a significant majority of new claimants in today's Job Centre Plus offices are white-collar workers or middle and senior management over 40 years of age with huge financial commitments.

With the dearth of jobs in the modern workforce during periods of recession, it's only a matter of time until someone's savings eventually run out - and therefore I see no harm if someone has paid into a safety net system all their working life, whatever their social status or previous seniority of their job, in seeking help until they get back on their feet again.

It is vital as soon as a person loses their job that they claim every benefit they are entitled to. Although Jobseeker's Allowance does not cover the average mortgage repayment, the receipt of out-of-work benefits may well be the difference to some families between keeping their homes or having them repossessed.

The dole should never be viewed as a dirty word, and something that is exclusive to the lower classes – but it's a necessary consequence of today's uncertain working world: one in which people come and go from jobs and can be hired and fired at will.

If your circumstances change, there should be no loss of face in accepting help when you legitimately need it. This is juxtaposed to the other section of society that sees claiming the dole as the divine right of the workshy and who abuse the benefits system as an excuse not to do a job or create a decent life for themselves or their families.

Men and women who once would have been too proud and shame-faced at the prospect of claiming benefi ts now unflinchingly adopt a 'take-all, give nothing back' attitude and, worse still, have instilled this in their children, creating the perfect storm of welfare dependency.

Living off the state rather than contributing to it is a generational mindset that, at least since the 1990s, has become the hallmark of welfare Britain. It's a place where genuine claimants whose only crime is to have fallen on hard times through redundancy or unemployment are tarred with the same brush as the layabouts. Now that really is the injustice of a state benefit system.

Barry Cashin, 48, is a money-saving specialist and writer. He lives in Hertfordshire.


By Dawn Massam

I believe that claiming unemployment benefits should only be an absolute last resort.

I’m not talking about those who are genuinely unable to work or those who are actively and honestly seeking work: one of the things that is so great about this island of ours is the welfare system when it works properly and helps those in genuine need.

I’ve been almost continually employed ever since my entry into the world of work at the age of 12. I’ve worked through three pregnancies and around my children’s school hours. I’ve had a wide variety of (usually underpaid) flexible jobs that range from brilliant to soul destroying.

Despite being reasonably well educated and holding qualifications in a number of fields, I have never thought a job was beneath me. I’ve even sent saucy SMS messages for 20 pence a time. I’ve donned a hideous waistcoat and hat to work in a supermarket café because it suited the school run.

Employment, however lowly, brings a sense of dignity and self-esteem, and sets an important example for your children.

Children brought up by parents reluctant to find employment and who happily live on benefits have been proven to perpetuate this hopeless cycle. Teaching a solid work ethic will without doubt bode them well in later life.

Unfathomable are those who do not want to provide the best for their family. Purposely not working and living on state handouts is teaching a very misguided sense of entitlement. The world does not owe you a living.

Be flexible and think outside the box. Even being priced out of the job market by childcare can present opportunities. Take the chance to retrain if necessary.

Studying to become a Babysign (baby sign language) teacher during pregnancy allowed me to earn, learn and take my children with me to work, and setting up parenting blog led to writing work. Be resourceful. Use your skills to make money.

If you are able-bodied and have the right attitude then you can always find work. Any job is better than no job. Why be an unnecessary burden on an already overloaded welfare bill?

Worse still – and it’s becoming far more common – is those with large amounts of savings put aside. How bad does it have to get before you bring out those savings marked ‘just in case’?

In the advent of redundancy or similar, it’s not unusual for people with savings 10 times the £3,000 savings limit to receive unemployment benefi t to ‘pay back’ money to family, having swiftly moved money into undeclared savings accounts for their children in order to claim their £70 a week.

Life on benefits is not easy - some corners of the media seem to think it’s a doddle. Anyone who has had an unexpected change of circumstances (and it can happen to the best of us) knows that from the initial soul-destroying trip to the job centre, to the eeking out of pennies to pay for essentials, can tell you it’s not anything like the life of lazy luxury the press likes to sensationalise.

The benefits of working are far more than financial.

Dawn Massam, 32, runs parenting site and works as a social media manager for a portfolio of leading brands. She lives in Oxfordshire

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